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Thursday, 21 August 1980
Page: 595


Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Kingsford) (Smith) - The matter I wish to raise relates to the automotive industry and the failure of Government policy to meet the problems of that industry. Yesterday the General Motors-Holden's Ltd automotive plant at Pagewood closed down and over 1,200 workers began losing their jobs. We have a government that has no policy at all that at least gives those people some hope for the future. It is very important when talking about a government having a policy in these areas to emphasise what has happened at Pagewood. Going back to 1939, the then Mr Menzies opened the plant with the famous words that Pagewood was a symbol of the growth of the Australian motor industry. It is now closed, so it can be said that it is a symbol of the death of the Australian motor industry.


Mr Yates -No.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN - The honourable member might say no, but he should look at the facts. When workers at the plant sought Government assistance the only comment made by a Minister of this Government was that the Government takes the view that commercial decisions are matters for companies themselves. This was no commercial decision. It was the equivalent of an atomic bomb hitting the area. Some 1 , 200 people who have given many years of service to a company have been removed from effective employment.

A government that has encouraged a policy of restructure or change in the automotive industry has deliberately brought about the present situation, lt can be said, of course, that the Government does not have a policy in this area, and that would be an accurate comment. The policy the Government is implementing is the policy of General Motors-Holden's. It is a policy that was drawn up in Detroit. It is a policy which says that the Australian share of the Australian car will be reduced to a point where there will be no real effective Australian content at all. We want to make that point. How is it that a Minister can say: Well, it is not my responsibility; I have nothing to do with the matter; it is a commercial consideration'?

I remind the Government that while General Motors-Holden's has been here it has remitted profits of $A370m to the United States. It should also be borne in mind that it was Australian money that started off the company in Australia and that it was Australian support for the product that gave the company its profits. Now we have the beginning of the end of the automotive industry, lt is Pagewood today; it will be Woodville in South Australia tomorrow. The domino theory poses massive problems for the people involved in the motor vehicle industry. When one talks about 1 ,200 people losing their jobs one has also to look at the multiplying effect of that and what it means to the local community. For example, the local high school will lose perhaps 100 pupils. That will affect the future of that school. Small businesses in the area will expire if there are no customers. That enterprise was paying in wages some $1 2m a year. The displaced workers will now seek from the taxpayers $1.5m by way of unemployment benefit.

When looking at the history of foreign ownership and control it is important to note that 96 per cent of the Australian automative industry is foreign owned and controlled. In looking at the situation highlighted by the Pagewood disaster we should ask ourselves: How did it happen? Can we trust the submission of General Motors-Holden's as to what it sees for the future? I submit not. When that company appeared before an Industries Assistance Commission inquiry in March of this year and was asked whether rationalisation or centralisation would make it more efficient, the answer was that it would not. So we have this dreadful problem just beginning to surface in this country of great unemployment occurring in the manufacturing base.

General Motors has set out to manufacture a world car, basically off-shore, particularly in lower wage countries, and to import the components for assembly here. That will mean more profits for General Motors-Holden's and less employment for Australia. What will happen to our automotive skills, to our skilled tradesmen, to our engineers, to our steel plants and to all those effective components that are required to make an Australian car? Are they to go by the board? What will it mean for our defence structure if we do not have that expertise? How silly it is that we will not even have the expertise to make a car of our own because General Motors, Ford or the Japanese manufacturers decide that it can be done better overseas. Sure, they can do it better overseas in their own interest but what about the Australian interest, the national interest? What about the fact that an Australian industry should be owned and controlled by Australians who are interested in their own resources, inventiveness and technical skills? lt is a farce to think that we have universities and tertiary education institutions turning out good automotive design engineers and tradesmen who have no job opportunities.

