Senate Take Note

27 February 2024

Here we are again in this place, with the Coalition, who absolutely hate the car industry, hell-bent on destroying good jobs. I have to remind the Senate and the Senators in this place about the car industry that used to exist in Australia. We have Senators who make contributions on this point where they keep forgetting the fact that, when Joe Hockey was Treasurer, he rejoiced in the fact that Ford, Holden and Toyota shut up shop in this country, and we saw close to 200,000 jobs connected to the car industry go out the door and offshore.

The point here is that, if we had a car industry in Australia today, cars would today be much cheaper than they are currently. We have to import cars because those opposite decided that, as a matter of policy, the government was no longer going to support a local car industry.

If my memory serves me correctly, Australia is the only country in the OECD that does not have some form of car industry. Every other country does. It is quite embarrassing that we do not have the ability in this country to make things here, particularly cars. It wasn’t just about the motor vehicles that were made here. It was also about all the indirect jobs resulting from making motor vehicles. We had a bunch of engineering jobs that were connected through our TAFEs and universities. There were a number of boilermakers. I know this because my dad used to be a boilermaker; he worked for Ford for many years. My grandad worked for General Motors from when he first came to Australia up until the day he retired, 45 years later. And General Motors went overnight.

There were all of those other components in the supply chain that a number of small manufacturers contributed, not just to motor vehicle making here in Australia but to other sectors in the economy that they fed into. So we had this knock-on effect. As I said, there were around 200,000 jobs that simply went overnight as a result of the closure of the industry. They were worth around $29 billion to the Australian economy back then.

It is important to remind everyone—the people here in the gallery and those that are watching—about the Liberal Party’s legacy when it comes to manufacturing, particularly in the automotive sector, because we also want to look at where we see ourselves in the future. It is important that there are greater investments, whether they be in hydrogen, electric or hybrid-style vehicles. All of these are part of the market that we now live in. The automotive industry is one that’s very dynamic at the moment. It is interested in looking at new technologies and looking at ways of reducing the cost of new vehicles in this country to ensure that we do have better standards.

Who would object to having better standards in the future? It would be the same debate that we would have had several decades ago around seat belts. There would have been people who said, ‘It is my right not to wear a seat belt,’ but—guess what—we now have standards that say that you have to wear a seatbelt for safety reasons. In the same way, we’re trying to adopt better fuel standards that are currently being met around the world. But, for some reason, there are people here in this country and in this Parliament that still want to live back in the old ages. They need to get a reality check and understand that, to move forward as a nation, as an economy, we need to also adapt to what is actually happening around us outside of our own little bubble.

The rest of the world has already moved on. They are already using what we call premium petrol 95 as their standard. As a result, fuel efficiency is helping to make a contribution towards lowering our emissions here in Australia. I just wanted to make that point and place on the record that, when we look at how many jobs have been lost in the car industry, it is those opposite that should be blamed. They now have the audacity to come into this place and tell us that somehow we’re getting it wrong by actually helping Australians access affordable, cleaner vehicles with greater standards in this country.