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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 243


Senator FARRELL (South Australia) (16:35): Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President.

Senator Brandis: Hear, hear!

Senator FARRELL: What are you hear, hearing? My contribution?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Farrell, ignore the interjections.

Senator FARRELL: Thank you for protecting me once again, Mr Acting Deputy President. I would like to carry on where Senator Xenophon left off. This industry, the automotive industry, survived the global financial crisis. It survived the global restructuring. It survived the record high dollar. The question that now has to be asked by the Australian people and all those people who have an interest in the car industry is: can it survive the Abbott government?

I do not think we can underestimate the importance of this industry to the people of South Australia. Obviously it employs lots of South Australians, as Senator Xenophon said. People in both the north and south are employed, directly and indirectly, in the industry. All of those people rely on this industry for their living It also provides job security to those people and to the people in the state of South Australia. And, of course, it provides lots of spin-offs to other industries. As Senator Carr indicated, something like $1.3 billion of gross state product would be taken out of South Australia in the event that this industry were to collapse.

I have had some personal experiences, and I know that Senator Xenophon has, with what happens when companies teeter on the edge. We had the circumstances at the start of the last decade of the company of Harris Scarfe. It was a great, iconic South Australian company which got into financial trouble. We went to the state government and the state government came to its support. That company continues to employ thousands of South Australians and Australians more broadly across the country. I think that this is one of those industries where we simply have to say that we cannot afford to let this industry fail. As a South Australian, we cannot afford to let this industry fail; as Australians we cannot afford to let this industry fail.

But there do seem to be question marks over the approach of the new government to this industry. We have heard from Senator Carr about how passionate he was about this industry. I cannot go into as much detail as Senator Carr as to the exact nature of all of the discussions and negotiations that have gone on in this industry, but you can see from Senator Carr how passionate he is for the industry and how passionate this opposition is to ensure that this industry remains not only viable but, more importantly, a vibrant industry for Australia. As Senator Carr said, no other country in the world is having a debate about whether or not to continue with an auto industry. But Australia is. We are having a debate, I think, because we find that there is only one cabinet minister in the new Abbott government from South Australia.

Senator Brandis: But what a cabinet minister!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Bernardi ): Order!

Senator FARRELL: Let's see, Senator Brandis, how good this sole cabinet minister is—whether he can come to the rescue of the automotive industry. Because it is now on his shoulders, Senator Brandis, as to whether or not the auto industry survives or fails under this Abbott government. I think there are lots of people in South Australia who are concerned that there are not sufficient voices being raised in the new government—

Senator Gallacher: There are none here today.

Senator FARRELL: That is true—there are no speakers yet from the government.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Address your remarks to the chair, Senator Farrell.

Senator Brandis: What about Senator Briggs and Senator Birmingham?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order!

Senator FARRELL: Well, let us see what they do. I know that you, Acting Deputy President Bernardi, are from South Australia and would love to speak on this issue, but you are in the chair. Like all South Australians you would be concerned, I imagine, that this government has not made the sorts of noises that the people of South Australia want to hear about the support for this industry.

I have had some dealings with some of the union officials who have had the very difficult job of dealing with the amount of media coverage that this issue has been given because of the question marks over the future of the industry. I put on the record my congratulations to Mr John Camillo, the secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union in South Australia, but, more particularly, a person who comes out of the auto industry. This union recognised the problems that occurred post the GFC and they sat down very responsibly with Holden in South Australia and negotiated provisions that ensured that, during that very difficult period of economic instability in the world economy, this company continued to operate, people continued to be employed, and we continue to manufacture cars in Australia.

More recently in the most difficult of circumstances Mr Camillo again sat down with the company to work out a strategy to ensure that, from the point of the workers, they were doing absolutely everything in their power to ensure that this company continued to survive in this country. Now, having done all that work, of course what we were expecting to see before Christmas was a Productivity Commission report that would, we hoped, say, 'Look, for national security reasons as well as a whole lot of other reasons we need to build cars in this country.' What has happened? That report has been delayed until after the state election in South Australia. I think what is now worrying all of those workers in the car industry in South Australia is that that report is not going to be favourable to the continuation of the car industry in this country but is not going to be released prior to the state election so people can make some judgement about it. I think it is a matter of very great regret that this Productivity Commission report has been delayed.

The fact of the matter is that under the Labor Party government we had a strategy for the survival of the car industry. We understood the importance of the car industry and we understood why working Australians need to have that job security. We understand why Australia has to be a country that actually built things but, more particularly, builds vehicles in this country. We had a plan that I believe, certainly under former Minister Carr, was going to lead to a situation where we continued to build cars in this country. The concern that South Australians now have—all of those workers who rely for a living on the car industry, all of those spin-off companies that rely on the support of the auto industry—is that this government is not committed to the ongoing survival of the vehicle industry. What South Australians now want to hear from the government—and certainly from their South Australian representatives—is that there is a commitment to continue to build cars in this country. We need to do it.

Holden is a great company. I do not know enough about the history of Holden with regard to why Ben Chifley was so keen to ensure that we had an automotive industry. My guess is that one of those reasons was national security. It was just after the Second World War and he was determined that this country was going to build vehicles. I think we need to come out very clearly and very strongly and make a commitment that we continue to build cars in this country. That is what the people of South Australia want to hear, that is what the people of Australia want to hear and we want to hear this government come out and say, clearly and strongly, 'We support the car industry, we support the workers in the car industry and we are not going to let this industry die.' (Time expired)