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Australia votes: Abbott stands firm on car aid

Changing heads: Former Howard industry minister Ian Macfarlane (below) will once again represent the car industry under prime minister-elect Tony Abbott’s leadership.

Prime minister elect stands firm on car industry demand on value for money

16 Sep 2013

TONY Abbott has reconfirmed his hard-line stance on Australia’s beleaguered car industry, saying it will need to show cause why it should be supported.

“We’ll stick with the position that we took to the election,” the prime minister-elect said in Canberra today shortly after announcing that former Howard government industry minister Ian Macfarlane would take up the title once again in his new-look cabinet, expected to be sworn in on Wednesday.

“There will continue to be a high level of assistance to the motor industry that we expect the motor industry in return for that high level of assistance to provide us with a reasonable indication of how it is going to increase volumes, particularly increase export volumes,” he said after announcing his cabinet line-up, which includes Bob Baldwin as Mr Macfarlane’s parliamentary secretary – a position he also held under the Howard government.

“I want the car industry in this country to have a long-term, viable future – I don’t want it to live from hand to mouth.

“I accept that government has a role in bringing this about I also believe the industry has a role in bringing this about,” he said.

80 center imageLeft: Industry minister Ian Macfarlane.

“I look forward to further discussions,” he said.

The same sentiment was shared by the nation’s three remaining car-makers – Ford, which has already announced it would stop making cars in Australia from 2016, and those committed to making cars here until at least 2020 if they get continued support, Holden and Toyota.

All three responded that they would be keen to sit down with Mr Macfarlane once he had settled down into his role.

The sentiment was shared by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, which represents the car-makers in Australia.

“I welcome the announcement that the Hon Ian Macfarlane will be appointed Minister for Industry,” FCAI chief executive Tony Weber said.

“The FCAI looks forward to again working with Mr Macfarlane at what is a critical time for the automotive industry.”

The timing is critical, as the Coalition government said early in its election campaign that it would strip $500 million out of the Automotive Transformation Scheme – a car industry support package that promised to provide almost $3 billion in staged funding until 2020.

Holden is expected to make a decision on its long-term manufacturing future next month as it holds talks with its US parent, General Motors, to secure funding for new generations of the Commodore large car and Cruze small car to be built in Adelaide.

Toyota, meanwhile, is working on a business plan to introduce a third model to its Melbourne-based production line.

Mr Abbott used today’s announcement of his cabinet line-up to lend his support to Sophie Mirabella, who could learn her fate as early as tomorrow as the vote count in the Victorian seat of Indi winds down to its final days.

Ms Mirabella late last week stood down from her shadow ministry after a huge swing against her in favour of independent candidate Cathy McGowan. As of late today Ms Mirabella trails in the vote count by a narrow 3.7 per cent.

Asked if his new cabinet contained a gender imbalance, Mr Abbott said if Ms Mirabella had been “clearly ahead” in Indi, she would have been part of his cabinet.

“I regret the absence of Sophie Mirabella who was a champion for Australian industry, particularly manufacturers,” he said.

“Sophie Mirabella cannot serve at this point in time,” Mr Abbott said.

“However, if Sophie does manage to fight back in the seat of Indi certainly I regret her absence ... she has been a staunch opponent of the carbon tax and a staunch supporter of industry.”

Mr Abbott said a priority for the new federal government would be winding back the $25-a-tonne carbon tax, a move that alone would save Australia’s car-makers about $460 million.

The change will be particularly welcome at Toyota – the only one of the three Australian car-makers named in the former federal government’s list of the nation’s 500 highest polluters, and the ones expected to make the highest contributions to the scheme.

Meanwhile, Andrew Peacock’s former chief-of-staff and John Howard’s one-time campaign manager, Andrew Robb, will take on the position as Minister for Trade and Investment.

He has also served as Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Vocational and Further Education, and was the shadow minister for foreign affairs under Mr Abbott’s leadership.

The finance ministry goes to West Australian Senator Mathias Cormann. He elevates to the role after serving as the shadow assistant treasurer and shadow financial services and superannuation minister.

Greg Hunt will dig into the experience gained in his shadow ministry, lining up in Mr Abbott’s cabinet as Environment Minister. He is expected to be busy, as Mr Abbott has already flagged that the rollback of Labor’s carbon trading scheme will be a priority for his government.

Deputy Prime Minister and National Party leader Warren Truss, meanwhile, takes on the responsibility for Infrastructure and Regional Development, a position he held in Mr Abbott’s shadow ministry.

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