Topics: Holden closure announcement, car industry
Karen Andrews: Well, good afternoon and thank you very much for being here. It was only a couple of hours ago that the Government was advised that Holden was walking away from Australia and Australians. This is a very disappointing outcome. It’s disappointing because there will be several hundred workers that are about to lose their jobs because of this decision that’s been made by Holden, and it’s disappointing that they only advised the Government of this decision just before their announcement. Now, we understand that there will be approximately 500 workers directly affected by the decision that Holden has made. And of course, as a government, our heart goes out to them and our concern is for the workers who have been displaced, and undoubtedly, are very shocked by this decision of Holden.
Now, I have had the opportunity to speak to Holden very briefly since their announcement. It’s very clear to them how disappointed the Government is with this decision and the way that they have gone about announcing this decision. My first car was a Holden Torana that I bought from my grandfather. So like many Australians, Holden has a place in my personal history. And Holden is a manufacturer. It is a vehicle that is near and dear to many Australian hearts. So it’s disappointing that this is the end of an era.
I have been assured by Holden that they will do all that they can to support the workers that have been displaced by this decision and also, that they will support the dealers and the dealerships that have been affected by this. They’ve made it very clear that their decision has nothing to do with government policy. It was a result of a business case that they had developed here in Australia that they believed was no longer sustainable. It’s fair to say that there are a number of changes around the globe that Holden is currently making. So, they’ve already made, previously, decisions that have affected Europe. There’s decisions that have affected India, Thailand. And it may well be that there are further decisions that Holden is going to need to take.
Our priority as a government, though, is clearly the impact of their decision on Australia and Australians. And once again, I give the commitment that the Australian Government will do all that it can to assist the displaced workers to look at other opportunities. We will also do all that we can to make sure that Holden is held to account for the promises that it has made to me personally and to the Government that it will support workers and it will support the dealers who have been affected by this decision.
Of course, there’s also flow on effects as well to other parts of the market so I intend to have further discussions with Holden over the coming days and weeks.
I am happy to take any questions.
Question: Does the Government regret the hundreds of millions of dollars it spent on subsidies when Holden was manufacturing here, given that, say, two and a half years later, they’re gone?
Karen Andrews: Look, I’m very disappointed with the decision that Holden has made. The Australian Government, in various forms, has done a lot to support auto-vehicle manufacturing here in Australia. We’ve made it very clear that we will look at the automotive sector. The Morrison Government is doing all that it can to assist workers, who have been affected by closures previously, to access other employment, and the vast majority have been able to secure employment.
Yes, it’s true. A lot of money has been given to these car manufacturers to try and support them here. That makes it particularly disappointing that they have made the decision that they have, and that effectively, Holden is walking away from Australia.
Question: When will you have a clear idea of precisely how many workers will be affected?
Karen Andrews: The information that I’ve been given so far is that, of a total of 800 workers, there will be about 200 that will be retained in Australia to deal with after sales and some service and maintenance, and there will probably be about 90, predominantly engineering staff, that are retained here. So that’s close to 500 workers who will be displaced. I asked for a breakdown of the classifications that would be affected and the only information that I have at this point in time is that it would largely be sales, marketing, human resources that would be affected. I will be speaking directly to Holden again and I will ask them for the breakdown of the jobs that will be affected. From the classification point of view, they have indicated to me that the changes will be taking place from the middle of the year on, so the critical time period is going to be in the lead up to that so that we can give every support to the workers to secure alternative employment.
Question: Does the Government expect more traditional automotive manufacturing brands to be wound down as international [indistinct] costs?
Karen Andrews: I firmly believe that Australia has a key place in the automotive sector. Now, clearly, we have transitioned from direct auto manufacturing in some cases to sales and service. But quite frankly, electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles give us an opportunity to look at some niche markets. Now, we do have HSV – Holden Special Vehicles – in Victoria. They currently take Holden vehicles and convert them from left-hand drive to right-hand drive. There may well be further opportunities for them to expand. That will be up to them. That will be a business decision for them. But I think it’s important that we look at the opportunities in Australia to support the automotive sector, and that includes showing support for our dealers.
Question: Ford has a design studio here. They design the Ranger, which is the second top-selling car in the country. Do you have fears they could follow Holden in terms of the design staff?
Karen Andrews: Ford will be getting a call from me.
Question: What will you say to Ford?
Karen Andrews: What are your plans? Because I don’t think it’s acceptable for Holden to have made this decision without any consultation with government and without significant advice of that decision. Now, I understand they need to communicate and consult with their workers, but quite frankly, this is an unacceptable process that Holden has undertaken. So yes, I will be speaking to Ford and I will be asking what their plans are. Of course, it will be up to them how much information they choose to divulge.
Question: Do they still receive any form of government subsidy?
Karen Andrews: The ATS System – the Automotive Transformation System – is ongoing at this point in time. And yes, there would be support that’s available to assist in the short-term.
Question: Given fewer Australians are buying traditional Ford or Holden sedans, would the Government, in addition to electric vehicles, also support different makes of cars? Is there a potential future for manufacturing different types of vehicles?
Karen Andrews: Look, I wouldn’t exclude anything from the manufacturing future for Australia because I think there are significant opportunities, and it is really just unfolding around the world. What the extent of the electric vehicle market is going to be, what other fuel sources are going to be, such as hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles, I remain open to opportunities, and we would be very welcoming of any manufacturer that’s looking to come and talk to us about opportunities here in Australia. And that may be that we are providing design support, that we are providing marketing support, that we are providing after sales service here. But I think that the opportunity is there for us to work with as many manufacturers as are willing and ready to come to Australia.
Question: And what’s your message, Minister, to the 500 workers who are facing an uncertain future and will be particularly worried about reemployment?
Karen Andrews: The Government is very, very concerned about the workers that have been displaced. We are concerned that there has been very little notice given to them. There was an announcement given today, but they’re going to be affected over the coming months. So the Federal Government is there to support them where we can, to look at opportunities to transition to other industries. That may be, of course, in some of our emerging industries, but it could be in defence industry, where some of the manufacturing workers have already transitioned to, but there’s also the space sector, which is growing in Australia. But given that many of the jobs that will be affected will be in administration, sales, marketing, and human resources, there are no specific industry sectors that would be excluded.
Question: Just to clarify, when did Holden contact you or General Motors?
Karen Andrews: They contacted the Prime Minister, my understanding is just before they made the announcement, and I was contacted shortly after.
Question: And you would have expected they would have, a week before an announcement like that, given you some sort of opportunity to consult?
Karen Andrews: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. To make an announcement of such significance, I think it would have shown a considerable amount of goodwill, as well as decency, in picking up the phone and talking to government beforehand.
Question: The GDP figures late last year were weaker than expected, are you concerned about the impact this will have on the economy?
Karen Andrews: It may well have some impact, and yes of course that is concerning. What we’ll be looking at is where the opportunities are for these displaced workers, where the opportunities will be for dealerships. And we know that many of the dealers that will be affected already have engagements with other providers. So they aren’t single entity dealers. So many of them will continue on, but it may well have an impact on the economy and we’ll be working to minimise that.
Thank you very much.