ABC, Capital Hill Program

Release Date: 
10 December 2013

Subjects: Holden, Carbon tax, child care.

INTRO: Holden says no decision has been made about the company’s future, but the acting Prime Minister wants answers. This is Capital Hill.

Welcome to the program.


REPORTER: Can you Alan, firstly, we just heard there from one of your colleagues in the Victorian government with a message for Coalition ministers to stop speculating about Holden. Do you think that message needs to be taken on-board?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, we want Holden to stay on in this country. We want a strong, viable motor car industry in this country and we are having constructive conversations with the company. As you heard from the Deputy Prime Minister earlier, we want Holden itself to make a categorical statement about what its intent is. Because ultimately the decision is theirs, not ours. We will work constructively with them. There is a billion dollars on the table between now and 2015. There is a further billion dollars on the table from 2015 onwards, which correlates to around $50,000 per employee. But ultimately the decision is up to them.

REPORTER: There is some division within the Coalition as to if there should be more money. Where do you stand on that?

ALAN TUDGE: We’ve made our commitment clear, and we’re also having a Productivity Commission review to guide us further on what decisions should be made in the future. But I would also say this: that not only is it important in terms of what government assistance is given to Holden, and they have had a great deal of government assistance and will continue to get some support under us, but it is the business environment which is also critical. And that’s why we’ve already taken decisions for example to get rid of Labor’s $1.8 billion Fringe Benefits Tax hit and why we’re so determined to get rid of the Carbon tax because it adds an extra $400 to the cost of every single motor car built in Australia, but doesn’t cost a cent for an imported vehicle.

REPORTER: It’s not just about money, it’s about providing the right business environment. This is the point Joe Hockey picked up on in Question Time today. Has Labor failed in the past to provide the right settings seeing as we’ve seen Ford and Mitsubishi leave as well?

STEVEN JONES: …very supportive of Australia’s car industry in today’s export markets. Alan’s figure of $400, I’ve got to say, is absolute bunko. The car industry itself has said around about $40, which you know, is probably 10 per cent of the average discounting in a car yard. What will make the difference is certainty from the government. We don’t need one set of Cabinet Minister’s briefing journalists and you’ve got Ian McFarlane saying he wants to do the right thing by the industry. We need a clear position coming from government.

ALAN TUDGE: I actually want to pick up on a point that you initially raised, and that was how much money should be given and should we be funding them more and more and more, whatever it takes. Now I point out that it was only this time last year when Prime Minster Gillard did a $215 million deal with the Holden motor car company, which was supposed to guarantee Holden being in this country until 2022. That was just last year. Now all of a sudden I don’t know what has happened to that agreement, they’ve come and are now seeking further, additional money again.

STEVEN JONES: You guys have put a question mark over it, that’s what’s happened.

ALAN TUDGE: We haven’t put a question mark over it at all. That deal was done. That was supposed to keep Holden in this country until 2022. They should be sticking by that.

REPORTER: Let’s have a look at the letter Warren Truss has sent to Holden today. He’s saying that Holden needs to make a clear statement for the workers. How do you think this is playing out for the workers Steven Jones? It’s just before Christmas. Do you think they should respond to that and make and immediate statement?

STEVEN JONES: I’ve met with people directly employed by Holden, and they are feeling that they are frozen, that they can’t make long term commitments themselves. They don’t know if they are going to have a job next year, so terrible uncertainty and the stress that goes with that. Yes, Holden does need to make a decision and we’re calling on the government and Holden to sit around a table and sort this out. It won’t happen by backgrounding journalists and having one Cabinet minister say one thing, another Cabinet minister say another thing. We need certainty, the workers need certainty.

REPORTER:[inaudible] frustration from the Coalition towards Holden …[inaudible]. No decision has been made, merely confirmed that a decision to end manufacturing remains a live option.

ALAN TUDGE: We just want a clear, categorical statement from Holden as to what their intent is. Because at the end of the day, the government can’t force a company to stay here. It is going to be up to the company themselves to make that decision. We want to know what their intent is, we want to work with them constructively, we want to create a viable business environment for them to be successful. I point out that under the previous Coalition, the motor industry grew by something like 22 percent in terms of numbers of employees, but it’s declined in the last five to six years by about 23-24 percent.

REPORTER: We do need to move on, as we’ve got a lot to get through today. We’ll move onto another topic now. The Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt is keeping the pressure on the Senate to sit over Christmas to deal with the Carbon tax repeal legislation. Labor and the Greens are combining to block the suite of bills in the Senate, but the government still wants to bring on a vote before Parliament rises for the year. Mr Hunt has accused the Senate of going on strike.

GREG HUNT: 15 milliion people voted for [inaudible] not long ago and what is absolutely clear is that the Senate is on a go-slow and then on strike, so that they can go home and watch the cricket. I think the Australian people want action, they want the Senate to sit, they want the Senate to do their duty. They don’t want Senators from the ALP who are simply going to put up their feet, crack a tinny, watch the cricket and laugh as electricity prices continue to skyrocket.”

