Nostalgia hit a high note last week with the announcement by General Motors that they will “retire” the iconic Holden brand in Australia and New Zealand after 160 years.
It was a shocking blow, but upon reflection can we really be surprised considering the policy direction of the last seven years?
The day the former Treasurer, Joe Hockey, dared Holden to leave Australia in December 2013 is etched in my mind. A foolish, arrogant but deliberate move that played a significant role in the departure of local Holden car manufacturing.
The following day, as the then Shadow Employment Minister, I moved a censure motion against the government condemning their treatment of Australian manufacturers.
Since then, it seems as though the government has determined that the more they ignore the issue of what is increasingly a struggling manufacturing industry, all the while talking up the future of the industry, the problem might just go away.
Industry Minister Karen Andrews just last year highlighted her indifference to the challenges facing the automotive industry, claiming the end of the manufacturing is good for the country.
Karen Andrews said the end of automotive manufacturing: “… is turning out to be a positive story. The outcomes we are seeing have defied all the doom-and-gloom predictions of 2013.”
I’d like to be enlightened as to just how it is a positive story for the nearly 600 Australian design and engineering staff about to lose their jobs, the nearly 200 automotive dealers reeling from the decision and who may have to close their doors, and the nearly 6000 automotive dealership employees whose jobs are at risk?
The Prime Minister and the Industry Minister expressed their outrage that they were only given 15 minutes notice by General Motors of the company’s decision. Rather than focusing on their pride, the government’s primary concern should be directed to those left on the scrap heap because of this decision, and for the state of the industry.
Manufacturing in general has been struggling. The Australian Industry Group Performance of Manufacturing Index (PMI) reported a third consecutive month of contraction. This result in January marked the lowest monthly result since 2015.
The only plan the Morrison Government currently has is an R&D Bill before Parliament ripping almost $2 billion from innovative manufacturers and firms.
Slashing this funding will see a decline in research and development at a time when manufacturing is contracting. History has shown us that any dollars invested in research and development are returned to the economy many times over.
Supporting the car industry and manufacturing in Australia has significant flow on effects, developing a skill set that is critical for this 21st century. It will provide high paid, secure and highly skilled jobs.
Australia’s manufacturers are facing challenges, and they need a government that is willing to listen to them and to back them. What they don’t need is a government that says Australia can’t afford a manufacturing industry.
Despite these challenges, I am optimistic about the future of manufacturing in this country. We have shown in the past that we are an innovation nation and we can continue to be.
Continuing to invest in research and development will help us realise a bright manufacturing future that will benefit all Australians.
History shows us that when governments and business collaborate we can do great things.
Brendan O’Connor is Shadow Minister for Industry and Employment.