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Friday, 1 May 1987
Page: 2194

Senator MESSNER —I address my question to the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce. Is it a fact that the total number of new motor vehicle registrations in March 1987 was the lowest recorded monthly figure since September of 1968, almost 20 years ago? Is it also a fact that the total number of registrations in the March quarter 1987 was running at an annual rate of only 456,000, about 35 per cent below that in the March quarter of 1985? What impact has this unprecedented decline had on employment in the motor vehicle component and dealership sectors of the industry? Finally, what contribution has the decline in motor vehicle manufacturing made to the 19,000 jobs fall in total manufacturing employment in the last two years since the initial depreciation in February of 1985?

Senator BUTTON —The first part of the question related to the recent figures for vehicle registrations. My answer to that is that it is correct that they are the lowest figures since 1968, as Senator Messner said. I have no reason to dispute the suggestion in that part of the question. Senator Messner went on to ask me what effect that has had on unemployment-for example, in the motor vehicle components sector and the dealer sector. First of all, there has been a significant shakeout in the dealer sector of the industry. It is perhaps strange and brutal sounding to say that it is accepted by industry commentators-it is not just my opinion-that there was a need for a considerable shakeout in the motor vehicle dealer industry in this country. It has happened elsewhere; it was bound to happen in Australia at some time. In most countries it is a cyclical industry and there is pretty clear evidence that we were overserviced with dealer networks and establishments in this country. There is no doubt that that has happened. I cannot give precise figures but I agree that that has happened.

Secondly, Senator Messner asked me about the effect on employment in the motor vehicle components sector. There has been no negligible effect at all of the decline in vehicle sales on the components sector. There have been, of course, closures of particular plants and so on. That is an essential part of the process of restructuring and rationalising an industry such as this. I think one would find that if one went to most component manufacturers one would more likely receive complaints of shortages, particularly of skilled tradesmen, than of people losing employment. The other thing I draw Senator Messner's attention to-perhaps it was not without some reason that he failed to ask me about this-is employment in the vehicle manufacturing establishments in Australia. As I understand it, four out of five of the vehicle manufacturers are operating at full capacity. There are a number of reasons for that. I happen to know, for example, that one company is now advertising that it wants to take on 450 new employees. Those sorts of figures are quite substantial increases in employment in an industry of this kind. If one looks at the industry in aggregate, I think one will find no significant decline in employment at all. In fact, there is a probable increase in employment in some sectors, excluding the remarks which I made about dealerships and the problems which dealers have been facing, which, of course, we very much regret.

Senator Messner —Which company is going to employ more?

Senator BUTTON —Nissan.