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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 259

Senator EDWARDS (South Australia) (17:51): I come to this debate with a great deal of cynicism following the argument put by the other side. It is the height of hypocrisy for a Labor senator to put forward an MPI accusing the coalition government of not acknowledging the urgency of the crisis in the auto industry. Senator Gallacher did talk of Father Christmas. Perhaps he could dress up the former minister for manufacturing, Senator Kim Carr, and take him out to Elizabeth to spray some more money around like confetti.

As you well know, on 7 September this year, the Australian people, including the people of South Australia, voted as a majority to change the government, to stop this recklessness and to approach industry and manufacturing in a way that was methodical and credible. That is why the Productivity Commission has been asked to report on this valuable industry.

As a South Australian senator, I know firsthand how important an auto industry is to Australia and how important Holden is to South Australia and the northern suburbs of Adelaide in particular. The latest report completed by the Workplace Innovation and Social Research Centre at the University of Adelaide suggests the closure would mean $1.2 billion and 13,200 jobs. So I understand. That is why we have the Productivity Commission involved—to try to protect those jobs, to do something meaningful and to have a plan for longevity and not just what—

Senator Cameron interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Fawcett ): Order! I remind senators on my left that senators have the right to be heard in silence.

Senator Cameron interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, I have just pointed out that senators have the right to be heard in silence.

Senator EDWARDS: Labor were in government for the past six years, and we saw thousands of jobs lost in all sectors of manufacturing, not just in the auto industry. You should stay here, Senator Gallacher. I know it is hard for you to stomach that all those jobs have been lost—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Edwards, I will remind you to address your remarks through the chair.

Senator EDWARDS: In 2005 Holden employed 5,700 people at Elizabeth, working three shifts a day. Today Holden's workforce has shrunk to 1,700 people working single shifts. That is 4,000 jobs lost since the Abbott-Costello government. Labor threw $215 million at Holden at the start of 2012. The member for Wakefield, Mr Champion, claimed that this would secure the future of Holden and its workers until 2022. He sent it out in his postal vote application note for the election in September just gone, saying that he and the Labor Party had secured the future of Holden until 2022. What a blatant misrepresentation. This claim by the member for Wakefield and the former Labor government ripped at the heart of the 400 workers and their families who believed it but then found themselves out of work early in 2013. All of this added to the 170 workers who were laid off before Christmas in 2012.

These figures are made worse given the backdrop in the northern Adelaide suburbs of unemployment of seven per cent. Youth unemployment, as the leader of the opposition in this chamber would know, is a whopping 40.2 per cent in that region. Again, that is a crisis that Mr Champion and the former Labor government created.

While on the one hand Labor threw money at Holden, they took it with the other. Labor's proposed changes to the fringe benefits tax would have seen $1.8 billion ripped out of the industry. After the FBT changes were announced, sales of new cars came to a standstill. I remember taking calls from the Holden dealers in Adelaide, who were wringing their hands with disbelief that a government that claimed to be pro-industry could overlay such a poor policy for growth. An analysis by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries showed that there is likely to be a 10 per cent slump in overall new car sales in Australia as a direct consequence of the FBT changes as well as an almost 20 per cent decline in sales of vehicles made locally by Toyota, Holden and Ford.

All of this was to fill a budget shortfall. Labor's chaotic budget mess was going to be filled by the loss of more manufacturing jobs in South Australia and Australia generally. Up to 550,000 individuals and their families would have been affected by this tax policy move by Labor. Again, Labor's member for Wakefield, Nick Champion, went one step further, audaciously labelling those South Australians who accessed the fringe benefits tax as 'tax dodgers'—people like nurses, firemen and police. These reckless tax changes would have seen many people paying more in tax—in some cases, up to $1,400 a year more—at a time when Labor allowed the cost of living to soar.

The Australian government is now committed to the auto industry and has swiftly taken action to assist the industry to make it more competitive, with strong policy settings. We have announced that we will abandon Labor's FBT changes, leaving $1.8 billion in the pockets of Australians and the auto industry. Secondly, the government is moving quickly to repeal the carbon tax, as we saw earlier today. The carbon tax on car manufacturing increased sector costs by over $460 million and was acting as a reverse tariff.

The PRESIDENT: The question is that the motion moved by Senator Carr on behalf of Senator Moore be agreed to.