Interview on ABC AM: General Motors Holden

General Motors Holden

PRESENTER: Ian Macfarlane was sworn in just yesterday as the new Federal Minister for Industry. He has the responsibility of talking to Holden and the South Australian Government about Holden's future. Mr Macfarlane is in our Parliament House studio in Canberra with chief political correspondent Sabra Lane.

SABRA LANE: Good morning, congratulations and welcome to AM.

IAN MACFARLANE: Thanks Sabra, good to be back.

LANE: The South Australian Premier says that Holden needs an answer on co-investment within two months before Christmas. Is that something that you can give them an answer on in that timeframe?

MACFARLANE: Well, we're going to do all we can, I mean the car industry's been pulled through pillar to post by the past government. They changed the scheme that I left them. When I was the minister I gave the car industry $4.3 billion. That money is still there, it's still being used. But then the Green Car Fund came along and they changed that and confidence went and of course it just made it almost impossible for them. The Government of the day Kevin Rudd decided that he'd hit the industry with a fringe benefits tax and that has decimated production because the cars started backing up in the showrooms in dealerships.

And look we want to get the industry on an even keel. I'm a huge fan of the Australian car industry. The first text I sent after the announcement as minister was to Mike Devereux to say I want to come down and have a look at your plant. I want to bring whoever you want there will be fine with me, so Jay Weatherill and his deputy Tom Kenyon the Industry Minister, I wanted to make sure also the Opposition were involved in South Australia, so the State Opposition Steve Marshall and Martin Hamilton-Smith because we do have a state election coming up there after Christmas and I don't want this issue to be politicised. Nick Xenophon has rung me and asked if he could come along and I said yep, that's fine. Nick's a great representative of South Australia. He got a very strong showing at the last election - you can't argue with democracy, and I know Nick from discussions I had when I was negotiating a few things in Opposition. He's a straight guy and he really believes in South Australia.

So look, I don't know what the timeframe is. I don't know what the nuances are, the issues are, I want to see the plant, I want to walk through the plant. I will be on the side of the car industry. That's what I'm there for, I'm the Minister for Industry, I want to see industry happen. I’ll wear a hat that Peter Brock personally signed for me which is very special to me. It's a Holden hat that he signed for me. Unfortunately he has since passed away, but that hat and the industry that goes with it is very special to me.

LANE: You're saying it's special but again the indications are that the timeline is they need an answer before Christmas. Is that something you can do? And the Premier also said you need to vary your policy on cutting half a billion out of the sector. Is that up for negotiation?

MACFARLANE: Well, everyone's going to have to do a bit here. I mean this is a very very important industry on the brink of closing. I accept that. It wouldn't have been the first call I made after I was announced if I didn't think this is the most important issue to my portfolio. So that's the first thing.

Second thing is, when I talked to Mike I said I think the unions have been great. They've taken a responsible approach. If they want to come along on Thursday fortnight - fortnight today I think it is in Adelaide, I'm welcome to that. We're happy to have people there who want to be constructive. If people want to play politics then I'll just walk away and let them squabble amongst themselves, but if everyone wants to be flexible, I'll be flexible. I haven't got a pocket full of money, I thought they'd still have a bit of the 4.3 billion left that I gave them last time. But let's see what it is. I'm not able to say what will happen until I actually get down there and have a look and that's why I'm going, I want to have a look.

LANE: But again, you said everyone needs to be a bit flexible, is the Coalition prepared to be flexible on its policy too. It talked about 500 million cutting…

MACFARLANE: Everyone wants to talk about the 500 million Sabra. Seriously there are massive more issues than the 500 million. I know money's important, but as I say we put a lot of money into that industry. I put it in on the basis that they produced a car that Australians want to buy. The reality is that Australians aren't buying that car. That 80 per cent of Australians now buy imported cars as their private vehicle. So, they've got to build a car that Australians want to buy and Mike's aware of this, I know he's got something up his sleeve, I'm hoping he'll show me in the privacy of his office , the plans for one.  But they've probably got to build two models, so they've got the Cruze, so we need to be building you know 100,000 cars a year in Australia, so he and Toyota have got to work out who gets the share of that. But remember when I was last minister, when I first became minister last time, each of them were building 100,000 cars. So it'll be great to get back to that but one step at a time.

Let's see what we've got to do all of us to work together. If there's money required, look, as I say my pockets are bit empty at the moment, I want to see where all the money's gone first. But if it's an issue of getting in there, giving Detroit confidence, saying here we are, we're a stable government, you've got a minister who had this portfolio for six years, it wasn't shopped around between four or five ministers as it was under the Labor Party, I've been the minister before, I've got the experience, you know that I'm bipartisan, you know that I'm prepared to cooperate with both sides of politics and work with the unions. As long as no one plays games, let's see what we can do in two months.

LANE: Thanks for your time this morning Minister.

MACFARLANE: Pleasure Sabra.

PRESENTER: Ian Macfarlane the new Federal Minister for Industry speaking with Sabra Lane in Canberra.

Media contacts: Mr Macfarlane's office 02 6277 7070