Matter of Public Importance: the Economy and Jobs (16/02/2012)

09 January 2013

cars.jpgOver the last hour, this House has been treated to a remarkable spectaclethe opposition drawing upon the learned authorities of Cromwell and Jerry Seinfeld to move a gag motion at question time. The reason they have drawn upon the learned authorities of Cromwell and Jerry Seinfeld to try to gag question time is that they did not want to talk about the economy.

They did not want to talk about the economy and they did not want to talk about jobs, because it does not suit them to recognise that today the ABS announced an increase in employment and a decrease in unemployment and that, as the Leader of the House observed, today there are more Australians in jobs than at any other time in our nation's history.

I am very proud to come in here day after day and sit alongside MPs who understand the importance of manufacturing. I am very proud to come in here day after day and sit alongside MPs on this side of the House who understand and support the automotive industry.

When I sit alongside my colleagues on this side of the Housepeople who understand and support the importance of the manufacturing industry and the car industryI look across the chamber and I see an opposition which wants to close down the car industry.

We on this side of the House support the car industry because we understand that it is absolutely critical to an advanced economy. If it is true that a country that makes stuff knows stuff, it is equally true that a country which makes cars has access to the engineering know-how which is at the heart of a modern economy. That is why we on this side of the House know that the car industry matters.

Australia is one of only 13 countries in the world which have the capacity to fully manufacture, end to end, an automobile. On this side of the House we want to ensure that Australia stays in that group of 13, as opposed to those on that side of the House, who have policy settings which are designed to close down the car industry.

We want to be one of the 13 countries because we know that the car industry directly employs over 46,000 Australians and supports their families. On that side of the House they have a lot to say about families, but there are 46,000 families they cannot look in the eyebecause they want to do them out of a job. It is not only those 46,000 workers they cannot look in the eye; it is the 200,000 workers in downstream supply chains reliant upon the automotive industry for their livelihood.

I am very pleased to see the member for Cunningham in the chamber today, because jointly we represent a region which relies very heavily on the steel industry, BlueScope and OneSteel in particular. Wethe member for Cunningham and Iknow that the car industry, and the continued viability of the car industry and the car components industry, is critical to the steel industry. That is just one example of the importance of the car industry to the overall economy.

We know that over $1.4 billion worth of domestic steel is purchased by the automotive sector each and every year, $1.4 billion worth of steel the sale of which is vital to the economies of regions which rely on our steel industrythe Illawarra is just one example. It is not only steel; it is the polymer industryover $44 million annually is purchased in polymers by the automotive sectorand research and development. You talk about wanting to be a smart country. Well, the automotive sector is the largest contributing sector to research and development within the manufacturing sector, and the manufacturing sector boxes well above its weight when it comes to its contribution to research and development in this country.

So, when you stack all of that up, it is easy to see why these facts are very well understood by each and every member on this side of the House. We understand that the automotive industry is important not only to those 46,000 people who are directly employed in it and the 200,000 workers working downstream but also to the fabric of our country and who we are as Australians. This is not knowledge that is shared by those who sit on the opposition benches.

I was very interested to read an article in today's Courier Mail by renowned press gallery journalist Steven Scott, where he is quoting comments by Queensland Liberal Party Senator Boyce. He says:

Queensland Liberal Senator Sue Boyce has called for more cuts to taxpayer handouts for the car industry, even if this meant no cars were manufactured in Australia.

He directly quotes from Senator Boyce's newsletter, where she said:

I've never understood what it is about the car manufacturing industry that makes it so, so special in terms of government subsidies

That says it in a nutshell. They do not understand what it is about the car industry that makes it so special. Of course, it is not just the senator from Queensland who shares those thoughts. There is the well-known columnist, the man who obviously did not get the memo from Ms Peaton that was sent around. He often writes very learned op-eds. I quote from the Australian of 13 October 2011, which quotes the member for Mayo as describing itthis is word for word; I am not making this up, Deputy Speaker.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr STEPHEN JONES: They think it is funny on that side of the House. They think it is very funny.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): Order! The members for Indi and Casey!

Mr STEPHEN JONES: They think it is funny because they do not support the car industry. They want to close it down. The member for Mayo nailed it when he said:

There is a role for government to assist industries to adapt to changing environments, but taxpayers funding a romantic attachment to a bygone era is not a position the Australian economy can afford or sustain.

That is what they think on that side of the Housethat it is a romantic bygone era. On this side of the House we totally reject that view. When that is your starting point you are simply incapable of crafting a positive policy which will support not only the automotive sector but also the manufacturing sector in general.

