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Export or die, warns Abbott

Warning: Opposition leader Tony Abbott has praised the Ford Territory, but says local car-makers need to export more.

Opposition leader says car-makers, especially Ford, must export more

12 Apr 2013

OPPOSITION leader Tony Abbott has delivered a stern warning to Ford Australia, saying its policy of not widely exporting the Territory breaks his heart.

In a speech to the Australian Automotive Expo in Sydney last night, Mr Abbott said that he would prefer that any company which received Government assistance should make a big effort to export the vehicles it designs and makes in Australia.

Ford sells some Territory soft-roaders and Falcon sedans and utes in nearby markets, but its export efforts are dwarfed by those of Toyota and, more recently, GM Holden.

“As someone who has driven a Territory for most of the last decade, I know what a great product that is,” Mr Abbott said.

“I know it is emblematic of the great products that people can make right across the motoring sector generally here in Australia, and the thing that breaks my heart is that this great Australian car is virtually only available here in this country.

“Why isn’t the Territory sold in the US? Why isn’t it sold in the Middle East? Why isn’t it sold in Europe? Why isn’t it part of the offering wherever its manufacturer is selling, given the quality of that particular car. And the same goes for the other cars that are made in this country.”

“So the challenge that Sophie (Mirabella, opposition spokesman on industry) and Scott (Ryan, parliamentary secretary for small business and fair competition) and I throw to the motor manufacturers of this country is: yes, we will support you, because the last thing we want to see is the end of motor manufacturing in this country.

“But, please, do the right thing by your designers, your workers. Give them a fighting chance of a long-term future by making sure that the excellence of their product is more obvious to the wider world.”

“Yes, I want the motor industry in this country, every aspect of it, to flourish, I really do. And the best thing that we can do for the motor industry in this country is to buy Australian-produced motor products, from the Ford Territory and the Commodore and the other products here, and all the products that you make and import and export, that’s the best thing that we can do.”

A diplomatic cable posted on whistleblower site Wikileaks in 2011 revealed that Ford Australia knocked back the federal government’s offer of “co-investment opportunities” to develop a left-hand-drive export program for the Falcon and Territory as far back as 1999.

''[Former Industry Minister Kim] Carr is very worried about Ford's future in Australia,” the cable, signed off by former Melbourne-based US Consul-General Michael Thurston, says.

“He told [the Consul-General's office] Melbourne he fears Ford will not succeed in attracting the necessary investment to update its aging product lines,” it says.

According to the cable, Mr Thurston said separate talks with Ford's management ''provided us a different perspective of its future — it sees itself very much as part of Ford's global business and would be willing to make sacrifices for the good of the greater company''.

Mr Abbott’s speech to the Australian Automotive Expo in Sydney comes a day after a dire warning from the current head of industrial giant BHP Billiton and US car-maker Ford’s former global chief executive, Jac Nasser, that the end of the motor industry Australia was “inevitable”.

And it came as GM Holden chief executive Mike Devereux travels to Adelaide to hold crisis talks with South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill after announcing 500 job cuts despite a $50 million grant from SA’s public purse tied to job security.

Mr Abbott has also been quite vocal about threatening to cut support to Australia’s ailing car-making industry, saying early last year he would pull $500 million out of assistance programs and sparking party room infighting as shadow ministers argued for its reinstatement.

Late last year, GM Holden managing director Mike Devereux entered the fray, calling on Mr Abbott to commit to an Australian automotive industry before September’s federal election, or risk losing it.

However, Mr Abbott last night indicated that any government he led would continue to support the motor industry.

“And, yes, I accept that at least for the foreseeable future there will be a role for government providing specific support for motor manufacturing industry, I accept that. I fully accept that.

“But I want the industry to be clear, too, that it has a job to respond to the support of government by doing what it can to ensure that Australian-produced cars are more being marketed to the world and not simply being marketed here in Australia.”

Mr Abbott said that a coalition government would set out to make it easier to design and produce excellent products.

He said that was why he would get rid of the carbon tax and why any government he led would make a “serious effort” to reduce the red-tape burden on businesses generally.

“The carbon tax is not the only burden that manufacturers in this country face,” Mr Abbott said.

“There are red-tape burdens, workplace relations burdens, there is the fact that we are a relatively small market, there is the high dollar.

“It’s all very well talking about the rights of workers, and we must respect the rights of workers.

“It’s all very well talking about the importance of a clean environment and, obviously, we only have one planet to live on. But, in the end, if we don’t have profitable private businesses, nothing else really works.”

However, Mr Abbott had nothing to say about the high Australian dollar and the aggressive currency war being waged against Australia by the US and Japan.

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