This week ex-leader of the ACTU and now Manufacturing Minister Greg Combet announced that the Australian Government had shown its commitment tbygones and skills by putting $210 million into the iconic Holden brand as part of a deal that will see Holden invest $1 billion over the next few years and build two next generation cars.
And while Labor was investing for Australia’s future, the opposition National Liberals were pledging to cut $500 million in subsidies to auto manufacturing, without specifying how many people would be thrown out of work as a result.
The Australian Labor Government not only has a Manufacturing Minister, it also has an industrial strategy worth the name, and it would be good to see European and other governments, including our own, following the same course. As Employment Minister (and ex-auto union leader) Bill Shorten said this week, the automotive industry generates small business, puts significant money into research and development and is a major trainer of apprentices.
Holden may now be owned by GM (which has been the subject of job loss fears in the UK recently) but it’s still an icon of Australian manufacturing because it’s designed, built and driven here. It was the car of choice for 50% of current Australians’ dads, and a strong domestic car industry also means training and employment for members of the next generation of young Australians. So while Holden is emblematic of Australia, the Government’s move is emblematic of a social democratic industrial strategy.
I picked up a feel for what Labor has done when an ex-Holden employee, a 74-year old taxi driver, took me to the airport in Adelaide this morning. The fact that he’s stll working, long after younger men have retired, demonstrates how initially union-negotiated superannuation arrangements (now mandatory) have transformed working Australians’ lives. Too late for Dennis, who was made redundant in an earlier wave of retrenchment at Adelaide-based Holden two years before his union, the ETU, secured super for his grade.
As he said, before you slam the Government’s intervention, you have to factor in how much extra tax revenue the measure will generate (not just out of the subsidy itself but the change in Holden’s investment strategy) and how much the Government would have to pay in unemployment to the people thrown out of work without the Government subsidy. Dennis wouldn’t claim to be an educated man, but he can grasp Keynesianism and knows in his guts that the Opposition are nuts.
Follow Brendan Barber, Paul Kenny and Owen Tudor on the TUC’s delegation to Australia @TUCGlobal using #TUCdownunder.