Federal politics: full coverageAbbott to workers: “I can’t offer false hope”
If the electoral ramifications of the Toyota’s decision to quit production in 2017 are unclear, it is because the decision has been cast as supra-political. Indeed, as even supra-national.
But was it that aloof from Canberra’s influence?
The line emanating from the Abbott government since the bombshell is that nothing it was doing or could have done would have changed anything.
Perhaps, but Labor says the government goaded Holden to leave and that Toyota’s decision was an inevitable consequence of that departure.
With a detached coldness, Toyota’s Japan-based management has simply decided to wind up its Australian operations up citing global conditions and market realities that make Australia’s bit of the show uneconomic.
Nonetheless, when it came late on Monday, the final shock after the pre-fatal blows by Ford and Holden, was no less devastating for the company’s 2500 direct employees.
Its implications extend well beyond them, marking the sad end of an extensive sophisticated industry that for all its critics, had substantially shaped the Australian economic achievement, molding the cultural, architectural, and technological character of post-war Australia.
But markets do not run on emotion alone, and industries cannot survive on past sales and nostalgia.
Rationalists argue persuasively that the automotive industry has been extended more than enough taxpayer assistance – some $30 billion in the past decade – and that to continue was pointless.
Supporters of assistance point to competitor car-makers around the world, arguing Australia’s assistance is lower than almost all others.
Toyota’s withdrawal is the brutal cutting edge of a broader economic transformation being championed by the new Abbott government.
Even before it has its first budget in play, it has enunciated a new guiding principle of economic responsibility in both the personal and corporate spheres. Hand-outs are out, the age of entitlement is over.
The danger for the government is that in its blind adherence to this textbook ideal, it forgets those caught in the middle.
And in the case of the death of a whole industry, the numbers are huge – as many as 30,000 to 40,000 in the components manufacture and supply chains.
For the Prime Minister, the first challenge is to demonstrate he understands the depths of the personal crisis for workers and their families. The wider economic effects are also potentially massive.
When Holden announced plans to quit, the federal government was full of sympathy, mouthing excuses that it did all it could and could have done nothing more.
However Holden insiders say as little as another $80 million a year would have seen the car-maker stay.
There were reassuring words spoken about doing more to keep Toyota operating. So the question for Abbott and his ministers is, what was done?
Whatever it was, it was clearly unpersuasive.
Labor’s former industry minister, Kim Carr is incredulous at Canberra’s apparent indifference.
He says when he was minister six months ago, Toyota was very keen to invest in new models.
If that’s true, the government has some serious explaining to do.
It could start by explaining what its plan for economic transformation actually means.
Where are the new jobs that the Prime Minister so confidently predicts will arise to fill the vacuum of the automotive sector?
In the absence of this information, Labor’s claim that the Coalition’s industry policy amounts to a white flag will have plenty of cut-through with voters.
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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.