As Holden blames a perfect economic storm for its decision to end car making in Australia, a political storm has erupted in federal parliament.
General Motors blamed a “perfect storm”, but Labor threw responsibility squarely at the federal government for Holden’s decision to stop making vehicles in Australia.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott called it a “sad, bad day” for Australian manufacturing and pledged a strategic response to help workers affected by Holden’s decision to stop making cars in Australia from 2017.
The government will in coming days release a “considered package” of measures to rebuild confidence in the long-term future of manufacturing and the regions of Adelaide and Melbourne where Holden operates, he told parliament.
“I don’t want to pretend to the parliament that this is anything other than a dark day for Australian manufacturing,” Mr Abbott said.
But there had been hard times before and Australian industrial centres had come through, he urged.
“It is not the time to play politics, it’s not the time to indulge in the blame game, it’s not the time to peddle false hope,” he said.
But Opposition leader Bill Shorten didn’t hold back in blaming the government for losing a high stakes game of poker.
“A major company who has been building motor cars in this country since after the Second World War has effectively been goaded to give up on this country,” he told parliament.
The opposition was “appalled” by the government’s handling of the crisis.
Something had changed between Holden and the government in 24 hours, Mr Shorten said.
“They were told by the federal government of Australia, who were elected to govern for all, that there would be no more support, no more investment, and I believe, that Holden were pushed,” he said.
Mr Shorten called on Mr Abbott to urgently deal with the mess and chaos that has occurred while both leaders were in South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.
“We understand that structural change happens in the Australian economy, what we don’t understand is when the Australian government tries to sabotage its own industry,” Mr Shorten said, prompting Treasurer Joe Hockey to storm out of the parliament.
Earlier, parliament erupted during question time with Labor blaming the Abbott government for the loss of the 2900 jobs in Victoria and South Australia by 2017, while Mr Hockey angrily rejected Labor’s “confected anger”.
An emotional Acting Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek later castigated the coalition for withdrawing $500 million of car industry support and not properly engaging with Holden’s US owner General Motors since it won the September election.
“It was Joseph Benedict Chifley who watched the first car roll off the production line at Fishermans Bend and it will be Joseph Benedict Hockey who sees the last car roll off the production line,” she told reporters.
She said Mr Hockey has got his way after “goading and daring” Holden to withdraw from Australia.
Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss rejected the claims, saying he had been told by Holden the government’s actions had little influence on GM’s decision.
Mr Hockey said GM was right when it cited a “perfect storm” of “the sustained strength of the Australian dollar, high cost of production, small domestic market and arguably the most competitive and fragmented auto market in the world”.
But he did add the former Labor government’s carbon tax, its now scrapped plan to alter the fringe benefits tax arrangements on cars and high labour costs to the mix.