It’s hard to believe three years have passed since the last car rolled down a mass-production line in Australia.
- shares

Federal Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has delivered a speech in parliament commemorating three years since the closure of Holden’s assembly line in Elizabeth, South Australia.

Speaking in federal parliament yesterday – three years to the day after the last Australian-made car rolled down a mass-production line – Mr Albanese paid tribute to Holden’s Bathurst 1000 win on the weekend, and the demise of the once iconic brand.

“On the weekend, Holden had a win in the Bathurst 1000. But it will be the last appearance of the Holden Factory Team. A sad end to a fantastic brand,” said Mr Albanese.

“On this day three years ago, the end-of-shift siren sounded for the last time at the Holden plant in Elizabeth. It was the sound that signalled the death knell of the Australian car industry,” said Mr Albanese.

In May 2013, Ford Australia announced its Geelong engine plant and Broadmeadows car assembly line would close in October 2016.

This announcement placed pressure on the two remaining car makers Toyota and Holden, given the local parts supply base relied on all three brands to be sustainable.

Holden announced in January 2014 it would shut its Elizabeth car assembly line in 2017. In February 2014, Toyota announced it too would close its Camry factory in Altona in 2017.

In the end, Toyota shut its factory in early October 2017, just weeks before Holden became the last to lock the gate on local car manufacturing.

“What a grim anniversary,” said Mr Albanese. “Not just for every worker who lost their job. Not just for a proud part of our history coming to an end. But for a vital part of our future that was thrown away by this Government.”

Since car manufacturing came to an end in Australia, many industry insiders have speculated whether it might still be alive had the coronavirus pandemic struck years earlier, highlighting the critical need for a viable local manufacturing sector.

“Cutting down the Australian auto industry dealt us out of a new wave of technology that could have been made in Elizabeth and Altona and Geelong, instead of overseas. What a devastating, self-inflicted wound,” said Mr Albanese.

“Australians will never forget that it was the Government that drove Holden and other car makers out of Australia.”

Mr Albanese quoted the front page headline of the Australian Financial Review from December 2013: “Hockey dares GM to leave,” a reference to Holden being asked to confirm or dismiss rumours it was about to announce the end of local manufacturing.

In December 2013, just before Holden announced it would stop manufacturing in Australia, then Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey said Holden should “come clean with the Australian people" and be “honest” about whether or not it was about to announce the shutdown of local manufacturing.

Either you’re here or you’re not," Mr Hockey said in parliament in December 2013, pointing out $1 billion in car industry assistance had been budgeted for over the five years beyond 2015, with the imputation being that Holden ought to be grateful for that.

“There’s a hell of a lot of industries in Australia that would love to get the assistance the motor vehicle industry gets," said Mr Hockey.

Yesterday, Mr Albanese revived memories of Mr Hockey’s December 2013 speech: “Australians will never forget the actions of this Government”.

“So when this Prime Minister offered a $1.5 billion plan to revive manufacturing, it’s a bit like someone accidentally demolishing the wrong house, then offering to buy a new doorbell as compensation,” said Mr Albanese yesterday, as part of his criticism of the demise of the local manufacturing sector.

Although Holden planned to continue selling imported cars once local manufacturing ended in 2017, its imported model range failed to resonate with buyers and sales hit reverse. In February 2020, US car giant General Motors announced the Holden brand would be retired by the end of this year.

More than half of Holden's dealer network has taken down signs or installed new brands in Holden's place, and dealers claim fewer than 500 new cars remain in showrooms.