SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Labor appears to be deaf to the cost-of-living pressures that Australians are facing at present. They appear to be blind to the mounting evidence around the carbon tax – the world’s biggest carbon tax – and the reality that it will leave Australia with the world’s largest electricity bills. This ‘hear no evil, see no evil’ approach of Labor’s to carbon pricing, to electricity pricing, is bound to have serious effects not just on cost-of-living pressures but on jobs and competitiveness for Australian industry as well. Today, apparently, we’ll see the Government sign up to a deal with Holden worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Regardless of the merits of that deal, we know for sure the Government could have saved much of that money – tens of millions of dollars – without the carbon tax, without Holden having to pay a tax on electricity, the world’s biggest electricity prices that render Holden uncompetitive in Australia compared with car makers elsewhere in the world.
JOURNALIST: What are the merits of having the Government subsidise car manufacturing?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, obviously I want to see Holden stay in Australia. I think they should be able to enjoy a low cost environment, a low tax environment, without the carbon tax. Now, it’s for the Government to sell the merits of its policy today, for the Government to say where the money’s coming from, for the Government to say when the subsidies for the car industry will end. Every industry in Australia should ultimately be expected to stand on their own two feet but the best way for that to happen is to make sure you provide a low cost environment for them and the best way to do that is to minimise the tax pressures on them.
JOURNALIST: Aren’t you worried about comments from Joe Hockey that he’s not in support of any subsidisation for the car manufacturing industry?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I’m worried about the fact that the car industry and industries across Australia are struggling because of the pressures of the carbon tax, because of the pressures of the cost of doing business in Australia. Now, I want to see the car industry stay in Australia, I want to see jobs stay in Adelaide, but I also want to see an end to governments churning around money, taking in increased tax from industry on the one hand and giving it out, and picking winners and favourites, in subsidies on the other so the Government needs to be clear today: where’s the money coming from, what are the details of this deal, what are the benefits of it and when will it end? When will we see the day where the car industry’s expected to operate, like most other Australian industries, without Government subsidies.
JOURNALIST: One of your Coalition colleagues came out today saying that we should not be having… that the Federal Government or the states should not be paying them.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the Coalition had a clear plan for the car industry. When in government, we had a plan that provided support, adjustment support. As tariffs came down, there was assistance for the car industry. That assistance was meant to phase out in 2015. Now this Government is going to say there’ll be more assistance. Let them say when it will come to an end. Let them give some certainty to industry about how long support will be for, but we do need to reach a point where we don’t have a situation of industry coming back every few years to government seeking another handout. The best way to help industry in this country, as I say, is to have a low cost environment. That’s what we should focus on.
JOURNALIST: The Government calls giving money to car companies co-investment. Is that an accurate portrayal or is it propping up, or providing [unclear] with subsidies [unclear] industry?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, look, clearly, in the end, it is Government money – taxpayers’ money – going to industry and taxpayers have a right to know whether this is valuable money well spent. They have a right to know whether there’s going to be a dividend to taxpayers from it in terms of sufficient jobs, in terms of sufficient benefit. Ultimately, they have a right to know that there’s an end point on it, though, and that’s what I’d call for the Government to do. I’ve previously urged at a trade level for us to bring issues of car subsidies, whatever you want to call them, into trade discussions. Let’s try to get to a point where around the world, where no western country frankly can afford to keep giving these handouts to car makers… let’s get to a point where around the world these subsidies come to an end. Let’s see the details of today’s deal and make sure that taxpayers haven’t been taken for ride by General Motors bosses in Detroit, so let’s make sure we analyse the detail of it closely but, in the end, let’s work towards an end point so that we don’t see a constant repetition of this activity where industry keeps coming back to government and saying ‘give us more’.