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Thursday, 14 May 2020
Page: 2531

Senator McGRATH (QueenslandDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (17:47): For many Australians, the biggest battle Holden had been involved with over the last 60 years was with Ford for championship points at Bathurst. But now, sadly, it appears a bigger battle is brewing between General Motors and the Holden dealers it has been in business with for 89 years—since 1931—and there is a lot more on the line than mere bragging rights.

It was bad on the part of General Motors to blindside these businesses earlier this year by announcing by press release the decision to retire the Holden brand. At the time, I said that General Motors had acted with 'the ethics of a granny-smacking purse snatcher', and nothing I've heard from Holden dealers throughout Australia since then has changed my view or that of my colleagues in this parliament.

Mary Barra, the worldwide chair and CEO of General Motors, who has a pay package in the tens of millions of dollars, is sending Australian families to the wall. Ms Barra is now using coronavirus as an alibi for the worst corporate behaviour. Talk about Dodge City. Talk about Gordon Gekko on steroids. It now appears General Motors are privately attempting to put the screws to these Holden franchisees, forcing time lines and attempting to make dealers sign up to further oppressive agreements as part of settlements and to stretch out payments. Shame on you, General Motors. Shame on you, Ms Barra, and your American legal chicanery.

To put it bluntly, General Motors are trying to sneak out under the cover of COVID-19, disappear in the night and leave Australian businesses stranded after an 89-year one-night stand. This is an unforgivable stance for General Motors to be taking, particularly at a time when the Australian economy and businesses are managing the economic shock of the current pandemic. Our motor industry in Australia means our retailers, mainly family businesses, who invested heavily in facilities and people over the past 100 years at the behest of the manufacturers. I'm very concerned at the apparent stonewalling by General Motors with regard to what should be good-faith commercial negotiations with its dealers in relation to their exit from the Australian market. In hindsight, it seems General Motors has planned to subvert the franchise code, and it's been years in the making. General Motors have promised the earth and have given a bucket of sand.

The decision by General Motors to discontinue Holden operations in Australia is their prerogative, but they must do so responsibly and in a manner that is fair to the very people that have enabled the company to operate in the Australian marketplace. General Motors need to understand that what they're offering dealers in compensation for killing the brand is just not good enough. General Motors may think the rich history of the Holden brand in Australia is worthless, but I think it's priceless. If General Motors think the brand is worth nothing, then hand the brand back to Australia. Give it back to the Holden dealers. In fact, I'm happy to purchase the Holden brand from General Motors for a dollar. I'll send you, Ms Barra, a dollar in the post and you can give us the Holden brand back and we'll give it to the Holden dealers. This is about the livelihood of people right across the country, particularly in regional areas. It's not just about the dealers and franchisees who are impacted by the decision. It's about the mechanics, the allied trades and the owners of thousands of vehicles. I've said it before and I'll say it again, and I'll keep saying it louder and louder: General Motors, be better. Australian Holden dealers want a fair deal. They don't want a special deal; they just want a fair deal.