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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4448

Senator WORTLEY (2:43 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr. Can the minister explain to the Senate how the government’s A New Car Plan for a Greener Future is driving the transformation of the Australian car industry? What obligations does the plan impose on automotive companies and how is the industry meeting those obligations? Can the minister apprise the Senate of any concrete evidence that car companies are adopting new technologies to produce better environmental and economic outcomes in response to the plan? What kinds of vehicle improvements can Australians expect as a result of the plan? And to what extent does the success of A New Car Plan for a Greener Future depend on close cooperation between government and industry?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I thank Senator Wortley for her question. It is a very important one for South Australia and for Australia. A New Car Plan for a Greener Future throws down a serious challenge to the Australian car industry. It requires automotive companies to invest in new capacity, to modernise their operations, to increase the skills of management and workers and to develop environmentally sustainable products and processes. Above all, it requires them to innovate. The industry is responding to that challenge despite the worldwide recession and the upheaval that this has caused in the global car industry.

In the past three weeks, we have seen both Ford and Holden announce new green engines for their Australian made cars. Ford Australia has convinced Detroit that the first application of the company’s ecoboost turbocharge technology to a rear-wheel drive platform should happen in this country. This technology enables a four-cylinder engine to achieve the power and torque of a six-cylinder engine but with 20 per cent better fuel economy and 15 per cent lower CO2 emissions. It is a similar story at Holden, which is using spark-ignition direct-injection technology to create six-cylinder engines that match the economy and emissions of fours. Australia expects this latest innovation in these engines. We are demanding that of the industry.

Transmission and tyre design, increased fuel efficiency and all the rest of it lead to a situation where we will have a 13 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions—as much as 14 per cent across a range of models and configurations. These are very, very significant improvements. They demonstrate just what governments and industry can achieve when they work together. (Time expired)

Senator WORTLEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer. Can the minister update the Senate on the government’s approach to technological change in the automotive sector? Given the range of new technologies being discussed, including all-electric and hydrogen powered vehicles, what are the advantages to Australia in pursuing further improvements to the technologies we now have? Given that some of the more radical new vehicle technologies under consideration are expensive, unproven and possibly unsuitable for Australian conditions, will the government continue to support the Australian industry’s efforts to improve the affordability, safety and environmental performances of today’s vehicle platforms?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —What new Ford and Holden engines demonstrate is that there is still enormous scope to build cars that are cheaper to run and easier on the planet by redefining existing technologies. We all know hybrid and all-electric technologies are making serious headway. That is why the government is supporting Toyota’s plans to build a hybrid Camry in Australia. We all know hydrogen is shaping up as a long-term option, yet it will take time to achieve a widespread transition to these technologies.

Why wait when we can cut motoring costs and reduce carbon footprints right here, right now and we can do it with existing technologies improved? This is why the New Car Plan for the Greener Future is technology neutral. This is a plan to achieve both immediate benefits and long-term transformations.

Senator WORTLEY —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer. Can the minister now inform the Senate how a New Car Plan for a Greener Future is delivering improved economic outcomes? To what extent is the government’s support for the industry helping to shake loose additional private sector investment? To what extent does new investment depend on the stability of the policy environment and the strength of the government’s commitment to the industry’s future? Finally, has a New Car Plan for a Greener Future had a particular bearing on investment decisions during the global downturn, which has hit the international automotive industry especially hard?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —The government’s support for the car industry is based on mutual obligation and we make no apology for that. For example, Ford Australia’s sustainable engine initiative involved $230 million worth of new investment. The Commonwealth is contributing $42 million from the Green Car Innovation Fund. The certainty and the support we have provided is enabling the Australian industry to attract new investment even in these very, very tough times. It has ensured that Holden remains on the A-list and as part of the new General Motors.

The last thing we need now is gratuitous meddling that will undermine confidence and call Australia’s support for the car industry into question. The last thing we need now is political point scoring that will put tens of thousands of jobs at risk. I would have thought, after the fiasco of the OzCar email, the Liberals would have learned to stay away from their petty meddling in this industry.