One might ask where is the evidence for what I am saying. One can look at it in two areas. Firstly, the Government has no policy for the future of the automotive industry in Australia and, secondly, it is incompetent and inefficient because it fails to grapple with this area. The people who have been retrenched have not been dealt with fairly; they were not given adequate notice. There is legislation in a number of countries to force companies to give employees 12 months notice if they are to be sacked in a situation like this. Negotiations are entered into on the basis of their future, equity, entitlement, redundancy pay and retraining schemes and what will happen to their families. That is all part of the negotiation. There is appropriate legislation in Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and West Germany - anywhere one likes to nominate - which can take effect in this situation, but we do not have it here. Unfortunatly, it is not in the awards either. If a government has no policy for the future of the automotive industry in Australia, it is important that it has an industrial policy for the workers comparable to those overseas.

I decided to do a survey of the employees in my electorate who were involved in the Pagewood plant. About a quarter of those who worked at the plant are in my electorate. They shall remain anonymous. Sixty per cent of those workers had been at the plant for over 10 years; 40 per cent of them had been there for more than 20 years. Seventy per cent of them felt that they had been unfairly treated; 75 per cent of them have not been offered another job; 85 per cent of them feel that their chances of finding another job are bad; 90 per cent of them are unhappy with the retrenchment payments offered by General MotorsHolden's; two-thirds of them support a family, which raises the question of the welfare of their children, and 30 per cent of them believe that they will not be able to remain in their present accommodation. One third of those who have children believe that their children will not be able to remain in the school they presently attend. Twentythree per cent of the respondents have spouses who also work and none of them think that their spouses will be able to get a similar job if they move interstate. Two-thirds of them are workers of non-English ethnic backgrounds. Thirty-one per cent of them believe that they will be unable to meet their mortgage payments, 38 per cent of them believe that they will be unable to meet their hire purchase payments, and 24 per cent of them believe that they will be unable to cope with the cost of school fees and 36 per cent of them believe that they will be unable to meet their food and clothing commitments. That is a disaster from a social point of view and highlights the failures of a government.


Mr Ellicott - You must be talking about the New South Wales Government.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN - It is a Federal responsibility. It is amazing that the Minister for Home Affairs, who hated the young Australians going to Moscow, should walk in and say that we ought to be talking about the New South Wales Government. This Government is responsible for the matter.


Mr Ellicott - I take a point of order.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN - The Minister is very sensitive today.


Mr Ellicott - I am not sensitive today. The point of order is that the honourable gentleman is casting aspersions on my attitude to people going to Moscow and he knows that that is quite untrue.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order!There is no point of order.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN -I suggest that the Minister look at the gallup poll to see how much the Government slipped in July. That will show whether it is untrue. The Government's popularity dropped 6 percent.


Mr Ellicott - You stick to the facts.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN -I am sticking to the facts. It has nothing to do with the New South Wales Government. At least its representatives went to the plant. Not one Minister of this Government went there. The Government has acted as an agent for General Motors-Holden's in destroying these people. I am providing evidence of what the employees think of the Government.


Mr Ellicott - They knew about it weeks ahead and they did nothing.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN - They did nothing of the sort. The Minister who is now putting up a defence is the member of a government which has a Minister who knew about this 12 months ago when he was in Detroit. The argument put forward by the employees is that the Government should have made an effort to protect those employed by the automotive industry from such actions by General Motors-Holden's. That is their claim. A worker has stated:

If the automotive industry is to survive in Australia it will need a lot of future planning and changes, not afterthoughts. Employment prospects in this industry are nil.

The person who stated that had worked at the plant for 16 years and was married with two children. Another said that he was 51 years of age, that he had worked at the plant for 31 years, that he was told that he was too old for that position and that he could not get another job. He said that he felt he had been treated very poorly. A worker who had worked at the plant for eight years stated:

Today it is GMH, tomorrow it will be the Ford, VW, Renault or other factories. At the pace Australia is going not only the vehicle industry is going to end but many more industries.

Those are the sorts of statements that are being made. Another said that he was due to retire in about six years.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.







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