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Car industry refocuses in Canberra

New post: Kim Carr (pictured right with Kevin Rudd) has been shifted away from the manufacturing industry altogether as minister for human services.

Auto sector renews call for more support, pays tribute to Kim Carr after reshuffle

General News logo8 Mar 2012

PRIME minister Julia Gillard’s ministerial reshuffle last week, which forced Senator Kim Carr to hand over manufacturing responsibilities to federal industry and innovation minister Greg Combet, has prompted the Australian motor industry to urge for continued investment in the sector.

While the elevation of the small business portfolio to the federal Cabinet and the appointment of Brendan O’Connor as minister have been welcomed by the Australian Motor Industry Federation, the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce – the southern state’s peak automotive industry body – has urged Mr Combet to be “an outspoken advocate” for local car and component manufacturers.

“Local manufacturing is facing many challenges,” said VACC executive director David Purchase.

“We trust minister Combet will be an outspoken advocate for assistance for local manufacturers, including the automotive industry, to ensure long-term jobs and growth.

“Manufacturing is so important to our economy that we all should be backing it to the hilt. Indeed, we would like to see the minister’s catchcry be ‘Invest in Australia’.

 center imageFrom top: Ian Chalmers and Greg Combet.

Mr Purchase said this was “not just about money”, but also high-level training, skills development and “a mindset to keep Australia at the forefront”.

“We need to do business with local manufacturers, even where they may not be quite as competitive as the overseas competitor,” he said.

“It will require continued financial investment, and it will also require more considered investment.

“Local manufacturing is important to this country and we look forward to consulting minister Combet on this very issue.”

Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries chief executive Ian Chalmers said the organisation had a “high regard” for Mr Combet and would be working with he and parliamentary secretary Mark Dreyfuss on key issues affecting the industry.

As well as ongoing support for vehicle and component manufacturers, this includes policy certainty on issues such as vehicle emissions.

“We have high regard for Greg Combet and look forward to bringing parliamentary secretary Dreyfuss up to speed with the industry’s issues, particularly in relation to policy certainty,” said Mr Chalmers.

“Australia’s automotive industry has a long history of working productively with governments to maintain a strong and innovative local manufacturing industry.”

Senator Carr was the central figure in ongoing negotiations with GM Holden, Ford and Toyota over support for their manufacturing operations in Australia beyond the current generation of vehicles.

With Holden, at least, these negotiations are currently at a critical stage, with an announcement on the company’s future due soon.

Senator Carr was demoted in December from his previous role of industry and innovation minister to the non-Cabinet post of manufacturing – a move that was widely considered as a payback for switching his support from Ms Gillard to former PM Kevin Rudd.

He also publicly supported Mr Rudd in last week’s leadership ballot, which Ms Gillard won 71 votes to 31, and has subsequently been shifted away from the manufacturing industry altogether as minister for human services.

Manufacturing has been returned to the industry and innovation portfolio under Mr Combet, who is also the minister for climate change and energy efficiency.

Mr Chalmers paid tribute to Senator Carr, describing him as a “passionate and committed supporter” of the Australian automotive industry.

“We are very grateful for his untiring efforts as our ministerial champion over the past four years,” he said.

“Minister Carr treated advocacy of the Australian car industry as a vocation, not just a job, and as a result he is viewed with enormous respect within the sector.

“His contribution is genuinely valued and he will be long-remembered.” In a statement, Senator Carr thanked “the many friends of Australian industry” who have worked with him over the past four years.

“When I came to the Senate in 1993, I said that our nation’s future depended on its ability to maintain a strong, innovative and diverse industrial base. This view has not always been popular, but now stands central to the national agenda,” he said.

“We have seen the Australian people rally behind investments that I trust will secure the future for a million manufacturing workers and their families.

“I have always seen this job as a people job. I am absolutely certain the policies we have pursued, through incredibly difficult times, have helped businesses stay competitive and kept people in work.”

Meanwhile, Australian Motor Industry Federation CEO Richard Dudley said recognition for small business in Cabinet was long overdue and that with Brendan O’Connor’s appointment “the challenge now (is) to match this decision with real support, real reform and real progress – not just rhetoric”.

“Unfair competitive environments, poor, inconsistent and constrictive legislation and regulation, compliance burdens, restrictive and punitive taxation regimes, and workplace relations are all issues impacting the small business sector,” he said.

“The federation calls for the establishment of a small central agency to support the need for coordinated policy development and meaningful reform for small business.

“Without an engine room, the minister cannot be expected to sift through a plethora of advice from across government on a myriad of issues, which arguably has been an impediment to successful reform in the past.”

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