E&OE TRANSCRIPT - DOORSTOP - ADELAIDE
31 Jan 2017
SUBJECTS: Labor’s focus on jobs; Holden ceasing production.
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks for coming. I’m here today to talk to matters that affect this state, and the nation more broadly. Firstly, I am here with my Parliamentary colleague, Nick Champion, who has a very significant interest in what happens to workers at Holden and indeed what happens with manufacturing in this State. I’m also here with Lee Odenwalder as well who’s a State Member who has an Electorate that represents many Holden workers and of course their fate changes dramatically on the 20th of October this year when Holden closes its doors.
I think it’s absolutely vital for people to remember that it is the Abbott-Turnbull Government that presided over the death of the car industry. When the former Treasurer, Joe Hockey stood up in Parliament and goaded Holden to leave our shores, the following day a decision was made to do just that. What we’ve seen as a result of that decision and by the failure of the Government to invest in the car industry is thousands of jobs disappear. Thousands of jobs of car makers but as a consequence tens of thousands of jobs will go in the automotive parts sector of manufacturing.
We need to see a better effort by the Government firstly to deal with the transition of those workers that are losing their jobs, into other work and secondly to ensure that they work with the small and medium enterprises that are in the manufacturing sector that need to remain in the supply chain in order to ensure that manufacturing in this nation continues to grow, continues to survive and thrive. That cannot happen without the efforts of Government, both State and Federal. We want the Turnbull Government to engage fully with those small and medium enterprises that could just as easily collapse as a result of the car makers leaving Australia.
So big decisions to be made by a Government. Investment in this State is critical. With a significantly high unemployment rate. We have a 5.7 per cent unemployment rate nationally, we have over 1 million Australians who are now saying that they are looking for more work and cannot find it. So under employment is its highest in our history and we have a youth unemployment rate of almost 14 percent in some parts of Adelaide as we know we’ve got youth unemployment more than 20 per cent.
So there’s some very significant challenges for the Government today. Nick and I will be meeting with Holden and will be meeting with workers and Unions to talk about the next step for those workers. We would hope and we expect Holden to do the right thing here by its work force. We are more concerned about the smaller enterprises that are going to have difficulty transitioning their work force into new work that’s why the Government’s role is so critical in this area.
I might ask Nick to make a few comments and then happy to take questions.
NICK CHAMPION SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR MANUFACTURING AND SCENCE: Thanks Brendan. It’s great to have Brendan here today and great to be here with Lee.
We’re going to be heading out to Holden later on to visit their transition centre. Which is all about helping workers, assisting workers to go from the car industry, which is very sadly being closed in Australia to new and emerging industries. Obviously it’s critical that not just car industry workers, but all of the workers that have been affected by this Government’s terrible record on jobs, whether it be in shipbuilding or steel or in car industries. All the industries that basically have been traditional mainstays of South Australia’s economy. It’s critically important that we help these workers adjust to this period and help them transition to new industries. It’s also important the Government actually steps up to the plate and starts having an industry policy.
The most recent addition to the ministry, Minister Sinodinos basically threw his hands up in the air and said that industry will die and just get over it and move on. That’s not the right approach to have as a government. A government has got to have an industry policy a government has got to actually commit resources to helping workers transition from one industry to the next and basically help macro demand. One of the things Labor did in the last election was commit to good government procurement policies, good infrastructure projects like the electrification of the Gawler to Adelaide line and like the additional tram lines planned for Adelaide. All of those sorts of projects help to create work in South Australia. So we want a Federal Government that is absolutely committed to employment, growth and jobs in South Australia.
It’s great to have Brendan here; I look forward to him being a Minister, committed to actually helping workers rather than leaving them in the lurch as the Turnbull Government has.
JOURNALIST: Brendan you were saying that you are worried about those small to medium businesses that could be affected, what should the Government be doing if they need to support them more?
O’CONNOR: Well I think the first thing the Government has to do is be far more genuine in its engagement with industry. We have a government that has had an Industry Minister without industry policy. We’ve had a government that had an enmity towards the car industry for whatever reason, and we have to ask them why they have got such a callous disregard for that industry and its workforce.
But because there’s been so little regard for the industry by the Government, there has been little engagement with those enterprises, which by the way employ a lot more people than the car makers do directly. And they will be struggling to remain in supply chains in manufacturing if they are not given assistance. So the first thing to do is to sit down with representatives of those companies, some of the larger ones as well, and talk about what is it that the government needs to do to assist those companies to survive.
JOURNALIST: So you’re saying that the Government hasn’t sat down with those businesses to talk about-
O’CONNOR: I think there’s been too little attention paid to manufacturing generally. And I think it’s exemplified by their failure to understand and anticipate the fact that these companies many of them will hit the wall if they are not given proper support from government. And until we have a government that’s willing to engage, instead of allowing, as they might see it as the free market rip, if they continue this laissez faire attitude towards manufacturing then we will see a significant decline. That’s going to have a devastating consequence for this state.
It’s already the case that with the departure of the car makers thousands of South Australian jobs are going to disappear. That’s going to lead to many more jobs if we are not proactive, the Government needs to do that, but to date I have not seen any effort by the Government to fully engage with this sector in particular.
JOURNALIST: The closure is only months away now, isn’t this too late to be saying we should be sitting down and having a discussion?
O’CONNOR: I think it should have been done a lot earlier, absolutely. And in fact we’ve been saying this now since 2013. It was in December 2013 when Joe Hockey goaded Holden to leave our shores. So it’s over three years ago now that these decision where made and the fact that the Government has done so little in three years to assist and to prepare for the departure of the car maker says everything about the failure of the Turnbull Government.
