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Tuesday, 1 December 2015
Page: 9435

Senator RICE (Victoria) (16:22): The Australian Greens recognise that there are significant challenges facing the industries and the workforces of Australia's automotive manufacturing sector. This Senate inquiry into the future of the automotive industry has brought to light very important evidence demonstrating how these challenges are impacting the various businesses, workers and communities engaged with automotive manufacturing currently in Australia. There are so many people and businesses who stand to be directly and significantly impacted by the changes ahead in our auto industry. There are a lot of people who are worried about what lies ahead.

The committee report provides a set of strong recommendations following the inquiry into the issues faced by the automotive industry. The Greens support these recommendations, but we submitted additional comments because we want to highlight a number of areas where the majority report fails to emphasise timely action in order to insulate against the collapse of key industries.

We need to move fast. The automotive components industry is in crisis and, without prompt action, there is a real prospect that most of the components industry will not survive the transition. Successive governments' lack of action to support transition in the industry could see the components sector collapse and the big car makers leave even earlier than they are intending to, with potentially devastating consequences for hundreds of thousands of workers and their families.

Electric mobility is the future. There is such potential to join the shift to electric and alternative fuel vehicles, which will enable us to reap enormous benefits in both the economy and the environment. Electric vehicles are cleaner and can be powered by renewable energy. They can contribute to electricity demand management by providing battery storage to the grid. Over the coming decades, electric vehicles are going to join the internet, mobile communications and distributed energy in transforming our economy and society. It is clear that the government can play a role in creating a domestic market for electric vehicles.

We agree with the majority recommendation in the report tabled today, which is to redefine the Automotive Transformation Scheme into a broader automotive related advanced manufacturing, engineering and design program that is intended to maintain skills and industrial capabilities and to stop the loss of jobs by supporting supply chain diversification, new manufacturing investment and jobs growth. But, critically, we believe there should be a time frame placed on this recommendation to ensure this occurs as a matter of urgency, given the imminent exit of the big three car manufacturers.

Opportunities are going to be missed if a new plan is not put in place soon. Ford's planned exit in 2016, together with shrinking forward orders in the components sector, frees up what is estimated to be $800 million in savings in the Automotive Transformation Scheme, which can be redirected and spent on a longer term jobs plan. We support the recommendation to broaden the object of the Automotive Transformation Scheme to drive diversification and transformation activities. We think that electric or alternative fuel vehicles and renewable energy technologies should be priorities for this transformed scheme.

We note the majority recommendation for government to urgently develop and implement a coordinated strategy to avoid a social and economic catastrophe associated with the closure of vehicle manufacturing. But we would like to see some meat on the bones of this recommendation in order to ensure that such a strategy has a level of guidance based on the evidence that was presented to our committee. For example, we would see value in highlighting issues such as skills and job transitions, community support and services and appropriately targeted industry investment.

We also note the recommendation in the majority report to conduct a review of the Voluntary Code of Practice for Access to Service and Repair Information for Motor Vehicles. We believe that the voluntary nature of this code, as it is at the moment, should be a central aspect of that review, because the committee heard compelling evidence that so far this code has had very poor take-up and impact in its first year. We believe there is a very strong case that this review should be short and sharp and be undertaken as soon as possible and that there is a very strong case that the code should be mandatory.

We have only seen one of the car brands fully meeting the requirements of the code. That is one out of 68 car brands supplying to the Australian market. This means that car owners are being dudded, because they do not have real choice of car repairer. They are forced to go to the specialist dealerships because small businesses and independent car repairers are being locked out and cannot get the info they need about repairing specific systems brand by brand. That means that independent car repairers do not have the ability to see whether cars are being tuned properly and minimising their pollution, and it allows scandals like the VW emissions fraud to happen again and again, because there is no independent tailpipe testing of emissions, which could happen when cars are being serviced.

The United States has got mandatory sharing of information, so there is no reason why we should not have that here. And it is urgent that this occur, because independent family-owned businesses are going to the wall while it does not occur. This is such an important thing—to support small businesses and to give people choice of who should repair their cars. Every month we delay is a month of businesses struggling to survive and of more polluting cars.

In summary, the Greens do not oppose the intent of the recommendations in the committee's report but we believe they are not sufficiently forward thinking. We recommend adopting the recommendations but modifying them to incorporate stronger recommendations to drive change sooner. Our additional recommendations put forward a concrete way forward. We recommend that the ATS and its governing legislation be amended to continue support to currently eligible ATS recipients and to redirect the estimated $800 million ATS underspend towards a green and electric car scheme. We want to broaden the eligibility for new entrants to the scheme and promote the car technologies of the future.

Amongst other key issues, we want to focus assistance on auto parts makers that are seeking to be part of the local or global supply chain for electric vehicles or vehicles not powered by fossil fuels. We have also put forward a recommendation to support incentives and infrastructure support to encourage the purchase and rollout of electric vehicles in Australia. We want to see this on COAG's agenda, because we should be developing a policy framework for electric and alternative fuel vehicles and committing to a near-term target for the take-up of electric vehicles in Australia.

There is such potential in the auto industry in Australia, and it is just going to require some vision, some political will from government, to take up that potential and really transform our car industry into a growth industry and an industry that will be supporting a clean environment and supporting jobs in advanced manufacturing.