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Holden makes its pitch for survival

On tour: Federal industry minister Ian Macfarlane inspects the Holden production line in Adelaide with Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux and South Australian premier Jay Weatherill.

Minister promises to take Holden plight to cabinet, despite “not a lot of money”

Holden logo2 Oct 2013

By RON HAMMERTON

FEDERAL industry minister Ian Macfarlane has promised to use “the full breadth of my portfolios”, including science and innovation, to help save Holden’s Australian manufacturing operations beyond 2016.

He said he would take proposals to federal cabinet for discussion, but warned: “I don’t know where the money is going to come from.” Speaking after touring Holden’s Elizabeth car assembly plant in South Australia with Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux, South Australian premier Jay Weatherill and other politicians of several stripes, Mr Macfarlane said the new Abbott government had “not a lot of money” to put on the table for Holden and the rest of the Australian automotive industry, including Melbourne-based Toyota Australia and parts manufacturers.

The Coalition went into the federal election with a policy of chopping $500 million from motor industry assistance – a move that caused Holden and its General Motors parent to rethink its proposal to invest $1 billion in two new models – a replacement for the current Cruze and the new ‘VJ’ Commodore – to be built in Australia from about 2016.

Mr Macfarlane warned that the parties involved in the talks would have only one shot to find a solution.

He said that solution would require bipartisan political co-operation, without which he would “shut the door from the other side and go and deal with those other parts of my portfolio until I think it is time to start again on motor cars”.

“Obviously, we don’t have that sort of time, so I am hoping everyone plays the game,” he said.

Mr Macfarlane described Holden’s requirement for more government assistance as “one hell of a challenge, requiring one hell of a solution”.

According to some unconfirmed reports, Holden is seeking up to an extra $500 million to secure its local manufacturing to 2022.

Before heading behind closed doors to begin private meetings with Mr Devereux and Mr Weatherill today, Mr Macfarlane said the various parties involved in the talks were “at the same point”.

“We just have to meet in the middle,” he said.

On the eve of today’s Holden event, Mr Macfarlane had a private meeting at an Adelaide restaurant with Mr Weatherill for an exchange of views on Holden’s situation.

“We had a chat for a couple of hours and I said, ‘this isn’t just cars and bolts and tyres and V8s and stuff going fast’,” Mr Macfarlane said. “This is about the technology, the innovation, the passion, the whole lot that goes into a modern car built in Australia.

“I want to use the full breadth of my portfolios – I want to use the science, I want to use the innovation, I want to use the collaboration – I am going to have centres of excellence, and I have to talk to cabinet about how to do that.

“One of those (centres of excellence) will be advanced manufacturing.” Mr Weathrill said today he was pleased with the way Mr Macfarlane was approaching the issue.

“I think it gives us every opportunity to come to an agreement,” he said.

“We are about to go upstairs and have a significant meeting, the three of us together, and then there is obviously a lot of work to be done.” Mr Macfarlane, who was industry ministry in the Howard government some years ago, will continue his industry talks on Wednesday when he travels to Melbourne to talk with representatives of Toyota and Ford.

Mr Macfarlane said his goal was to retain the Holden and Toyota factories in Australia, along with the associated parts industry.

He said Mr Weatherill has told him that 40,000 jobs – 7000 in South Australia and 33,000 in Victoria – depended on the Australian motor industry.

Mr Devereux said today’s factory tour was to acquaint Mr Macfarlane and other politicians from both sides of federal and state governments with the latest improvements at the plant and some of the new models coming off the line there.

Mr Devereux described the bipartisan approach to the future of the car industry as “very significant”.

“This is an issue that is far too significant to be politicised,” he said.

Among the politicians to take the Holden factory tour were SA opposition leader Steven Marshall and independent senator for South Australia Nick Xenophon.

According to Mr Weatherill, Holden wants a decision from the federal government on the fund before Christmas.

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