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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 34

Senator CAMERON (3:55 PM) —I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this debate on Senator Abetz’s matter of public importance—a typical Abetz approach: a rambling tirade against the government. The framing of Senator Abetz’s motion, which attempts to link the government’s initiative on deposit guarantees to the global threat facing the Australian car industry, is quite bizarre. It is actually an insult to the 200,000 Australians who owe their jobs to the car industry. This motion demonstrates that Senator Abetz lacks even a basic understanding of the drivers for the Australian manufacturing industry. It is not surprising, as Work Choices and short-term adjustment packages were the hallmarks of the Howard government.

Senator Abetz raises the luxury car tax. I happened to sit through all of the submissions on the luxury car tax. The people who were complaining most about the luxury car tax were the importers of luxury cars, who were saying that it gave the Australian manufacturing industry an unfair competitive advantage. Senator Abetz fails to understand that it is not the CSIRO who will drive innovation in the Australian car industry; it has to be the car industry itself. It has to be the managers of the car industry, it has to be the workers in the car industry—they have to bring the technology and the ideas to bear to make the car industry internationally competitive in the future.

The Howard government were all about crisis management and media management as distinct from leadership on the car industry. The Howard government, of which Senator Abetz was a prominent minister, had no vision, no strategy, no planning—it was simply ‘let the market rip’. That was the Howard government’s approach to the car industry. In the face of a clear market failure, where the Australian car industry ignored changing consumer demand and where the car industry ignored the need for more fuel efficient vehicles, the Howard government stood back and did nothing. The opposition need a shadow minister with at least a basic understanding of the current economic crisis and the problems facing the car industry. This motion from Senator Abetz demonstrates that he does not have that skill; he does not understand the industry.

This motion continues the carping negativity that underpins much of the opposition’s response to the current international economic crisis. It is Senator Abetz at his whining and moaning best. This is an opposition who think they are too smart by half—all form and no substance. While Senator Abetz is busy focusing on cheap political stunts, the government continues to take strong and decisive measures to help our working families, to help our pensioners, to help our industry and to help our car industry as it faces massive global challenges. This is an opposition that for 11½ years in government failed to deal with the key issues facing the economy and Australian working families. This is an opposition who were lazy, indolent and unprepared for the bigger economic challenges of globalisation.

Howard, Costello, Turnbull and Senator Abetz presided over a collapse of investment in this country. Senator Abetz stood idly by while productivity and innovation declined. Senator Abetz failed to take the real steps to develop our economy for the future. The opposition presided over the collapse of elaborately transformed manufactures in this country. They presided over a decline in the skill base in this country, and their only answer was 457 visas and to bring workers in to make up for their vandalism in terms of the skill base in this country.

This is an opposition who were climate change sceptics and who, while in government, failed to take steps to ensure the environmental sustainability of our industries and our nation. This is an opposition who rode on the back of the mining boom while masquerading as competent economic managers—11½ years of lost opportunities, of failing to deal with the hard economic challenges that our country, our industry, our communities and our workers face. They were all ignored in the 11½ years of the Howard government.

What did the Howard government do for industry? They negotiated free-trade agreements with the United States and Thailand—free-trade agreements that were a disgrace. They benefited the manufacturing industries of the US and Thailand. They created jobs in the US car industry and the Thai car industry at the expense of Australian workers. Following the implementation of the Howard government’s free-trade agreements, our balance of trade with these countries has declined and cutting-edge and high-skill jobs have been lost to Thailand and the US.

What did the Howard government give us? They gave us Work Choices. They gave us increased managerial prerogative to reduce wages and conditions in the vain hope that this would improve the productive performance of our industries—a lazy approach to industry development, an approach that was doomed to failure. The Howard government adopted a policy of allowing business to cost-cut instead of investing for the future of this nation. Liberal ministers sat around the cabinet table discussing the latest right-wing ideology for attacking working families while real policies which could have driven an internationally competitive economy were ignored.

