KEITH CONLON: … a local Member, a local Labor Member in South Australia, is in the news and he has been accused of a lie that doesn’t get much bigger – that’s what Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham says about a claim Nick Champion makes about Holden [GM Holden Ltd].
JANE REILLY: And Nick Champion, the Member for Wakefield, joins us now. Good morning, Nick.
NICK CHAMPION: Good morning, Jane.
KEITH CONLON: Well, we’ve seen the letter. It says, basically, in your letter to constituents in the northern suburbs seat of Wakefield, ‘I have secured guaranteed support for GM Holden, Elizabeth…’ How can you say that when there’s a vote in the next few days?
NICK CHAMPION: Well, Keith, I mean, what I’m guaranteeing there is support for them and what Labor has done, both state and federally, is to guarantee $275 million to secure the production of two new models and that’s what I’m guaranteeing – the support there for them, from the Government, to produce these two new models, so I think it’s…
KEITH CONLON: But the next bit says … the next bit says it will ensure production until 2022.
NICK CHAMPION: Well, that’s the… that’s the aim of the policy, isn’t it, and, look, I… there’s nothing new about the language I use in the letter. I’ve used it many times before in my campaign pamphlets and in other material I’ve sent to the electorate for over a year. It’s pretty clear the Government does want to secure production at GM, Elizabeth, we want to secure two new models and we have been criticised for the packages we’ve put together to do that and this contrasts against the Liberal Opposition who want to cut $500 million out of automotive assistance, so it’s a pretty clear choice for South Australia and for the country and…
KEITH CONLON: But you’ve got to be careful of your language, don’t you, in an election campaign? We’re not 12 months ago now. We’re not in those pamphlets. We’re at a stage where the… not even the Government knows how much Holden’s going to ask and they’ll only ask if they get the workers over the line with a totally new agreement.
NICK CHAMPION: Well, Keith, I think the actual… the area of uncertainty for Holden’s has been produced, obviously, by the election and the potential of a Liberal Government and they’re the ones who have introduced the uncertainty here with their $500 million cut, so…
KEITH CONLON: Well, hang on, that’s… there’s a… even that’s a very broad statement, Nick. You’ve got to… what about the fact that car… what about the fact that car sales… how would you respond to the idea that the real problem that Elizabeth has, and the Holden workers have, is that they’re not selling enough cars?
NICK CHAMPION: Well, Keith, as we’ve discussed before when I called for a special tariff, most of the car industry’s problems are actually currency-induced, the fact that we’ve had a very high dollar and our competitor nations – Japan, the US and Europe – have all been printing money and depreciating their currency, so it’s been very hard to compete because, on one hand, you can’t export and, on the other, your domestic market is chopped up by imports. Now, that, thankfully… that situation is starting to abate. Our dollar’s coming down and that’s going to make it easier to sell Australian cars but this has really been a currency-induced crisis for the car industry and what we want to do is support them through this period and, obviously, there are tough decisions for workers down there – they’re making decisions to make sacrifices to support one another, just like they did during the GFC [global financial crisis] – and all I’m saying is we’re providing the support for them to, you know… to ensure production until 2022.
JANE REILLY: Now, joining us on the line is the Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham who says that Nick Champion should be made to correct his lie. Simon, what would you like to say this morning?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, good morning, Jane, and good morning, listeners. Look, it is a real concern that Nick’s put this out to the electorate claiming, in bold underlined print, that he’s ensured production at General Motors-Holden, Elizabeth, until 2022. It’s just not possible to credibly make that claim. We all know that right now Holden is going through difficult negotiations with their workforce, which will determine whether or not they keep producing, and they’ve said there are decisions to be made after the federal election but the reality is there’s a lot of uncertainty and their future is definitely not certain until 2022 as Nick claims and a large part of that uncertainty is due to the continuing changes of taxes by the Labor Party, most particularly lately the fringe benefits tax with a new $1.8 billion impost on the car industry.
KEITH CONLON: Well, again, Senator, I’ve got to come back to you and say: hang on, a large part of the problem? This is an historic problem. This issue about not selling enough cars has been around for a long time before that most recent change, hasn’t it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh, look, certainly, Keith, and I don’t deny at all that the car industry in Australia has been going through a difficult time for a long period of time but we’ve seen under the Labor Government in the last six years a chopping and changing of policy. We’ve had things like the Green Car Innovation Fund come and go, so we’ve had promises of billions of dollars; we’ve seen them withdrawn. They’ve been subjected, just in the life of the last Parliament, to a carbon tax they didn’t expect, to a new fringe benefits tax impost they didn’t expect… I mean, this type of uncertainty, when the message goes back to Detroit, is really damaging to investor confidence and what the Liberal Party…
KEITH CONLON: But isn’t this… this could be described as ‘the pot calling the kettle black’ because you have introduced, the Coalition has introduced, real uncertainty by talking about a major cut, a half-a-billion-dollar cut, to the car industry subsidies.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Keith, there was a $1½ billion fund for three car companies. Ford’s not going to be in Australia any more. We’re saying there will be a $1 billion fund for the two car companies that will be left – Toyota and Holden – so there’s still $1 billion of taxpayer support on the table. That’s a very significant amount of taxpayer support for just two companies and I really find it hard to believe the Labor Party is credibly arguing you need to keep it at $1½ billion when there’s only two companies left but, beyond that, most importantly, we’re creating the environment for them to be able to compete. Their manufacturing costs will be less without the carbon tax, the demand for cars will be more without the fringe benefits tax hike and, of course, the incentive to be in Australia will be greater with the company tax cut that we announced yesterday, so they’re all the things that actually are the real contrast between a Liberal approach, which is creating the right opportunity for investment and incentive and low-cost production, versus the Labor approach which seems to be all about simply providing more taxpayer handouts.
KEITH CONLON: Just before we let you go, Senator Simon Birmingham, as a Coalition member, are you prepared to guarantee that the Coalition would go to Detroit and would meet Holden and would secure funding and therefore the plant until 2022?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Keith, I’m prepared to commit that the Coalition would absolutely go to Detroit, would absolutely talk to Holden and would do everything possible to work with and to provide the certainty and framework for them to stay here well beyond 2022.
KEITH CONLON: But will there be a cap on what you’re prepared to put in?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: There should absolutely be a cap, Keith, because taxpayer handouts cannot be limitless but what we want to do is provide the right environment for them to be able to compete. We can’t simply rely on taxpayer handouts. What we want to do is lower the tax base so not just Holden is more competitive in Australia but every different industry and manufacturing sector is more competitive in Australia. That’s the only way we can grow jobs in this country into the long term… is to allow them all to be able to compete. If they’re all going to rely on taxpayer handouts, we won’t have many jobs in the future.
JANE REILLY: Senator Simon Birmingham, thank you very much for calling in this morning.