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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1964

Dr STONE (Murray) (20:36): I agree with the mover of this motion that the General Motors Holden plant in Elizabeth is an iconic South Australian industry directly employing around 2,500 people. I acknowledge the important contribution the General Motors Holden Elizabeth plant makes to the South Australian economy and the broader Australian manufacturing industry. But, at that point, I depart from simply acknowledging those facts in relation to the automotive industry. I want to draw the mover of the motion's attention to another iconic Australia industry that is being absolutely ignored by this government. I think we need to consider that other industry in the light of the support that is being given to automotive, because the problems of these two sectors are very similar.

What are these problems? One of them is the costs of doing business in Australia, particularly the impending carbon tax, which will mean that any industry that is export exposed and energy intensive, like the car industry, is going to be looking at incredibly increased costs and loss of competitiveness. Then there is the daily increasing inflexibility of the Australian workforce. There are high labour costs in Australia, but in the past our productivity has made up for that. Unfortunately, with our productivity stalling and the inflexible workforce with the amazing union dominated conditions that now prevail in any workplace, the automotive industry is suffering. There is the surging dollar, and this government is refusing to pay attention to the incredible difficulties any exporter has with this unmanaged surging dollar. We have got skills shortages in this country and then we have a lack of local demand for local automotives compared to some other products being imported into Australia at much more competitive prices.

What other sector has similar constraints and problems but is, in fact, much bigger than the iconic automotive industry in the value it delivers and the numbers it employs? Let us look at Australian agriculture. Let us look at food manufacturing. Australian farmers and allied sectors generate $133 billion a year in production, equating to 12.1 per cent of GDP. The gross value of Australian farm production at farm gate totals $41.8 billion a year. Australian farm exports earned the country $32.1 billion in 2008-09, representing 11.9 per cent of total exports and 14.7 per cent of all Australian merchandise exports—and that was in drought years.

Australian agriculture is an Australian icon, just like automotive. It supports the jobs of 359,900 other Australians. These jobs are in farming and related industries across our cities and our regions. Like the automotive industry, agriculture is a real job multiplier. Farmers occupy and manage 54 per cent of Australia's land mass and they are on the frontline of delivering environmental outcomes on behalf of the broader community. Australian farmers spent $3 billion on natural resource management over 2006-07. They manage weeds and look after the soil and the land mass, native vegetation and so on. Australian primary industries have led the nation in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by a massive 40 per cent between 1990 and 2006. So what I am saying to the mover of this motion is how come automotive is getting this beaut helping hand from the Australian government—

Mr Georganas: Because it provides jobs.

Dr STONE: I think I just identified how many jobs are provided by agriculture. You cannot compare the two. If agriculture, like the iconic South Australian General Motors Holden plant, is also creating jobs and battling to stay competitive with the high cost of wages, high energy costs, the high dollar and the difficulties with workplace relations right now, I just ask for a level playing field. I just say hang on, take the blinkers off. I know not many rural people vote Labor—in fact very few—but that should not be the governing principle behind who identifies where the needs are and who does not. Of course the South Australian General Motors Holden industry is an icon—most people who are more than half a century old have had a Holden at some stage during their lifetime. But we also have agriculture and we want to eat Australian food in the future, so I ask this government to get a life, look beyond South Australian marginal seats and understand that there are other icons that deserve some attention.