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Abbott And Shorten Clash Over Holden Closure In Terse Parliamentary Exchange

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have made parliamentary statements on the Holden closure that led to terse exchanges in the House of Representatives tonight.


  • Listen to Tony Abbott in the House (7m)
  • Listen to Bill Shorten in the House (9m)

Abbott and Shorten had just arrived back after attending the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Abbott told the House it was a “sad bad day” for Australian manufacturing. “I don’t want to mince my words – this is a dark day for manufacturing in this country.”

The Prime Minister said the move by General Motors was part of a worldwide restructure that didn’t just affect Australia. He said a “strategic response” was required. “It is not the time to indulge in the blame game.” He said the government would unveil a package of measures in the coming days. “It is the government’s strong wish that Toyota continue manufacturing in Australia.”


Abbott said that Australia has strengths in component manufacturing, in research and development, and in biomedical science. In his response, Bill Shorten said “this is not the day to tell car workers they will move into bio-med”. Shorten described the announcement as “devastating”.

As the exchange intensified, Shorten said, “I haven’t dared a company to sack its workers”, a reference to the comments by Treasurer Joe Hockey in the House yesterday.

Shorten said he believed Holden was “pushed”. He said senior ministers have backgrounded (the media) against thousands of jobs but their bluff was called. “The workers are the losers.”

Shorten then said: “What we don’t understand is when the Australian government tries to sabotage its own industry.” He was required to withdraw the remark.

The House adjourned for the day soon after Abbott and Shorten spoke. It will meet tomorrow for the last time in 2013.

Text of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s statement on Holden in the House of Representatives.

Thank you Madam Speaker.

I don’t want to mince my words and I don’t want to pretend to the Parliament that this is anything other than a dark day for manufacturing in this country.

We have today received the very bad news, not entirely unexpected news, but very bad news, that Holden is to cease manufacturing in this country in 2017. 2,900 jobs will be gone by 2017 and thousands of jobs are at risk in up to 150 suppliers.

This follows on the withdrawal from motor manufacturing in our country of Mitsubishi some years ago and Ford’s announced 2016 close-down.

This was part of a world-wide restructure that amongst other things involved the closure of General Motors plants in Korea and the withdrawal of Chevrolet from Europe.

So, we shouldn’t think that motor manufacturing in this country has alone suffered bad news this day.

As the Managing Director of Holden has said and I thank him for his sober statement today on what must have been a sad and bitter day for him, Holden has been hit by a perfect storm; high costs, the high dollar and low volumes and that explains the decision that they have made.

Madam Speaker, now is the time for a strategic response to the difficulties in manufacturing and particularly to the difficulties in our motor industry.

It is not the time to play politics. It is not the time to indulge in the blame game. It is not the time to peddle false hope.

It is a time for a candid and constructive conversation with the Australian people and it is time for a considered and a constructive response from Government. That is exactly what this Government will be providing in coming days.

That strategic response starts with a review of the fundamental strengths of our country.

It starts with a review of the fundamental strengths of the areas which will be most impacted by the Holden close down in three years’ time.

We do have strengths in component manufacturing, we do have strengths in manufacturing, particularly for the mining sector, we have enormous strengths in research and development, in higher education and in biomedical science.

The Government will be announcing measures, in coming days that will build on the strengths that we have, and which will offer hope for the people of the regions impacted.

It will be a considered package of measures designed to rebuild confidence in the long-term economic future of those regions, in the long term future of manufacturing in this country.

As part of that, Madam Speaker, we will be talking to Toyota. They have long been the strongest motor manufacturer in this country and I want to say, Madam Speaker, that it is the Government’s strong wish that Toyota continue to manufacture in this country. It is the Government’s strong wish that Toyota continue to export from this country. We will be talking to them about the best ways of ensuring that that happens.

I accept, Madam Speaker, this is a sad bad day for everyone involved in the motor industry.

It is particularly a sad bad day for the workers of Holden, for the families of the workers of Holden and for the communities which are home to Holden’s major facilities in this country. There is no way that I can gloss over that; there is no way that I should gloss over that.

But Madam Speaker, the people of this country, the people of our industrial centres, have been through hard times before and they have come through hard times. They have flourished through hard times.

When BHP withdrew from steel-making in Newcastle, many people thought that this was the end of an era and yes Madam Speaker, it was the end of one era, it was the end of a grimy industrial era for Newcastle, but it certainly wasn’t the end of economic dynamism for Newcastle which has gone from strength to strength in the decade or so since that announcement.

While I accept that the economy of South Australia is fragile, while I accept that Adelaide in particular has suffered a series of knocks, it lost Mitsubishi just a few years ago and it did come through and there is much that we can be hopeful and optimistic about in the resilience of the South Australian economy particularly if government can do all that is necessary to ensure that the Olympic Dam mine expansion goes ahead.

So, Madam Speaker, this is a dark day, but there will be better days ahead.

There will be better days ahead and it is my determination – it is the determination of everyone in the government to work with the people of Australia, to work with the creative people of this country to ensure that the strengths, the great strengths of our society, the great strengths of our economy continue to be built on in the days and weeks and months ahead.

Hansard transcript of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s statement on indulgence to the House of Representatives.


Mr SHORTEN: At least, on this difficult day and with this difficult announcement, I agree with one thing the Prime Minister has said: let us be candid and let us not mince words.

Today it is not the government or Labor who has suffered an economic defeat; it is thousands of people who find that they have lost their jobs.