Well the Greens leader Christine Milne says the Senate won’t be bossed around by the government. Earlier today the bill to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation was defeated in the Senate, but a vote on the repeal of the carbon tax looks unlikely before the end of the week. I spoke to Senator Milne a short time ago:

[Interview with Christine Milne]

REPORTER: Well, Steven Jones, we heard that interview there. Why won’t Labor push ahead and bring this to a vote if we know Labor and the Greens have the numbers in the Senate to beat the Carbon tax repeal bills – why not just have the vote?

STEVEN JONES: I think we should be having a debate on an important public policy issue. Can I say in respect to Greg Hunt’s comments, it’s a bit rich taking a lecture from the party that used [interjections inaudible]

We agree on abolishing the Carbon tax as long as it’s replaced with an Emissions Trading Scheme. That’s the policy we took to the election, that’s the policy we argued in the House of Representatives, it’s the policy we’re arguing in the Senate. You’re entitled to argue yours; you are not entitled to ask us to abandon ours.

REPORTER: Why is it so important that you want to have this vote before Christmas, when it would not take effect anyway until the middle of next year?

ALAN TUDGE: This was the central theme of the election. We took it to the election that we would scrap the carbon tax and we want to do it as quickly as possible so that it can be brought into effect as quickly as possible. What the abolition of the Carbon tax will mean, is on average $550 savings per household, $220 lower electricity bills per household on average. These are based on your own figures Steven.  It will vary family to family depending on your electricity use and depending on the size of the household, but on average a family will be $550 better off. Businesses will be better off because their electricity consumption will be lower. And particularly manufacturing businesses who so heavily rely on electricity.

REPORTER: The point I was making though, why the push and the imperative to have this passed in the next two days when we know the way the numbers stack up anyway?

ALAN TUDGE: The question Julie, is why isn’t the Labor party backing it? They went to the 2010 election promising not to introduce a carbon tax and then they introduced one. They went to the 2013 election promising to, quote, ‘terminate’ the carbon tax. And now they’re actually breaking a promise in not allowing us to get rid of it. We want the Labor party to terminate the carbon tax just as they promised they would do. We also promised to terminate the carbon tax, and we will do it.

REPORTER: But Labor promised to remove the carbon tax and replace it with an Emissions Trading Scheme.

ALAN TUDGE: They were clear, they made it very clear from Prime Minister Rudd at the time, that ‘we will terminate the carbon tax’ he said. No ifs, no buts. Let’s deliver that.


STEVEN JONES: Let me tell you why we believed in putting a price on carbon, because it worked. A 7 per cent reduction in carbon emissions. At the same time, over 150,000 jobs have been created, the economy grew by about 2.5 percent, and Whyalla still exists. We know it’s working. We think we can move to a more efficient scheme, one that Alan used to believe in when he wasn’t bound by his ridiculous party policy, putting a price on carbon, a market based mechanism, we think it will work. Greg Hunt has created this ridiculous pantomime which he’s very fond of, an artificial deadline. He knows he’s not going to meet it. He can’t bully the Senate, who are the masters of their own destiny. I think quite rightly they have said we need to flesh this all out.

REPORTER: Well let’s move on to our final issue of today, and that’s a $300 million fund to give pay rises to childcare workers has been axed by the Abbott government. Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the Early Years Quality Fund to give childhood educators and teachers in long day care centres a pay rise for two years, but the Coalition has announced it will re-direct the funding to professional development programs for staff instead. The Assistant Minister for Education, Susan Ley, says she has invited child care providers to return the money they money they have already been allocated.

SUSAN LEY Our plan is to professionally develop the entire child care sector and to use the funds that Labor had allocated to its slush fund, to do exactly that. It is really important that we recognise that $30 million of our professional development fund will be allocated to vulnerable and disadvantaged children."

"TANYA PLIBERSEK: This is just insane. This is bizarre. This is such a shambles. This is just a chaos that somebody needs to step in and set the Assistant Minister right. This is another example of policy on the run, a backflip, a broken promise from this out of control government.”

REPORTER: Steven Jones to you firstly on this one. The report on the Fund found evidence, I’ll quote “the requirement to have an enterprise agreement was used by United Voice to increase its union membership.” Is this an appropriate way to use a fund of this kind?

STEVEN JONES: Can I just go back to the report. There is some ridiculous stuff that has been said in this report. Why was the fund set up? Because child care workers around the country have some of the most important responsibilities and such high turnover…

REPORTER: The report into this fund through, has made this observation that the requirement to have an enterprise [inaudible] extra money in the pocket.

ALAN TUDGE: Well the federal government has never been in the business of providing money for private entities for wage increases. The Fair Work Commission is there for that. Let’s be very clear. This $300 million fund was there to grow union membership. Pure and simple. We said that at the time. The Australian Child Care Alliance that represents 60 percent of all child care providers said that at the time and now this report from PriceWaterhouse Coopers also says that.

REPORTER: So what professional development programs though? What will that be?

ALAN TUDGE: Well it allows individual child care centres to apply to the fund in order to use that money to increase the skills of their workers, so it might be particular courses they can go on, or you might have people provide training inside the centre.

STEVEN JONES: Can I explain to you why this is complete hypocrisy? Because they oppose professional standards for child care workers when that bill was before the house. This is just a back-door way to rip the money out of the sector. They already have professional qualifications. What they need is professional wages.

REPORTER: And that’s where we’ll have to leave it. Steven Jones, Alan Tudge, thank you for joining me today.