Kim Carr has been reappointed as the Minister for Industry, Innovation, Science and Research in the federal parliament as part of a new-look Rudd government ministry.
Carr has previously managed the portfolio that directly affects the local automotive industry between 2007 and 2011, before being replaced by Greg Combet. Carr is known as one of the most vocal advocates of retaining a car manufacturing base in Australia, and rejoins the position as Holden and Toyota call for immediate policy decisions to decide the future of manufacturing in this country.
Speaking with Wheels magazine in 2008, Carr described the auto sector as “an indsutry that I believe this country can’t afford to lose.”
“Manufacturing is of enormous value to this country,” he continued. “This is a business that produces in excess of $27 billion per annum of economic activity.
“The government support is repaid many times over.”
Carr (above) said that he was familiar with the argument of some critics who believe the government is wasting taxpayer-funded money ‘propping up’ a dying industry. “I call them the ‘Economics Clubs’,” he described.
“I say that we need a balanced economy … I say that advanced industrial countries around the world don’t share the view of the Economics Club, articulated in the editorials of some of our dailies and which show an acute hostility to the automotive industry.”
When Carr handled the industry portfolio he helped initiate the Green Car Innovation Fund, which helped pay for the lightweight body panels to reduce consumption for the just-launched Holden VF Commodore, and also for Toyota to produce the Camry Hybrid locally. His replacement, Greg Combet, as part of the Gillard government, scrapped the Green Car Innovation Fund in early 2011.
Back in 2008, Carr acknowledged that Australia needed the policy vision that Holden MD Mike Devereux, in particular, is now calling for in order to have a car manufacturing future in Australia.
Asked whether he is optimistic about the future of the automotive industry in this country, Carr replied “I am confident, if the right policy decisions are made.”
“I want to see a plan for this industry that I can say will develop over 10 years,” he then continued.
“Because the lead times are so long in this industry, because the investment decisions are so large … and because the skills that come with the creation of the automobile in this country are so important to so many aspects of our economy and our society.”
Holden MD Devereux (above) said, in response to Ford’s announcement that it would close its local manufacturing operations from 2016, that “the industry needs swift action to make Australia’s automotive policy settings clear, consistent and globally competitive as quickly as possible.”
Although that sounds like a call to arms to industry-supporter Carr, with an election looming before November 30 a change of government could affect the final outcome.
While the Coalition has pledged to support the deal with Holden to produce the next generation Cruze and Commodore in Australia until at least 2022, shadow minister for industry, Sophie Mirabella, has pledged to cut automotive industry funding if elected.
“We do believe in supporting the car sector but we are reducing it [taxpayer funding] by $500 million a year,” she said on the ABC’s Q&A program in April.
“We [are] asking for greater accountability and transperency and new rules so that taxpayers actually know when, how and why car companies get their money and car companies will need to know what they need to achieve – the benchmarks they need to achieve in order to be granted the privilege of taxpayers’ dollars.”
Mirabella (above) described the car industry as being in a “parlous situation” and described the current Labor government policies as “not working”.
“What the Labor Party did was put the auto industry in a very difficult situation,” she continued.
“They promised them significant policies. We didn’t match those promises and we were criticised for not supporting the car industry enough and we said to people “We will go to the election promising what we know we can deliver.”
“What the Labor Party did was they then cut those policies. They broke $1.4 billion worth of promises [by scarpping the Green Car Innovation Fund]. You know what that does to multinational companies waiting to invest in Australia? It says ‘Don’t trust this Government. You can’t trust them on their word, on their policy’.”
Mirabella has also formally replied to Holden MD Devereux’s remarks in an Adelaide ABC interview that if the carbon tax was removed “there will be a benefit to our costs being lower in this country, no question”.
“The carbon tax has made it more expensive to make cars in Australia,” remarked Mirabella in a statement.
“The Coalition has repeatedly warned of the impact of the carbon tax on the car industry and now we hear the industry confirm the damage yet again.
“The Coalition is committed to a viable future for the car industry in Australia and, if elected, will act to lower manufacturing costs by immediately repealing this job-destroying carbon tax.”
Speaking of Carr’s reappointment as Minister for Industry, Innovation, Science and Research, the Shadow Minister remarked that “among many other missteps, Mr Carr also foolishly dismantled the Howard Government’s successful car industry programs, broke $1.4 billion of his promises, exposed the sector for the first time to sovereign risk, and precipitated the loss of 80,000 jobs tied to the industry.”
The federal election date is yet to be announced.