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Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Page: 6715

Senator BUSHBY (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr. I refer to the minister’s answer yesterday where he claimed that the government had letters from Australia’s car manufacturers regarding future investment in Australia. Can the minister confirm that these letters are only from the regional headquarters, not the US headquarters, of these companies and, further, that they do not in fact contain any guarantees about future investment in new models in Australia?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I thank the senator for his grossly misinformed question.

Senator Faulkner —Why thank him, then?

Senator CARR —Because, Senator Faulkner, it always assists me to be able to explain the facts of these matters.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Carr, address your comments to the chair.

Senator CARR —What I indicated yesterday was that the Australian government has had confirmation of the investment plans that the Australian subsidiaries of the international companies have made in terms of their original contributions to us and that those confirmations were of course endorsed by the head offices of the international firms—and I stand by that position.

Senator Abetz —How do you know that?

Senator CARR —Because we talk to people. We actually—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Carr, ignore the interjections and just address your comments to the chair. Those on my left interjecting should cease.

Senator CARR —We have an opposition here that are prepared to say anything—no matter how destructive, no matter how puerile, no matter how much it conflicts with what they said five minutes ago. We had Senator Abetz yesterday waving around the government’s car plan and bemoaning the fact that it does not have enough pages. That was the position yesterday. I agree that it is a great read, but I would put to Senator Abetz and all the other Liberal senators a simple proposition: if you get to the end of our car plan and you still want more, I suggest you go back and read it again, because you might understand it the second time around.

There is certainly a lot more meat in the plan that we outlined this week when compared to the previous government’s efforts. They ran things out in their 1997 car package which filled one single page. In 1998, it stretched to three pages. And, apparently, exhausted by that effort, they could manage two pages when they returned to the question in 2002. Of course, that was the last we heard on the auto industry from the previous government because they had a simple policy: leave the industry on automatic pilot. They took the view that, no matter how the operating environment changes, you leave the industry on automatic pilot. I would suggest to Liberal senators that they read the Bracks review and read our response—and they might actually learn something. But why should the opposition—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —There are interjections on both sides that should cease.

Senator CARR —I guess the proposition that the opposition really puts is: why worry about policy when you think you can bluff your way through anything; why worry about the facts when the truth is a second-order issue? Yesterday, Senator Abetz issued a media release which was headed ‘Industry minister disavows Treasury emissions trading scheme modelling’.

Senator Abetz —How is this relevant?

Senator CARR —I would have thought—

Senator Wong interjecting—

Senator Johnston interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Johnston and Senator Wong, I am waiting to call Senator Abetz.

Senator Abetz —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. My point of order relates to relevance. Much as I would be delighted for Senator Carr to read out my media release to the chamber, he was in fact asked a question about whether or not the correspondence contained any guarantees about future investment in new models in Australia. He has comprehensively failed to even stray anywhere close to that issue.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. As you are clearly aware, I cannot instruct the minister how to answer a question. I draw the minister’s attention to the issue of being relevant to the question that was asked. The minister has 28 seconds to complete his answer.

Senator CARR —Thank you, Mr President. The egregious misrepresentation of the truth is what the opposition is all about. The senator who asked the question ought to not just accept any rubbish that is handed to him by Senator Abetz, because yesterday Senator Abetz quoted a half-sentence out of context about the Australian manufacturing that is expected to continue and he conveniently neglected that the Treasury referred to a decline in manufacturing as a share of the economy— (Time expired)

Senator BUSHBY —Mr President—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! I draw to the attention of senators that it is not possible to call someone to ask their question whist there is debate across the chamber that is disorderly. Senator Bushby is entitled to be heard in silence.

Senator BUSHBY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given the dire straits of GM Holden’s and Ford’s US parent companies, does the government have any guarantees at all that Australian taxpayers’ money will not end up in Detroit? Will the Prime Minister be meeting with the US heads of GM and Ford to seek such a guarantee when he visits the US next week?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —We should not really be surprised at the opposition being such strangers to the truth. The notion that this is a bailout and that the money will be going to Detroit is completely wrong. It will be staying in Australia where it will be used to create jobs, to build capacity, to stimulate innovation and to make our car industry more competitive. Senator Abetz should not be feeding this sort of destructive, distorted and misleading information out to the Australian people. The ignorance of the opposition—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! I understand that people are a little excited about the question and the answer but it is very difficult to hear Senator Carr. That is a difficulty that I should not have to put up with. Senator Carr, you are entitled to be heard in silence.

Senator CARR —I ask this simple question: how could someone as intelligent as Senator Abetz get it so wrong? Is it a wilful misrepresentation or a stupid blunder? Of course, we will never know. We have seen the member for Curtin desperately ringing around trying to find someone to attack this industry. You will not find someone from South Australia doing that, will you, Senator Minchin. What are you doing, Senator Minchin, to rein in these sorts of destructive comments from your senators? (Time expired)