A political storm hit federal parliament as Holden blamed a “perfect storm” of poor business conditions for its decision to stop making vehicles in Australia.
Parliament erupted with Labor blaming the Abbott government and Treasurer Joe Hockey for the loss of 2900 jobs in Victoria and South Australia by 2017, while Mr Hockey angrily rejected Labor’s “confected anger”.
An emotional Acting Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek castigated the coalition for withdrawing $500 million of car industry support and not properly engaging with Holden’s US owner General Motors since it won the September election.
“It was Joseph Benedict Chifley who watched the first car roll off the production line at Fishermans Bend and it will be Joseph Benedict Hockey who sees the last car roll off the production line,” she told reporters.
“Unfortunately, it is a decision of government that made it so.”
She said Treasurer Joe Hockey has got his way after “goading and daring” Holden to withdraw from Australia.
Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss rejected the claims, saying he had been told by Holden the government’s actions had little influence on GM’s decision.
Labor earlier moved to censure the government, with opposition employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor saying it had turned its back on Australian workers.
Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane had been trying to “arm wrestle” Mr Hockey into providing greater taxpayer assistance to Holden.
“Unfortunately the arm wrestle … was won by the treasurer,” Mr O’Connor said.
Mr Hockey said GM was right when it cited a “perfect storm” of “the sustained strength of the Australian dollar, high cost of production, small domestic market and arguably the most competitive and fragmented auto market in the world”.
But he did add the former Labor government’s carbon tax, its now scrapped plan to alter the fringe benefits tax arrangements on cars and high labour costs to the mix.
Mr Hockey appeared to concede the government wasn’t willing to give money to Holden.
“Ultimately, what it comes down to is prosperity only comes from hard work and enterprise, it doesn’t come from the benevolence of taxpayers,” he said.
Mr Truss was taken to task for not revealing his knowledge of the Holden decision until being asked about it by Labor during question time.
He said he had kept quiet out of respect for Holden workers who were about to be briefed by Holden boss Mike Devereux. The news was first made public when Victorian Premier Denis Napthine told state parliament just after 2pm, as federal question time was starting.
Unions said workers would wonder why the federal government did nothing to help Holden, with ACTU secretary Dave Oliver noting that Toyota was seeking talks with the coalition.
South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said Prime Minister Tony Abbott had shown a “callous disregard” for Holden workers facing redundancy.
“The responsibility for this lies firmly at the feet of Tony Abbott and his coalition ministers who made a policy choice not to continue support,” he said.
Mr Weatherill, whose state stands to lose thousands more jobs among Holden’s suppliers, will discuss worker assistance with Mr Abbott in Canberra on Thursday.