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Stephen Smith MP

Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure

and Industrial Relations




HATCHER: Joining us now on the line is the Shadow Industrial Relations Minister Stephen Smith. Mr
Smith you'd welcome this agreement?

SMITH: Well, I certainly welcome that it looks like, at this stage, we are going have this
immediate crisis resolved by the end of the day.

As we speak, the workforce is taking the advice of the administrator and they'll make a decision in
the next couple of hours and hopefully that will be positive and this immediate crisis will abate.

The Howard Government has done nothing to solve this crisis, but once this daily crisis is out of
the way we've got to look to the long term. And again the Government have been massively complacent
about a crisis which has been confronting Australia's car component and car manufacturing
industries for some time.

HATCHER: So what is the Government's role? Is our knee jerk reaction to any industrial dispute -
let the Government fix it?

SMITH: This is not an industrial dispute. This is about whether Australia in the future has a car
component and a car manufacturing industry. It's not as if Ajax came along as a complete surprise.

Literally on a daily, weekly, monthly basis for all of this year we've seen car manufacturers and
car component industries in difficulty. The Government has sat by idly and done nothing.

Yesterday we had John Howard basically saying look, the Government's going to take a back seat in
this, we're just going to sit by and watch. If you take a back seat when the car industry is in
crisis, if you're not careful, we will end up not manufacturing any cars in Australia to drive.

There is a role for Government here. The role yesterday would have been to sit down with all the
parties and help resolve the issue yesterday before the Ajax furnaces were turned off.

And secondly, to sit down over the longer term with car manufacturers and car component industries
and say both of these industries are under enormous pressure internationally, what can we do to
make sure emerge with an Australian car manufacturing and car component industry.

And like in so many other cases, whether it's skill shortages, infrastructure difficulties, the
Howard Government sits complacently and idly by saying there is nothing it can do. There is a lot
it can do - it needs to put its shoulder to the wheel.

HATCHER: Although it could be said that even at the last hour, the issue has been resolved as far
as we know, without the Government coming to the table. So hasn't the system worked?

SMITH: Well it could have been resolved much earlier - that's the first point. We have seen over
the last 24 to 48 hours, the jobs and job security of over 10,000 car industry workers at risk,
sending a massive tremor of uncertainty through the car industry.

The only thing the Government has done is send confusing messages as to whether the current tariff
and support arrangements which are in place until 2010 and 2015 respectively, will be on the table
when it comes to the Government's Free Trade Agreement negotiations with China.

On Friday we saw speculation that the Government would determine its position on that in the course
of this week. On Sunday on national television we had the Industry Minister IanáMacfarlane saying
those things would not be on the table. I welcomed that because it at least gave the car
manufacturing industry some certainty in regard to the policy and support settings over the next 5
to 10 years. But yesterday we had the Trade Minister, Mark Vaile, saying the negotiating position
was still on the table.

So the only thing the Government has done is to send a confusing message as to what the long term
policy settings will be.

We need policy certainty so far as the long term is concerned and we need a Government which
doesn't complacently sit by in the back seat thinking or believing there's nothing that can be
done, but instead a Government that puts its shoulder to the wheel, whose attitude is - it is in
Australia's national interest to have a manufacturing industry and it is in Australia's national
interest to have cars and car components as a sector of that.

HATCHER: Thanks very much for that Stephen Smith - we appreciate your time.