But I don’t say it’s too late, I think too little has been done to date and it is late in responding, but it’s never too late to help workers who need to find new work. It’s never too late to support small and medium enterprises in manufacturing to ensure they find themselves still within a supply chain so that they can grow. These things should continue. The idea that we’d sit on our hands because the Government has been so bereft of policies for the last three years is not an answer to the problems that beset this country.
JOURNALIST: There’s been a lot of discussion about the transformation scheme fund that hasn’t been used up yet and a lot of discussion about whether that could be used for businesses that part of manufacturing. Have you looked into that?
O’CONNOR: Well I think firstly today we’ll be talking to Holden, I think they’ll have a view as to how the companies they partner, as to what might be useful insofar as government expenditure. I think the problem that there has been so little expenditure in areas that were allocated to invest in manufacturing is extraordinary. The fact that the Government had allocated in its own budget investment for this exact purpose and yet not spend the investment, not invest in these companies, shows an inaction which is quite frankly inexcusable.
So the first thing is, the Government should be outlining exactly how it will support those companies that have relied upon the car maker, those companies who now need to find a way to survive beyond the car makers, that’s the first thing that should happen.
And we want the Government to outline in some detail what exactly they’re going to do to partner those enterprises. To date we have not seen a clear picture from the Government, a clear view as to their way forward. And I think that’s a real problem. It’s incumbent upon them to do so immediately.
JOURNALIST: And just with those hundreds of millions of dollars sitting there, some members of the public have been concerned that will go back into the budget bottom line, do you believe that those funds should be spent on creating new jobs before Holden closes?
O’CONNOR: I think any dollar of tax payers’ dollars that are spent always has to be spent wisely. But there’s no doubt if you’re going to expend public money then you invest it in areas that will lead to employment and economic growth.
This Government likes to talk about jobs and growth and what have we seen since then? We’ve seen the economy contract by 0.5 per cent, the largest contraction of the economy, one of the largest in 25 years. And we’ve seen very little improvement in employment, in fact there’s been an increase in underemployment.
So if there is investment to be made it should be made in areas which will either prevent people from losing their jobs, or indeed grow the economy or grow employment. That is the area in which money should be invested. It would be very unfortunate if the Government chose to ignore that and ignore the manufacturing sector of our economy because that is going to lead to greater unemployment, greater underemployment and a contraction of our economy, which is of course is a cycle you do not want to get into.
They’ve still got an opportunity to fix this, but they really have to come out and articulate a plan, not just for South Australia, because the automotive parts sector of manufacturing goes throughout the nation. They need to have a national plan and they need to articulate that clearly. And they should be listening to the small to medium enterprises that employ tens of thousands of Australians in order to ensure they continue to employ those people.
JOURNALIST: Do you know what that plan should look like?
O’CONNOR: Well firstly, I’m sure the enterprises themselves can explain in detail what they might need. But what the Government has failed to do to date is sit down with the companies who are saying without car makers our future is dire or unknown.
So listening is a good start if you want to partner with business and industry generally of course you should listen to what they see as the solutions. Of course there are some constraints around what Governments can do, but they should be at least be partnering businesses, investing in the way in which they can – whether it’s investing in training in areas where there’s emerging demands in the labour market for new skills.
That’s what Bill Shorten’s announcement today is about – investing in our most important resource which is our people, ensuring that they are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed in a globalised knowledge-based economy and you do that by investing in education and skills, listening to business about what skills they need in order to make sure that their businesses thrive.
We’re not seeing any of those things happen under this Federal Government, and things should change. It’s incumbent on the Prime Minister and the relevant Ministers to make sure those things do occur.
JOURNALIST: South Australia has the highest unemployment in the nation. You say a lot of the blame lies with the Federal Government. What’s the State Government’s role? What could they be doing more?
O’CONNOR: Any Government could always do more. I think it’s fair to say the State Government lobbied quite successfully to ensure that the jobs that have come out of the Defence area, particularly manufacturing of Defence assets that will result in jobs here.
But of course we expect State Government’s, Labor or Liberal, to work with the Federal Government in order to provide support for their local economy. Of course we call upon the State Government to do that here as well. They have successfully ensured that investment will occur in this State when it looked at some point that the Government was going to completely walk away from the South Australian economy, so to that extent I think the South Australian Government should be complimented in its efforts to drag the Turnbull Government back into this State because it looked like they were going to neglect it entirely.
But of course they’ve got a role like anyone else to engage and ensure that the workers that are going to be suffering as a result of the decision by Holden are looked after and indeed they have the same obligations to assist with the Federal Government and its support for workers in manufacturing generally. And also explore areas of demand if you like in the economy, in other areas outside manufacturing.
And so of course we’d expect the Government to do that, but if you’re asking me what is the prime reason we are in the situation where thousands are about to lose their jobs this year it was the contempt that the Federal Government has shown the car industry and as a result of that the contempt it has shown to South Australia and its economy and its people.
JOURNALIST: Just a bit further east, Hazelwood power station is going to be closing very soon, what should the Federal Government be doing there?
O’CONNOR: Well, quite frankly, like with all power stations you have to make decisions on the merits of the case. There’s certainly again, from my perspective in my portfolio, the first concern that I have is to ensure the workers who will lose their jobs are able to find new work. There’s a whole issue, of course, around energy and energy supply, not just in this State but across the country. And so there are decisions that need to be made there. But again, I’m here really to talk about jobs for South Australians. I’d hate to think that there would be more people ending up on the scrap heap, or ending up in unemployment queues because there’s been no preparation to ensure that those workers find new work, as a result of those closures.
Thanks very much.