MICHAEL SMYTH: … with just a couple of days of campaigning left, the Prime Minister has made a very brief visit to Adelaide this afternoon. He at first made a beeline for Wakefield, the seat currently held by the Labor MP Nick Champion to talk to some workers at Futuris Automotive. He’s at Hindmarsh, the seat of Hindmarsh with Steve Georganas, as we speak… the Prime Minister very keen to make the [election a] referendum on the car industry… the main talking point here in South Australia as we head to the polls on Saturday.
MICHAEL SMYTH: Joining me in the studio now, ABC politics reporter Nick Harmsen, who went to see what the Prime Minister had to say at Futuris Automotive this afternoon.
MICHAEL SMYTH: Kim Carr was also there. He got reasonably fired up during the media conference this afternoon?
NICK HARMSEN: Yeah, certainly. We asked both Kim Carr and Kevin Rudd about the car sales figures out today. For the whole of Australia I think they were down 0.2 per cent on the same month last year. Now, the car industry’s saying ‘look, you know, until the FBT [fringe benefits tax] changes, car sales were tracking a lot better, there was growth of about 4½ per cent, you know, every month this year up until those FBT changes were announced’. Kim Carr said ‘well, look, you know, it’s 0.2 per cent of a drop in sales, it’s not really the chaotic scenes that were predicted’ and, to be fair, there were some very dire predictions from those in the salary packaging industry, in particular, about what would happen to the sales of all cars and notably Australian cars. Certainly, Ford has copped a big hit in sales but we don’t quite know what the reasons for that are. Perhaps the fact that they have announced their closure might be playing a role there. Holden’s sales for the last month are down on last year – I think 18 fewer Commodores and about roughly a hundred fewer Cruzes sold in August this year compared with August last year.
MICHAEL SMYTH: Let’s now go to Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham who’s got the other side of the story this afternoon. Senator, welcome to you.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good afternoon, Michael, and good afternoon to the listeners.
MICHAEL SMYTH: Tony Abbott is painting Saturday as a referendum on the carbon tax. We heard the Prime Minister saying ‘it’s actually a referendum on the car industry’. Who do we believe?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Michael, it’s very clear that Kevin Rudd’s swept into town and has told , really, a lot of lies and half-truths when it comes to things and he’s running very much a negative fear campaign here when he talks about the car industry. Let’s get on the record a couple of facts. The Coalition will still provide up to $2 billion in assistance to the car industry through the Automotive Transformation Scheme over the future years. That’s a very significant sum of money. Labor is trying to pretend that there’s going to be no money for the industry. There’s a lot of money on the table already but most importantly we are going to cut the $1.8 billion new car tax. Now, Mr Rudd’s tried to say he’ll fix that with a $500 million additional grant. That’s just not going to cut it, because the new tax is there forever. It is having an impact on demand and, of course, as always, and I heard you going through statistics with Nick before, there are lies, damned lies and statistics and the thing about the car sales figures that were talked about before is that they’re something more of a lag indicator – they’re when the transactions happened. What we have seen is that between the month of July and August, data on fleet leasing sales, the orders that have gone through, have slumped some 26 per cent. That’s going to have a massive impact on Ford, Holden and Toyota as Australian manufacturers and that certainly will impact on jobs and, whilst the Prime Minister talks about needing to have manufacturing to have a car industry, you need to have demand to have a successful car industry and his policies are hurting demand for those car sales.
MICHAEL SMYTH: Would else would you do, as a government, to encourage people to buy Australian-made cars beyond repealing the changes to the FBT?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, let’s take a look at both sides of the ledger there, so to increase demand for Australian-made cars, you get rid of the FBT tax hike, the $1.8 billion slug – that hasn’t been legislated yet, so if the Coalition wins on Saturday, confidence for car sales will be restored on Sunday – but then on the supply side, the actual making of cars, we’ve promised that we will get rid of the carbon tax; we will get rid of more than a billion dollars per annum in red tape imposts, so we’ll make it more attractive and cheaper to build cars, we’ll have a 1.5 per cent company tax rate cut which means that those sitting in Detroit making the investment decisions around Holden will see it’s more attractive to invest in South Australia. Ours are long-term solutions. By making the production cost base cheaper, by making it more attractive to invest, by making it cheaper to buy cars, that’s attractive for long-term investment decisions. By saying we’ll have another couple of hundred million dollars in taxpayer handouts, that’s just putting a band-aid on a bullet wound.
MICHAEL SMYTH: 20 minutes past 5 on Drive. My guest is Liberal Senator for South Australia Simon Birmingham. I understand, Senator, you’ve been at Grange this afternoon which was the second stop for the Prime Minister during his whistlestop tour in Adelaide today. Is the Liberal Party going to win Hindmarsh?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We’re putting everything we can into winning Hindmarsh. Matt Williams, our local Liberal candidate, is an outstanding candidate and he’s running a very responsive campaign, so I was with him this afternoon when we heard that the Prime Minister was making a whistlestop tour to a nursing home in Grange, so we went down to make sure he’d see how effective the campaign is with some big Matt Williams banners and to greet others but the Prime Minister was in and out of that nursing home in five minutes flat, so he can’t have spoken to too many people on his visit.
MICHAEL SMYTH: And what of the Prime Minister’s suggestion that Boothby is very much in play; he’s got his eye on that?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I’m not seeing much activity from the Labor Party in Boothby and what I’m hearing from people across South Australia is that they think there’s a need for change; that they know that our economy is stagnating; they know that job prospects are on the decline; they know Labor’s debt is out of control; and they know that we need a party with unity and discipline and real plans for the future and that’s what the Coalition offers on Saturday, rather than Labor’s three more years of chaos.
MICHAEL SMYTH: Simon Birmingham, thanks again for your time on Drive. We always appreciate it.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Always a pleasure, Michael.
MICHAEL SMYTH: Liberal Senator for South Australia Simon Birmingham.