A federal package to find autoworkers new jobs and support businesses affected by Holden’s 2017 production shutdown will be released early next week.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott met with the premiers and chief ministers in Canberra on Friday to discuss ways to minimise the impact of the company decision, especially in Holden’s home bases of South Australia and Victoria, and ensure manufacturing has a future.
He said his government had agreed with the states to respond “swiftly” to restore confidence in the areas most affected by the decision, which followed Ford’s move to close production in 2016.
“I don’t believe for a second that these are areas without fundamental economic strengths and I don’t believe the staff at Ford or Holden are in any way incapable of being redeployed … from one good job to another good job,” Mr Abbott said.
He said the government would also focus on getting taxes and regulation down and boosting productivity.
Victorian Premier Denis Napthine said he expected the package would include direct assistance for workers and supply chain businesses, as well as spending on new job opportunities and infrastructure projects.
The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting came as Opposition Leader Bill Shorten visited Holden workers in Melbourne who told him they believed early action by the Abbott government could have saved their jobs.
“They are frustrated the Abbott government ran up the white flag and won’t fight for their jobs,” Mr Shorten said.
South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said figures presented to the COAG meeting showed the car company’s decision could affect as many as 45,000 jobs along its supply chain across Australia.
“The advice we have from component suppliers is they will need every second of that period between now and 2017 to make the adjustment,” he said.
“Chillingly, for us, those component suppliers say that only about 25 per cent of them will make that journey.”
While details of the federal government’s package have not been released, past adjustment funds in the wake of Ford and Mitsubishi closures have included money for retraining workers, research and development grants and investment in new businesses.
Mr Abbott said the government wanted Toyota to continue its operations, which would require “support at the current levels”.
SA senator Nick Xenophon said the government should be seeking to lure another big car maker to replace Holden and Ford and provide an outlet for smaller businesses in the supply chain.
“Simply having one manufacturer, the last manufacturer standing, is very risky in itself,” he said.
West Australian Premier Colin Barnett said while there was immediate need to address the car industry, the focus should turn to other growing sectors such as minerals and gas processing.
“There is no doubt there are thousands of jobs to be had in those sectors,” he said.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said his state was also “going ahead” and he saw strong job prospects in 2014.