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Industry minister goes on the defensive

Time for action: South Australian premier Jay Weatherill with parliamentary colleagues launching his $350,000 ‘More than Cars’ industry awareness campaign.

Macfarlane accuses Weatherill of playing politics with local car industry

1 Nov 2013

SOUTH Australian premier Jay Weatherill has launched a $350,000 campaign to raise awareness of the role of the Australian car industry as Toyota announced it will look at changing its workplace agreement with thousands of manufacturing staff in a bid to stay afloat.

The ‘More than Cars’ campaign is designed to give workers a voice and to highlight the impact the automotive manufacturing industry has on the Australian economy.

Mr Weatherill launched the campaign at parts maker Carr Components in Adelaide yesterday, saying there was more to the industry than just building cars.

“In South Australia alone, it provides as many as 13,000 jobs and $1.2 billion to the economy,” he said. “It is about the people who work in the car industry, the people who supply the industry and all of the other local businesses that rely on it.”

Mr Weatherill said shoring up support for the industry was critical and that Australia could not afford to lose yet another manufacturing industry.

“Finalising investment in the car industry is now urgent - given the industry’s contribution to jobs and the economy.” Highlighting the federal government’s pre-election promise to cut $500 million from the mooted $1.5 billion co-investment pool allocated to support the industry, Mr Weatherill said local car-makers needed a stronger commitment to ensure their ongoing viability.

“Holden has made it clear it needs more government support, not less and has put an offer to the Federal Government.

“The State Government is willing to make a contribution, Holden workers have made a contribution - what we need now is for the Federal Government to make its commitment to securing these workers’ future.

“The longer the Federal Government delays, the more likely it is that Holden will leave Australia,” he said.

Federal industry minister Ian Macfarlane yesterday confirmed the terms of reference for the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the industry, with an interim report due on December 20 before the final report is released by March 31 next year.

Mr Weatherill told News Limited over the weekend that the federal government had to act quickly if it wanted to ensure Holden’s manufacturing operation remained in Australia.

“Every day they delay their response, the risk of Holden closing increases,” he said. “The ball is in their court. It’s now for them to respond. Delay is only going to increase the risk of Holden closing.”

South Australians go to the polls on March 15 next year, just two weeks before the Productivity Commission findings into the car-making industry are released.

Mr Macfarlane has accused Mr Weatherill of playing politics with the issue and encouraged a bipartisan approach to saving the industry.

“South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill should decide whether his interest in the Australian automotive industry is to ensure long-term sustainability and jobs, or whether his interest is only for short-term political gain in the lead-up to the state election,” Mr Macfarlane said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, Mr Weatherill’s comments today, and in recent days, about the timeframe for the Productivity Commission’s review of the automotive industry and his comments about exports suggest it’s the latter.”

Toyota Australia yesterday confirmed it would ask its local workforce to change the terms of its workplace agreement in a bid to keep labour costs down and ensure ongoing operations at its Altona plant.

This move follows a similar strategy employed by Holden in June this year, when it flagged pay cuts and further job losses to remain viable in the face of cheaper imports and a blowout in manufacturing costs.

Meanwhile, shadow industry minister Kim Carr has accused the Coalition government of lying to the public about the true cost of the carbon tax to local car-makers. Prime minister Tony Abbott suggested while he was opposition leader that the controversial tax was costing manufacturers about $400 for each car they built.

Mr Carr questioned this via his Twitter feed yesterday, saying: “Abbott Government not telling the truth on cost of carbon price. Industry Dept. says cost per vehicle is $50 NOT the $400 claimed by the PM”.

Mr Carr also highlighted what the loss of the industry could cost the government, and in turn, the Australian taxpayer.

“Loss of auto industry would cost $26bn in social security and lost taxes many times more than the cost of keeping it under our New Car Plan,” he posted on the short messaging service.

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