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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1286

Senator McEWEN (2:59 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr. Can the minister explain to the Senate the significance to Australia of Holden’s VE ute export program?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I thank Senator McEwen for her question. The importance of this announcement to South Australia cannot be underestimated. This is a project of considerable significance to the Australian automotive industry in general but to South Australia specifically. Senator, I am sure you would appreciate this has considerable and quite far reaching consequences. It was my pleasure to take part last Sunday in Holden’s announcement that it was about to start exporting its VE ute to the United States.

Senator Abetz —You know why?

Senator CARR —The ute has already been exported to South Africa and New Zealand—

Senator Abetz —Because of the free trade agreement you opposed!

Senator CARR —I have got an interjection from the opposition. I welcome once again the opposition’s interest in the automotive industry. I would have thought by now we would have heard a great deal more from the opposition.

Senator Abetz interjecting—

Senator CARR —I know Senator Minchin has a deep appreciation of the value of this industry; I acknowledge that. It is a pity his shadow minister does not share that conviction. What we have here is a ute that is being exported to the United States and the Middle East. Holden sells vehicles and engines into Asia and Europe. That is exactly the direction in which we want to see this industry go. It is a project that does highlight the capacity of the industry to focus on innovation and on exports. The car industry has shown the way on many of these fronts. If we can just compare the figures: in 1982 exports totalled only $277 million; in 2007 they topped $5 billion. Even allowing for inflation, these are remarkable transformations. Twenty years ago, less than one in 10 of vehicles that were built in this country were exported. In 2006, the figure was 40 per cent. The automotive industry now accounts for 17 per cent of the elaborately transformed manufactures exports.

There are people in this country, including Senator Abetz, who take the view that they would be happy to see this industry go out the back door. They need to explain what they would do to replace those exports. They need to explain what the consequences of the removal of this industry would be for the 60,000 Australians employed in high-skill, high-wage jobs. They need to explain what they would replace this industry with in terms of the massive investment in R&D that it contributes to the Australian economy. R&D is the key to Holden’s success. This is a company that has seen Detroit sit up and take notice of the capabilities of the Australian automotive industry. We have seen it from the Commodore Coupe a decade ago to the Coupe 60, which was unveiled at the Melbourne International Motor Show last month. These cars are tangible proof of Holden’s design and engineering expertise. They give us a glimpse of the future and they provide us with an opportunity for—

Senator Abetz interjecting—

Senator CARR —I pity the shadow minister, who has so little understanding of these issues, yet has been given responsibility by the opposition to actually be a spokesperson for the Liberal Party on these questions. It is a shame, Senator Minchin, that more effort has not been made to educate your shadow minister on just how important these questions are for Australia. (Time expired)

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, unless there is a supplementary question, which I would enjoy, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.