We know, because of the commitments, the backflips and the flip-flops they have made, that they are in all sorts of fiscal strife. They have tied themselves in knots, and we know that they have a $70 billion black hole to fill. What is unfortunate is the length they are going to to attempt to fill that black hole. We on this side of the House have committed ourselves to supporting the automotive sector through co-investment and other strategies. However, I quote from a joint press conference the Leader of the Opposition gave in Canberra on 8 February 2011:

We are cutting $500 million worth of automotive assistance. This takes the level of automotive assistance back to the level that the Howard government thought necessary in 2007 and it removes the additional assistance to the motor industry that the Labor government provided.

There you have it. That is what they think. They think that any assistance to the automotive sector is a romantic attachment to a bygone era. That is their starting point, and they are putting that into practice by ripping $500 million worth of automotive assistance from the Automotive Transformation Scheme.

But they do not stop there, because it is not just families who are employed in the automotive industry that they want to do in the eye; it is the families employed in the steel sector as well. When asked whether they would support $300 million worth of assistance to help the transformation of our steel sector, they made it quite clear that they would not. They are quite happy to run around, whack on a hard hat and an orange vest and pose alongside some workers to get a photo opportunity, but when it comes to doing the hard yards of putting a policy in place they run the other way. We saw how they voted.

They had the opportunity in this House to vote in favour of the Steel Industry Transformation Plan and they did not. What we know is that BlueScope and OneSteel are in the process of restructuring, making long-term investments and trying to re-equip and retool their plants to meet the challenges of a highly competitive industry. Unless they have certainty about government policy in this area, they simply will not invest.

So there is a challenge from those on the other side, and that is to revisit their policy of ripping $300 million out of the steel transformation plan, Because as things standand what is obvious to all of us on this side of the Houseis that the coalition plan is to fill their $70 billion black hole with the jobs of auto industry workers and steel industry workers. They want to fill their $70 billion black hole with the jobs of auto industry workers and manufacturing industry workers, particularly those in the steel industry. We on this side of the House think that is an absolute disgrace.

Contrast that with the policy of the Labor Party, which is to give $3.4 billion worth of assistance to the Automotive Transformation Scheme, which is supporting the production of motor vehicles and engines, research and development, and plant and equipment. That is focused on innovation, because we know that to compete in a very competitive industry, in a very competitive market, we have to have a modern automotive sector with the best technology, the best research and development and the most highly skilled workforce.

It is not just the automotive industry that we are helping transform. As I said, there is $300 million of assistance to the steel industry for its Steel Transformation Plan. We on this side of the House think that a capacity to manufacture steel, to retain that heavy manufacturing capacity, is critical to our national economy and our national interests.

That is why on this side of the House we are investing in clean technology for the future. I was very pleased that the Minister for Climate Change and Industry was able to announce today the first draft of funds available through the Clean Technology Investment Program. We know this will be very well subscribedwe heard today that there are over 3,000 expressions of interest for funds under that program. There is $1 billion to assist manufacturing improve energy efficiency and pollution.

These are the policy settings of a government which manages the economy in the interests of the manufacturing sector and in the interests of working families.

We are investing in infrastructure, including filling the $100 billion deficit in infrastructure investment that we inherited.

This deficit occurred when the economy was raining gold bars, yet they come into this place and champion the fact that they were able to deliver surplus after surplusas our rail network was falling to bits, as our ports were being clogged and as our hospitals were becoming a national disgrace. Suburb after suburb after suburb, throughout Australia, could not get access to the essential technology of the future, and that is fast, reliable, high-speed broadband.

We are reversing that, and we are doing that while managing the economy in the interests of working families. If you are going to manage the economy in the interests of working families, particularly those who are mortgage holders, you have to adopt policy settings which are keeping interest rates low.

Those on the other side of the House like to talk about interest rates but one thing they will not tell you is that interest rates are lower today than they were when we took office in November 2007. In fact, they would have to increase 10 times to reach the level they were when we took office.

We are adopting policy settings which are keeping interest rates low, and unemployment is low. We are very proud of the fact that 700,000 jobs have been created since we took office. We are proud of our job creation record because on this side of the House that is what it is all about.

We come here week after week to craft policies and advocate programs which are in the interests of ordinary working people, which are supporting the manufacturing sector, and we stare across the chamber at those on the other side of the table who have this new romantic attachment to the manufacturing sector but when you look at their policy cupboard it is bare.

All they want is to fill their $70 billion black hole with the jobs of automotive industry workers. (Time expired)