Holden Boss Mike Devereux, speaking today at the launch of the new Holden Colorado 7 SUV, called for Australian political parties to reach agreement on the future of automotive manufacturing here.
“My hope is that the automotive industry is not an election issue (in 2013),” Mr Devereux said.
In contrasting the booming automotive manufacturing sector in the UK, and the bipartisan support for co-investment policies there, Mr Devereux said that “there is no debate on whether that is good for the UK”.
On this issue of co-investment, Mr Devereux expressed the hope that both parties can agree on a bipartisan position. In this, he put the challenge directly to the Federal Opposition. “I hope the Opposition changes (from) what their public statements are.”
“What is the business plan? At the moment, what one says, the other refutes.”
“If these policies (co-investment) change with Government, we have to look at everything on the table,” he said.
“The future of automotive manufacturing here is an issue for the country, not a political issue.”
As Mr Devereux commented in March this year when Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the Federal Government's $275million co-investment strategy with Holden, “It's safe to say that without co-investment, we would not be able to make cars in this country. “
“Walking away is easier. But the right thing for the brand, and the people who work for us, is to stay here. It also happens to be good for the country,” he said today, citing the four to six jobs created for every single Australian worker engaged in vehicle manufacturing.
Mr Devereux is right. How hard can it be to find a bipartisan position on the future of this key industry sector and the tens of thousands of Australian workers who depend upon its continued viability?
Call it what you will, strategic co-investment by government is a feature of modern economies. Australia is the 12th largest economy in the world, one of only 13 countries with the capability to design and build cars, holds a ‘Triple-A’ credit rating and with sovereign debt among the lowest in the world.
An agreed co-investment strategy for this key manufacturing sector is simply good sense for Australia and, yes, good for the country.
But any sensible discussion about the future of the industry, let alone an agreed bipartisan business plan as called for by Mike Devereux, disintegrates here into petty political point scoring and squabbling.
It’s dumb, it’s counter to Australia’s national interest, and, while petty argument provides opportunity to inflate political egos, it puts an industry at risk.
In terms of ‘elaborately transformed products’, they don’t get much more elaborate than the modern motor car.
Their development, engineering and the complex systems underpinning their operation drives R&D across a vast network of parts suppliers and manufacturers.
This in turn feeds a knowledge economy, creates capability, drives leaning and employment, and spills its influence across and into industry and communities everywhere.
The co-investment sums argued over are paltry.
The $275million co-investment announced in March, is the value of the kangaroo industry in this country; it is the cost of the upgrade for the train-line to Sunbury; and less than a tenth of the cost of the $2billion+ diesel fuel rebate to the mining sector.
So, how hard can it be? It is time to end this 'Heckle and Jeckle' approach to politics and for Labor and Liberal to find bipartisan positions on this key issue - and on others - that hold such importance for the social and economic well-being of this country, now and into the future.
TMR Managing Editor