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Bracks to orchestrate new car plan for Australia

Peugeot driver: Ex-premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks.

Former Victorian premier to oversee Federal Government's automotive industry review

14 Feb 2008

FORMER Victorian premier Steve Bracks has been appointed to head up a crucial review of the Australian vehicle manufacturing industry.

The long-serving Labor member has been given the position by the new federal Labor government, prompting the opposition to label the appointment as a case of “jobs for the boys.” The automotive review will consider the impact on Australia's automotive industry of the new-vehicle import tariff (which is scheduled to drop from 10 to five per cent in 2010), free-trade aggreements, the Automotive Competitiveness and Investment Scheme (ACIS), changing buyer tastes and climate change, among a host of other issues.

Minister for innovation, industry, science and research Kim Carr said the study would also guide the implementation of the government's planned $500 million Green Car Innovation Fund.

He said the environment in which the Australian vehicle and component makers operate has changed dramatically over the last 10 years and claimed the previous government had been “asleep at the wheel”.

“What is now needed is a full, open and frank assessment of the challenges currently facing the sector,” Mr Carr said.

 center imageLeft: Commodore assembly at GM Holden's Elizabeth plant outside Adelaide and Aurion production at Toyota's Altona facility in Melbourne.

Mr Bracks, who resigned as premier last year, will a head a panel that includes Tim Harcourt (Australian Trade Commission chief economist), Peter Upton (former CEO or Federation of Automotive Products Manufacturers), Dr Elizabeth Webster (principal research fellow, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research) and Nixon Apple (industry and investment policy adviser, ACTU).

He said the review will consult widely with stakeholders and will call for public submissions.

It will provide an interim report to the government by March 31, with a final report to be completed by July 31.

Federal deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop yesterday attacked the impending Bracks appointment, saying he had been appointed against departmental advice and also claimed he would be paid $10,000 a week.

Mr Bracks defended his appointment on 774 ABC Melbourne radio this morning, stating that he was in a good position to lead the review given his experience working with Toyota, Holden and Ford in his time as premier.

He also dismissed the claim he would be paid $10,000 a week, stating he believed the daily figure, which would be set by the Remuneration Tribunal, would be more like $500 a day.

Mr Bracks told 774 ABC it was important that the Australian car industry responded to changing customer needs.

“It is very important that the car industry in the country is geared up for what people want, and clearly with high petrol prices, with greenhouse gas emissions and fuel efficiency are all key issues that are obviously going to drive the industry in the future,” he said.

Mr Bracks said the review would consider the best way to help the industry respond to customer demands and remain profitable.

“The primary objective is to have a long term sustainable industry, a competitive industry given worldwide competition is increasing not reducing,” he said.

“There is no use having short term protection measures if long term the industry goes. Having a sustainable position where you direct your effort, you direct your assistance for the long term is the key and that is about fuel efficiency and what the consumer wants,” he said.

Mr Bracks said the review would consider the views of both industry and consumers who he said want more fuel efficient cars.

“The consumers are demanding this, but importantly we have got to get the structure of the industry right and I’m looking forward to receiving submissions from industry sections, from the community, from governments right around the country,” he said.

Asked which car he drove now that he had retired from government, Mr Bracks replied: a diesel Peugeot,” which is fully imported.

“I would love to see the local industry have fuel-efficient, low-emission cars in the future and I’m sure most of the Australian public would love to see that as well,” Mr Bracks said.

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) welcomed today's announcement, but warned of the need for it to produce results.

"It is essential this review leads to a renewed policy framework, capable of underpinning the future investment required for on-going model development in Australia," said FCAI chief executive Andrew McKellar.

"There has been a significant change in the competitive environment faced by the local manufacturing industry since the last major review of policy arrangements in 2002.

"It is timely for the Australian Government to undertake this review.

"It is essential that we keep pace with the rapid change affecting the manufacturing sector." "We are confident the process outlined for the review will be rigorous," he said.

"It will provide an opportunity for the industry to clearly put forward its vision for the future."

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