A government meeting is taking place in Melbourne this afternoon, aimed at securing the future of the Australian car industry.
Executives from Toyota, Ford and Holden are all taking part along with the Victorian and South Australian state governments, the federal government and union representatives.
The meeting aims to map out a sustainable future for the Australian car industry, with many options on the table.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard is hosting the event, using her opening address to speak on the future of the industry and the economy.
“There is a future for the car industry in Australia,” Ms Gillard said. “Compared to other nations around the world, our economy is strong.”
“Carmaking is important for the quarter of a million Australians employed in the industry. This meeting is important for the future of the manufacturing industry and the future of the car industry.”
Speaking with the ABC, Industry and Climate Change Minister Greg Combet (who is present at the meeting) outlined the importance of a strong Australian car industry.
“Australia is one of only 13 countries in the world that can build a car from the drawing-board up,” Mr Combet said.
“25 percent of all research and development spending in the manufacturing industry as a whole is carried out in the automotive industry, so it’s a capability we don’t want to lose.”
“The industry is important for the economy and manufacturing. Hundreds-of-thousands of people’s jobs and families depend on it.”
“The aim of the meeting is to identify key pressures afflicting the industry and to build on strengths. Toyota’s Altona plant has a strong export market for example.”
Roy Green, Dean of the Business School at University of Technology in Sydney spoke with the ABC this afternoon.
Mr Green contributed to the Government's manufacturing taskforce report, and is a member of the Manufacturing Leaders Group, which advises the Government on policy.
Mr Green focused on the strengths of the car industry – particularly the parts industry - and outlined why continued investment was important.
“Money in the past was necessary to maintain a car industry presence in Australia, to retain the skills and the R&D that the car industry contributes to the rest of the economy,” Mr Green said.
“But it's only in recent times that it has been recognised that the program really needs to be not about business-as-usual but transformation of the industry so that it plays a much bigger part in global production networks.”
He said that if the local industry could better promote its "very competitive" components suppliers - important not only to carmakers but also mining, defence and electronics companies - it would be easier to justify government subsidies or co-investment.
“Australia currently spends $9 per person per year on automotive manufacturing, compared with $70 in Germany. We also subsidise mining and superannuation, so why do people target manufacturing?”
“We need to map out a new plan for the Australian automotive industry.”
TMR contacted Toyota Australia's Mike Breen today on reports that the carmaker had sought further government assistance yesterday, but he was unavailable for comment.
We expect all of the major players in this discussion – Ford, Holden, Toyota, the Victorian and South Australian state governments, the federal government and the unions to release statements upon the completion of the forum.
Stay tuned to TMR for more news on the future of the Australian car industry as soon as it comes to hand.