It has been left to the Labor government to focus on the real issues facing the economy and Australian working families. We have led the world in moving decisively to ensure the stability of our banking sector. As distinct from the opposition’s political stunt on pensions, we have developed an $11.3 billion economic package designed to stimulate economic activity while targeting assistance to the needy. We have moved quickly to focus the car industry on environmental sustainability—something the Howard government failed to do for 11½ years. We have committed $250 million to Enterprise Connect, which is about focusing companies on innovation, management systems, skill development and technological investment—the real drivers of economic wealth and international competitiveness, unlike Work Choices, attacking working families’ wages and conditions, and giving bosses the easy way out to try and reduce costs. We have committed $240 million for Clean Business Australia, practical assistance to help our industries meet the challenges of global warming. We are developing a sophisticated approach to export policies, one designed to assist our companies to compete in cutthroat international markets.

Global manufacturing leaders such as Germany and China have moved quickly to assist their domestic industries, with stimulation packages worth $96 billion in Germany and $871 billion in China. US President-elect Obama has foreshadowed a domestic stimulation package and assistance for the beleaguered US car industry. Nations around the world understand the importance of having a strong, internationally competitive car industry. No nation can provide a high standard of living in a sustainable manner if they simply rely on mineral extraction and agriculture as their economic base. Australia must be more than a quarry, a farm and a tourist destination.

The Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, and the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr, have again acted decisively in developing A New Car Plan for a Greener Future. This is a car plan that will maintain jobs in the Australian manufacturing sector—a sector that directly employs 64,000 Australians, three-quarters of them in Victoria and South Australia. An estimated 200,000 people owe their jobs to the car industry. The car industry produces economic activity of $8 billion a year to GDP. Flow-on activities from the car industry go into iron, steel, rubber, mechanical repairs, wholesale trade and business services. On exports, the Australian auto industry’s exports are worth $5.6 billion a year, making it the largest manufacturing export sector and putting its products in the top 10 of all goods and services. On research and development and innovation, the Australian auto industry invests over $600 million a year in research and development and employs over 3,000 researchers, technicians and support staff. The Australian auto industry is absolutely critical to manufacturing because building a car involves other advanced technologies, from microchips to light metals.

This was never an issue for the Howard government. The Howard government were content to throw money at the industry without any strategy, without any reciprocal obligation and without real results. The plan that we have produced today is a plan that will bring the industry into the 21st century and bring the management of the industry to focus on the innovation and research and development that is so important for our future. Our New Car Plan for a Greener Future is about attracting new investment in long-term sustainable vehicle production—something that the Howard government failed to do in 11½ years. It is about greening the industry. It is about what the community wants. It is not about turning our back on global warming and pretending it is not happening. It is about improving fuel efficiency and reducing carbon emissions. It is about strengthening the local supply chain and boosting skills.

When I was the secretary of the biggest manufacturing union in the country, every time I wrote to a Howard government minister or to the Prime Minister, I was treated with contempt and ignored. Back five and six years ago we were writing to the Howard government saying, ‘You must take steps to protect this industry from their own bad practices and management. You must have an investment in green cars. You must look at what we can do on innovation and technology.’ Yet we were ignored. When we raised the issue of the cost-down approach from the car industry to our components sector, we again were ignored. We said, ‘If our car components sector declines, there is nothing to keep the car industry here.’ Yet we signed a free-trade agreement with Thailand that allows them to build their car components sector into one of the most effective and efficient in the world—off the back of a crook free-trade agreement the Howard government signed, off the back of what is really one of the worst deals that we have ever seen with the United States of America in terms of that free-trade agreement.

We have to strengthen the local supply chain and boost the skills in the industry. We have to link our supply chains to improve market access around the world. If we do not have the skills, if we do not have the innovation and if we do not have the technology, we will not compete. For Senator Abetz to come here and do a cheap political stunt for 10 minutes, saying it is the government’s economic position that is damaging the car industry, beggars belief. It is the most hypocritical thing that I have heard for years in this place. (Time expired)