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Senators press for Holden plant action
Department auto chief under pressure to facilitate Dumarey bid for Holden plant
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12 Feb 2016
By IAN PORTER
SENATORS Kim Carr and Nick Xenophon used a meeting of the senate economics committee to ramp up pressure on the department of industry, innovation and science to work with all parties to ensure that the GM Holden plant in South Australia stays in production when manufacturing ceases in 2017.
The senators grilled Senator Arthur Sinodinos and department executive Peter Chesworth on whether the government was working to help the Belgian entrepreneur Guido Dumarey take charge of the Elizabeth assembly plant and the Fishermans Bend engine plant after 2017.
Mr Sinodinos, cabinet secretary in the Turnbull government, was representing industry minister Christopher Pyne.
He tabled a copy of a letter of support that industry minister Christopher Pyne had written in support of the proposal by Mr Dumarey’s Punch Corporation to keep the Holden plants in operation.
“It’s a very good letter, a strong commitment from the government,” Senator Carr said. “The question is, how do you translate that into action.”
Senator Carr asked Mr Chesworth several times about his role in facilitating meetings between interested parties, including Punch Corporation, the department of prime minister and cabinet and state governments.
“There will be a need for assistance in the development of the business case.
Access to Government programs for instance, will be required, co-ordination with state governments. Who’s responsible for that?” the senator asked.
“That falls to me as I am named as contact point,” Mr Chesworth said.
“I am interested to know what is the level of support from the Commonwealth in terms of liaison with other departments and with General Motors and, for instance, our foreign affairs and trade people. What co-ordination has taken place with state governments?” Senator Carr said.
“I understand there is a state delegation going to Detroit, are you aware of that?” he asked.
“No, I am not aware of that,” Mr Chesworth said.
“Should the Commonwealth be able to participate in such a delegation?” Senator Carr asked.
“If we are invited, it is something we could take up.
“In my experience you need to talk to people in order to get things done. That’s my point.
I am urging you to make sure that it is done,” the Senator said.
Senator Xenophon first wanted to establish whether the Automotive Transformation Scheme was still in place, as asserted by Mr Pyne in a radio interview in Adelaide.
“Do the minister’s comments reflect government policy?” Senator Xenophon asked.
“The Automotive Transformation Scheme remains as legislated,” Mr Chesworth said.
Senator Xenophon then asked about the leverage that the Commonwealth government might be able to use to encourage General Motors to reach an agreement with Punch Corporation.
He drew attention to the fact that GM Holden had received $2.17 billion of taxpayers’ money between 2001 and 2012. An unidentified member of the senate panel said “that is a lot of cohunas”.
“Another way of looking at it is this,” Senator Xenophon said.
“If Australian taxpayers had put so much money into research and development and capital into GMH, billions of dollars, is there a role for the Commonwealth to constructively engage with GMH to encourage them to have good faith negotiations with Punch Corporation so they can have access to the Zeta platform that it appears that Australian taxpayers have effectively paid for to a large extent, if not wholly, so that they could, if they had fair commercial terms, access that platform that we effectively paid for as taxpayers?“That could mean a significant investment by Mr Dumarey,” Senator Xenophon said. “From what he’s told me about $150 million of Punch Corporation money.
That would save many thousands of jobs.”
Senator Sinodinos doubted there was any leverage available to the Australian Government.
“What leverage do you suggest we have over Holden? The money’s gone out the door. We never made it conditional by taking the intellectual property or keeping the intellectual property,” Senator Sinodinos said.
“The point Senator Xenophon is making is there is an issue here about how do we maintain capacity in this country given the level of public investment that has occurred in creating that capacity,” Senator Carr said.
“It’s untrue to say the government has no leverage. There are many things that international companies require of this country and require of government.”
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