This is not a day—nor, I think, is it an appropriate statement—to tell people that it will all end happily and that every car worker can move into bio-med. That is not what has happened today.

My concern is that the Government, in its statement about the car industry, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. This is a devastating announcement.

Government members interjecting—

Mr SHORTEN: Madam Speaker, I would hope that you would show—

The SPEAKER: Those on my right will not interject.

Government members interjecting—

Mr SHORTEN: Certainly in the last week I have not dared a company to sack people.

Our thoughts are with the thousands of workers affected.

Government members interjecting—

The SPEAKER: If members wish to hear the Leader of the Opposition, they will be silent.

Mr SHORTEN: There are thousands of workers today who will go home. Their families—their kids and their husbands or wives—will say to them, ‘What does this mean, Mum?’ or ‘What does this mean, Dad?’ and ‘What does this mean for your job?’

The parents will have to say to them that they are going to lose their jobs. This is the worst part of this announcement today. As much as some here might wish to yell out and make political points—

Government members interjecting—

Mr SHORTEN: There is something about a self-fulfilling prophecy there.

Our hearts are concerned for the families who, before Christmas, found this out.

The Opposition is most upset for these families because we know that it is not the workers’ fault that they have lost their jobs.

At least let there be, in this Parliament here, a truce on blaming the workforce for what has happened. These are skilled workers. It is not just direct employees at Holden, be they in South Australia—

Mrs Griggs interjecting—

Mr SHORTEN: I have no idea why the Member for Solomon is shaking her head.

We are talking about skilled workers who have lost their jobs, Madam. We are talking about people who will go home tonight to tell their families that they have lost their jobs—and it is not the fault of the people we are talking about.

It is not just the direct employees of Holden; there are hundreds of component manufacturing businesses throughout Victoria and South Australia who make products which go into these motorcars.

Frankly, the Opposition is appalled by today’s announcement.

We are appalled when people say, ‘This is not a political issue, but—by the way—we will not provide half a billion dollars in funding.’

We are appalled when people say, ‘This is not a political issue,’ when it is clear that there have been divisions within the government on this question.

We are also appalled that a major company, which has been building motorcars in this country since after the Second World War, has effectively been goaded into giving up on this country.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SHORTEN: The government says—

Government members interjecting—

Mr SHORTEN: Madam Speaker, I know they are the government. But I would like to see this House—

The SPEAKER: I think it is important to realise that, in this particular environment, when words like goaded are used, you can expect a response. But the Leader of the Opposition has the call—and, if we are to hear him, we want silence.

Mr SHORTEN: Yet again—and I have been away for three days—I thank Madam Speaker for her advice. I will not use the word goaded. Encouraged to leave this country is a better way to put it.

There have been senior ministers backgrounding not against Holden but against thousands of jobs in this country.

Anyway, today some in the Government have got what they wanted.

There has been a game of high-stakes political poker played, and unfortunately the bluff was called—and the losers are thousands of Australian automotive workers and their families.

Holden said very clearly yesterday that a decision had not been made. Something has changed in the past 24 hours.

Government members interjecting—

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER: We will have some order. We will have some silence, please. The Leader of the Opposition is speaking on indulgence; we will hear him.

Mr SHORTEN: Something has changed in the past 24 hours. They were told by the Federal Government of Australia, who were elected to govern for all, that there would be no more support and no more investment—and I believe that Holden were pushed.

The priority right now must be on the workers and their families.

The Prime Minister has returned.

The Prime Minister must urgently step in to deal with the mess, the chaos and the disappointment which has occurred in his absence.

Labor stands ready to support these workers in whichever way we can, but the opposition does not believe that today’s announcement was an ordained conclusion.

We do not believe that the announcement today was the only inevitable outcome of recent weeks. We do not accept it was inevitable that this car company would make the decision, after decades of investment in this country, that they would close their businesses by 2017.

There were some examples used about other car companies that have gone and the steel industry. When those announcements were made, there were still car companies in this country. When the steel industry—

Government members interjecting—

The SPEAKER: I have said that, if the Leader of the Opposition is to be heard, we need silence.

Mr SHORTEN: It did not have to come to this, nor was it inevitable. We understand that structural change happens in the Australian economy. What we do not understand is when the Australian government decides to sabotage its own industry. We believe—

The SPEAKER: The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. I call the honourable the Prime Minister.

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER: We will have silence. I call the honourable the Prime Minister.

Mr Champion interjecting—

The SPEAKER: If the member for Wakefield wishes to leave the chamber again, keep speaking.

Mr Champion: Fair enough.

The SPEAKER: Remove yourself under 94(a). A very slow learner.

Mr Abbott: Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I am reluctant to do this, but the statement that the Leader of the Opposition has just made about sabotage was offensive and it should be withdrawn.

The SPEAKER: Indeed. The Leader of the Opposition will withdraw that statement.

Mr SHORTEN: I withdraw.

What we have seen is a government who will not back up car workers, small businesses or the automotive manufacturing industry in this country.

On 11 August 2013, a coalition spokesperson, the absent Treasurer, said, ‘The car industry much prefers our policy.’

Yes, we have seen that work out, haven’t we? All I would say now to the government is: work together with the opposition to save our manufacturing sector.

Honourable members interjecting—

The SPEAKER: The call is with the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr SHORTEN: It has been said that this is a sad, bad day for the car industry. That is true. But, when it comes to the car industry, we have a sad, bad government.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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