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Abbott will ‘destroy’ car industry: Combet

War of words: Innovation minister Greg Combet has panned opposition leader Tony Abbott's (left) spending policy.

War of words erupts over coalition plans to gut industry funding

General News logo19 Apr 2013

19/04/2013INDUSTRY minister Greg Combet has warned that the federal opposition will “destroy” Australia’s car-making industry if elected to power.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott last night said a coalition government would spend $1 billion under the Labour Government’s existing Automotive Transformation Scheme that is designed to encourage competitive investment and innovation in the Australian car-making industry.

‘‘We support the car industry. We want the car industry to flourish,’’ Mr Abbott said at a community forum held in Geelong.

However, Mr Combet seized on the opposition leader’s comments, saying by allocating only $1 billion in support to the sector, Mr Abbott had committed to cut funding to $500 million by 2015, and to cut all funding beyond that date.

The current scheme is scheduled to run until 2020, with a $1.5 billion first installment due to expire in 2015. The Federal Government has committed to a further $1.8 billion of assistance through until 2022.

“Mr Abbott’s reckless plan to cut $2 billion of support to the industry threatens the jobs of more than 250,000 workers and the proud history of automotive manufacturing in this country,” Mr Combet said.

“The automotive industry has made it perfectly clear that due to the intense pressures imposed by the high Australian dollar and increased international competition, they cannot continue to make Australian-made cars without the support of governments.”

Shadow minister for Innovation, Industry and Science, Sophie Mirabella, said Mr Combet had produced “at least 13 blatant lies” in his release.

“The coalition has made it very clear that we do not intend to make a multi-billion (dollar) cut to car industry funding,” Ms Mirabella said.

“… What we are committed to doing is establishing a funding model that is focused on the long-term viability of the automotive sector, as the current polices and $1.4 billion worth of broken promises from Labour are continuing to create disastrous consequences, including mass job losses from the industry.

“Plucking figures from thin air, claiming the coalition has repeatedly stated something as policy when we have not only never said it but actually explicitly ruled it out, and fabricating quotes and publishing them in Tony Abbott’s name is a cruel play on manufacturing workers’ concerns about their future job security.”

 center imageLeft: Greg Combet

Holden director of government relations and internal communications Matt Hobbs told GoAuto that the car-maker would continue to talk with both sides of government over the future of local car-making.

“(Holden managing director Mike Devereux) did say that 2013 was an important year for the Australian car-making industry,” Mr Hobbs said.

He said Holden was talking to “both sides of the political spectrum” to ensure the car-maker’s case about why the car-making industry was so important to Australia.

“Both sides (of politics) know our circumstances know the pressures we are under.

“It’s for them to react with a set of policies that they believe is appropriate, and then we can make decisions around that.”

Asked if Holden had an exit strategy in place should federal funding be gutted, Mr Hobbs said the car-maker had “not seen pressure like this for a long time”.

“We’ve got a plan, and we want to move to implement that plan to continue to build until 2022, and it will need ... clear, consistent and globally competitive policy.

“We think we’re a great industry, a valuable industry, a competitive industry on the world’s stage.”

Ford Australia communications and public affairs director Sinead Phipps said the car-maker did not disclose information about the talks it held with all levels of government.

However, she said the company did think there was bipartisan support for the industry’s future.

“We believe that there is support and recognition of the value that the Australian car-making industry brings to the Australian economy from both sides of parliament,” Ms Phipps said.

Toyota Australia’s media and external affairs manager beck Angel told GoAuto it believed both the Government and Opposition were supportive of local manufacturing.

“We will continue to work with both parties on mid- to long-term policies so that we can continue building cars in Australia,” she said.

Prime minister Julia Gillard today meets with the heads of Australia’s states and territories to thrash out reforms to the national economy, as part of the annual Council of Australian Governments forum.

South Australian premier Jay Weatherill and his Victorian counterpart, Denis Napthine, have said they will use the Canberra-based meeting to petition other states to buy more Australian-made cars in an effort to help the industry boost production.

Mr Weatherill said Australian car-makers could boost production by up to 20,000 if more government buyers chose the locally made product over imports.

Holden’s Matt Hobbs said the car-maker would appreciate any effort to help it sell more cars.

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