Interview with Marius Benson, ABC News Radio, 12 January 2012

12 January 2012

Please read or listen to my interview with Marius Benson on ABC News Radio.

SUBJECT:  Car industry package

Interview on ABC News Radio

HOST: Geelong was in the news for a different reason earlier this week. The Federal Government’s announcement of new assistance for local car makers has brought a mixed response. Unions have welcomed the new plan which will see the Federal Government provide $34 million as part of a $103 million plan to ensure Ford continues production over the next four years. General Motors will also be receiving a new subsidy but no amount has been announced yet. The Coalition has backed the new subsidies although there are dissenting voices in opposition ranks and there is also criticism from business leaders. Let’s get a government view on the subsidy debate. Marius Benson has spoken to the Employment and Workplace Relations Minister, that’s Bill Shorten.

MARIUS BENSON: Bill Shorten, there seems to be divided opinion on whether car subsidies are a good thing. The business community is critical of it. It says this is basically a waste of money.

BILL SHORTEN: Well, I think if you spoke to the car companies, or the 46,000 people who are involved in car manufacturing or the other local businesses who get jobs and business or indeed all the apprentices, or indeed all the R and D, which comes from a domestic car industry, I think opinion is quite supportive of maintaining and making cars in Australia.

MARIUS BENSON: But there is a division in opinion. There is a view that the level of subsidies, if you look at the last decade, something like $12 billion for a small number of jobs - relatively a few thousand jobs - people have worked out that it costs about $300,000 per job in the industry.

BILL SHORTEN: No, I’m not buying the argument that we should just give up on manufacturing in Australia. I don’t buy the argument that we shouldn’t make cars in Australia. If we let these jobs go, I think the outrage will be far greater. That’s why the Liberal Party need to work out what they think about the car industry. They’ve targeted the money which we are using to support the car industry. They’ve said they’ll scrap it. So I think it’s a challenge for South Australian and Victorian Coalition MPs to say to the people of Victoria and South Australia, well, actually we don’t want the car industry, we’ll just let it go.

MARIUS BENSON: There are different words coming from the Liberal Party. They’re actually supporting this subsidy that’s been announced in Detroit for the Ford company and there’s also an anticipation of new subsidies for General Motors as well out of talks in Detroit. And they are reviewing whether they will stand by the current position to scrap the $500,000,000 Car Transformation Scheme.

BILL SHORTEN: I’m calling upon the Coalition to stop being half pregnant. They can’t on one hand say that they are going to cut the money, if they’re elected, which we’re using to fund the industry and then say oh but we really want to fund the industry. You cannot be half pregnant on this. You either support the car industry. It’s about time the coalition said yes to something. It’s about time the Coalition made a decision that they want manufacturing both in the short and long term in Australia. It’s about time they stop being mindless and negative and got positive about Australian manufacturing.

MARIUS BENSON: Well, Tony Abbot has said in broad principle that he believes the car industry is essential for Australia?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, trying to pin Tony Abbot down is like wrestling with smoke. Their policy which they’ve stated on the record is to cut the money, the program which we’re using to fund and support tens of thousands of car jobs. You can’t slip and slide around these issues. Is he repudiating the budget cuts which he said he would do if he brings into government? Anyone can say anything. The question is you’ve got to look at the fine print of what they are really doing. Will they drop? Will they back down from their existing policy and get behind the car manufacturing industry? Will they back down from their opposition to the government and for once in their life support the Government? Or, will they just continue in 2012 to be as negative as they’ve been in 2011?

MARIUS BENSON: Well, they are being fairly positive about the subsidies announced by Kim Carr from the talks in Detroit, so to that extent they’re supporting the Government.

BILL SHORTEN: Well, then they have to confirm that they repudiate the budget cuts, because, again, Tony Abbot thinks that the media and the Government and the Australian public have short memories and everyday you can get up and say something different, if it suits you.

MARIUS BENSON: And, putting aside the political arguments, when business people say this is no solution, all you do by subsidising an industry is allow that industry to limp along for a few years to the next subsidy, what’s your response to that?

BILL SHORTEN: I would say let’s not be short-term about manufacturing. The car industry is a special case. It generates research and development. It has a multiplier effect in jobs. Australia is a nation which should be capable of making things here and the Australian nation is capable of making modern cars which will suit the consumer demand of the next decade. I think this is a strategic investment to support jobs, to support manufacturing, to support economic activity in Australia which is independent of the rest of the world.

MARIUS BENSON: Bill Shorten thanks very much. Thank you.