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Toyota quits: PM moots extra infrastructure funding

Government stance: Prime minister Tony Abbott says he cannot offer axed Toyota workers “false hope”, but is confident they will have new jobs to go to when the Altona factory shuts.

PM Abbott to discuss extra infrastructure projects with Victorian premier Napthine

Toyota logo11 Feb 2014

By MIKE COSTELLO

PRIME minister Tony Abbott says he will discuss the possibility of funding additional infrastructure projects in Victoria to help address the projected 30,000-plus jobs that will be lost when Toyota and many of its parts suppliers disappear in 2017.

Mr Abbott will meet with a “shocked” state premier Denis Napthine today to discuss an assistance package for the 2500 Toyota plant workers, and those in the parts supply sector, who will be affected by the forthcoming demise of Australia’s car industry.

Toyota yesterday became the third and final local car-maker to announce that it would cease manufacturing vehicles here, following Ford and Holden. The decision will result in all staff from its operations in Melbourne’s west – 2000 line workers and 500 office staff in departments such as parts buying – losing their jobs.

It is understood Toyota did not seek additional last-ditch assistance from either federal or state governments, with global president and CEO Akio Toyoda flying in to Australia this week to break the news.

Mr Abbott said the demise of the near 70-year-old Australian car-making industry was “regrettable”, but that last-minute additional funding from the public purse was a failed strategy. Instead, the prime minister said it was important to focus on economic “fundamentals”.

Since its election last September, the federal government has moved to cut car industry funding and has been advised by the Productivity Commission to end all subsidies by the end of the decade.

“Last night Toyota said look, we’ve looked at this long and hard. This is a very considered decision and it is a final decision and it’s not as if the government could have leapt in at the eleventh hour and said here’s another $100 million or $200 million, please, please, please stay. We’ve tried that with the motor industry. It hasn’t worked,” Mr Abbot told ABC radio.

Mr Abbott also said he could not “offer them (workers) false hope”, but said the “highly skilled people, adaptable people” could find “consolation” that they would have several years to find a new job.

“The news that your workplace is going to close in three years’ time is bad news – it’s difficult news, it’s devastating news – but it’s not going to happen tomorrow, it’s not going to happen next week, it’s not going to happen next month, it’s not going to happen next year,” he said.

“So there will be time to manage this transition and obviously, Toyota, as a very responsible, honourable business will do its best to ensure that its workers are not left in the lurch.” Mr Abbott said his meeting with Dr Napthine would cover whether the federal purse could be put towards any additional infrastructure projects to stimulate the state economy. The prime minister did not divulge specifics.

“The sorts of things I’ll be talking to premier Napthine about today is what infrastructure projects, for instance, does the Victorian government have in addition to other projects that we are already as a Commonwealth committed to, which might be funded in the medium term so that the people of Victoria are confident that they can face the future and that their state is going to be in better shape in five years’ time than it is now,” he said.

Speaking on Fairfax radio today, Dr Napthine said he was “shocked by the suddenness of Toyota’s decision”.

“Yesterday I got a call from Dr Toyoda and he advised me that they would cease production,” he said.

“I said immediately ‘is this irreversible, is there anything we can do as a state government to make this decision be reconsidered?’ and he said it was absolutely irreversible.

“I was shocked by the suddenness, I was shocked that we’ve been having ongoing negotiations for months and months, as late as Friday last week ... I’ll ask them what they’re going to be doing to assist not just their workers, but workers in the supply chain.” As we’ve reported, opposition leader Bill Shorten and shadow industry minister Kim Carr both laid the blame for the company’s demise as a manufacturer at the feet of the prime minister.

“Today is a devastating day for Toyota workers,” Mr Shorten said following the announcement. “While Tony Abbott played political games, 2500 more Australians have lost their jobs.

“Tony Abbott has only been prime minister for five months – we’ve seen Holden go overseas and Toyota close.

“The death of the car industry in Australia will be a damning legacy on the Abbott government.” Mr Carr told ABC radio that “there’s likely to be, for many blue-collar Australians, an economic crisis the like of which we haven’t seen since the Great Depression”.

Meantime, Australia’s peak car industry body the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) released a short statement following the news.

“The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries is saddened by news today that Toyota will cease motor vehicle manufacturing in Australia by the end 2017,” it said.

“Our thoughts are with the workers and their families at this difficult time.

“This is a very sad day for Australia.” FCAI chief executive Tony Weber was contacted for further comment.

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