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Time to decide if Australia wants an auto industry: GM

Crunch time: Holden managing director Mike Devereux is hoping for bipartisan support for co-investment in the Australian automotive manufacturing industry.

Holden boss calls on the federal opposition to commit to local car manufacturing

Holden logo27 Nov 2012

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

GM HOLDEN managing director Mike Devereux has called on the Tony Abbott-led federal opposition to commit to an Australian automotive industry before the next federal election, or risk losing it.

Mr Devereux said it was vital to set aside politics and get clear bipartisan support regarding co-investment in the industry.

With the Liberal/National Coalition publically questioning the level of ongoing Labor government support, Mr Devereux said the decision makers for parent company General Motors in Detroit – and most likely those at Ford in Dearborn and Toyota in Nagoya as well – are becoming twitchy about continuing their investments in Australia while political debate rages about whether or not Australia needs a car industry.

“I don’t know what the (Coalition) position is,” Mr Devereux told local motoring media today.

“I don’t know what their policy is, but we need an intelligent approach to bipartisan policy.” Mr Devereux said the issue of investment will become one of the most important to be fought out in next year’s federal election.

“I believe 2013 will be the year that Australia decides whether it wants an auto industry or not,” he said.

“The country needs to have contemporary long-term industry policy that is competitive with other countries, and those policy settings need to be in place for an auto industry to exist at any time in this country – pre- or post-change in government if there is a change in government.” Mr Devereux said that irrespective of which government wins office in 2013, a review on the scale of the 1984 Button Plan is required to state clear and ongoing public/private investment in the Australian automotive industry.

He said the Bracks Review from five years ago was already out of date.

“Make no mistake, Australia has to have contemporary policy that gives us certainty over time (in order) to build (vehicles) here from 2015 to 2022,” he said.

“Frankly, in three or four years from now, for the next cycle of investment, this debate will be exactly the same debate: Do we want a public/private partnership around 2015 to guarantee the same types of decisions for 2022 to 2030? “This never stops in countries that build cars, and it’s the same in every one of those countries.

“We still have much to do in that regard, even though at the moment we have a 10-year plan to invest a billion dollars of GM money, in return for $275 million from the South Australian, Victorian and federal governments, and $4 billion of economic activity for the 10-year life of this program.

“But we still have political discourse in a way to me that is quite illogical.

“If it becomes a ‘he said/she said’ thing next year in the election cycle, I think the future of the auto industry becomes very difficult.

“Multinationals need to understand what the long-term signals of a country are in terms of policy.

“At the moment, we have a political discourse. What one says, the other refuses.” Citing the UK example of bipartisan government support and investment despite the massive differences in the markets, Mr Devereux said Britain has become a “very fertile ground to invest” thanks to contemporary and competitive government policy where there has been no debate as to whether or not it is good for the country.

“They don’t have this sort of debate in the UK after attracting $10 billion worth of foreign investment in 24 months and the tens of thousands of jobs that this has created,” he said.

“Particularly in this industry, because of its bedrock nature and its multiplier effect, it is an issue of national importance for this country, and it doesn’t seem to go away with each passing week and with each passing announcement of a supplier being in trouble.

“Can you afford not to do it? If you want an example of intelligent policy, look no further than (the UK).

“My hope is that the auto industry is not an election issue, but that it is a bipartisan issue.

“There needs to be a review of auto policy now, no matter who is elected into government next year, in the same way there was a Button Review (in the mid-1980s) and a Bracks Review (in 2008).

“Five years will have passed since the last review was released – and we need to have a more contemporary approach.

“It is a country issue, not a political issue. These are very significant times for the industry.”

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