'More Than Cars' Campaign Kicks Off In SA, But Is It Too Late? Photo:
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Trevor Collett | Nov, 15 2013 | 3 Comments

The arrival of the 'More Than Cars' political campaign in South Australia has indirectly heralded the beginning of the SA state election.

The election is still 120 days away - March 15, 2014 to be precise - so why did More Than Cars come about now, and what is it?

More Than Cars has ‘jobs, people and community’ as its rallying cry. Its key concern is to lobby for the motor industry, for vehicle and parts manufacturing, for suppliers and for the communities of SA that depend upon its future.

More than 2700 people from within the industry and public have registered their support for the campaign, not including activity on social media.

Support has also been strong from within and without the industry: from parts suppliers, TAFE institutions and social welfare groups, such as churches.

"It is important for Holden to be here in Adelaide and the northern suburbs (Elizabeth),” Holden tail light assembly worker, Kara, said.

“It provides a lot of job security, not only for people here that work at Holden but also outside businesses. We have been here for a very long time and a lot of people don't want to see it go. I think we need to fight for it."

One of the key issues upon which each of the major parties will stake their claim to SA’s top job is the future of the Australian automotive industry; particularly Holden’s Elizabeth plant.

Each party has listed the industry as a key priority. The SA Labor government lists “growing advanced manufacturing” is its number three priority (behind policies on mining and children) in a list of seven.

The SA Liberal Party has pointed to the car industry specifically in its policies, promising to establish an “automotive industry taskforce” within its first 100 days of government, if elected.

It is little wonder, therefore, that the current SA state government was keen to get on board when the More Than Cars campaign kicked off recently, contributing $350,000.

SA Premier Jay Weatherill was present to launch the campaign, saying it would give industry workers and their families a voice.

“The campaign is important because this industry really is about much ‘more than cars’; in South Australia alone, it provides as many as 13,000 jobs and $1.2 billion to the economy,” Mr Weatherill said.

“It is about the people who work in the car industry, the people who supply the industry and all of the other local businesses that rely on it.”

More Than Cars has pounced on a paper by Professors Barry Burgan and John Spoehr from the University of Adelaide, published last month. It contains some other key numbers, such as:

  • Over 10% of SA’s manufacturing workforce is employed in the automotive industry.
  • The state’s automotive industry has 33 direct suppliers and 700 indirect suppliers.
  • The Australian automotive industry as a whole employs 52,000 people directly.
  • The Australian automotive industry was the largest contributor to manufacturing research and development in 2010/11, tipping in $700 million.
  • Around $3.3.billion worth of vehicles and components were exported in 2011.

The paper also considers the decline in employment from the Elizabeth plant since 2011 when total expenditure was $930 million, contributing $520 million to Gross State Product in SA and supporting 5,610 jobs.

In 2013, the shrinking workforce now sees a total expenditure of $750 million, contributing $400 million to Gross State Product and supporting 4,340 jobs.

Despite the current SA government’s desire to save the local industry, a report by Nine News Adelaide recently revealed that the state industry minister, Tom Kenyon, has prepared a contingency plan in preparation for the Elizabeth plant’s closure.

Among the plan’s key points is the revelation that it may take the SA economy until 2031 to recover from the economic black hole left behind if Holden departs.

The contingency plan follows an additional report, commissioned by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) with some sobering figures of its own.

The report claims that if Australia’s automotive manufacturing industry ceases to exist:

  • Australia’s GDP would shrink by $7.3 billion (in today’s dollars) by 2018.
  • Employment losses in Melbourne would equate to around 33,000 jobs in 2018, with around 6,600 in Adelaide. These jobs would eventually return in both cities, but with lower real wages. Employment levels would not stabilise until around 2027 for Melbourne and 2025 for Adelaide.
  • The economies of Adelaide and Melbourne would be heavily impacted with Gross Regional Product (GRP) contracted by up to 1.4 percent while employment could fall by around 1.5 percent.

At a Federal level, the new government is looking for an increase in exports from Holden before it will commit to additional funding for the struggling carmaker.

The federal government has set a deadline of March 2014 for Holden to commit to an export goal of around 30 percent, up from its current figure of 17 percent.

As Holden prepares to refit the Elizabeth plant and the SA state Labor government prepares to go to the polls, both organisations would prefer to see a deal done before Christmas; the same time a report into federal funding of the industry is due from the Productivity Commission.

However, with the imminent departure of Holden boss Mike Devereux and no word yet on his replacement, it may be a case of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.

The More Than Cars campaign may only be in its infancy, but it could be a good ‘litmus test’ on whether the Australian public will or will not support the continued investment by governments in the local automotive manufacturing industry, at a state or federal level.

For further information about More Than Cars, click here (website opens in new window).

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