Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party Senator Ricky Muir has welcomed the Federal Government’s decision to back down on plans to scrap the Automotive Transformation Scheme but says it is crucial the funding is now directed to the right places.
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Earlier this week, the government announced that it had shelved plans to cut $500 million in assistance to the Australia automotive industry between now and 2017 ostensibly in a bid to ensure the three remaining local car makers do not shut their factories earlier than planned in 2016 (Ford) and 2017 (Holden and Toyota).

Muir praised the government’s backflip on the ATS is “sensible”, though he says the next and most crucial step is to ensure the ATS eligibility criteria ensures funding is invested in the best possible way to achieve the best possible outcome to help business and workers transition to an Australian industry after local vehicle production.

“Our message is clear: the automotive industry is not dead,” Muir said.

“Whilst it may be true we can’t compete with mass-produced vehicles based on price, we can compete when it comes to quality, high-end, innovative components. We need to focus on our strengths, to ensure that we retain the high skill sets that Australia is renowned for.

“The Australian automotive aftermarket industry, for example, is an $11 billion industry that employs some 30,000 people – an industry that receives no government assistance, [and] an industry that is well placed to help transition some of the workers – yet is not recognised as being a part of the automotive industry due to limited definitions.”

Ricky Muir

The Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC) yesterday acknowledged Muir and fellow senator Kim Carr for their role in supporting the retention of the ATS.

The VACC says Muir and Carr, along with independent senators Nick Xenophon and John Madigan and Greens senator Janet Rice, have also supported the automotive industry by co-sponsoring a Senate Inquiry into the future of Australia’s automotive industry.

The first day of Senate Inquiry hearings into the future of the automotive industry was held earlier this week in Melbourne, and another hearing will take place in Adelaide tomorrow.

The VACC, along with its national body, the Australian Motor Industry Federation, says the inquiry represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to map out a policy framework for the entire automotive industry.

“The automotive industry is not just about car making,” said VACC executive director Geoff Gwilym.

“Retail, research and innovation, repairs and servicing, transport technology and information systems will continue long after the production plants have closed. It is important that all sectors of the industry have opportunities and future employment, skills and career options are created.

“The ATS news is a step in the right direction and we hope the Federal Government continues to consult with the whole automotive industry to ensure there is more good news in the future.”

Senator Xenophon has called on the government to go a step further, however, and recommit to the $400 million promised under the ATS for 2018-2021, claiming that without it 140 automotive component firms and up to 70,000 jobs dependent on the sector are at risk of disappearing by 2018.