JAYES: Stephen Jones - the workers would be well aware of where the industry has been tracking for some time. Seeing the reaction from the Government, can you really blame the Government for the shutdown of Toyota, when we have seen this ever since the Button Review?
STEPHEN JONES: What you can say is their behaviour didn’t help. You had Joe Hockey goading the industry to effectively go offshore, and who could be surprised when they did exactly that? Now I’m not saying the Government is 100 per cent to blame. They certainly are not for the high Australian dollar and very difficult trading circumstances, but they certainly didn’t help. Now Tony says we’ve got to look to the future. Can’t disagree with that. Let’s not look past the people in the unemployment queue as you’re looking to the future. We need a package of assistance in there right now. I come from a region that has seen industrial meltdown. Industries are closed down. And unless you get it right, decades, decades of economic turmoil. So, they need a decisive action plan in place now. Not just looking to the future but also at assistance and retraining and economic stimulus in those regions, right now.
JAYES: What we have seen in the Toyota statement as well, Tony, is the reference to the free trade agreement. Do you see the problems here with the one that was in the works with Japan and South Korea, earlier the United States. Was that a big problem? Were they not negotiated with the right provisions in place for the car industry? And this is under both governments.
SMITH: No, I agree with Steve Bracks on that point. I mean, we’ve got industries that are export ready and ready to boost, their…
JAYES: Was it wrong to concede the tariffs being brought down?
SMITH: No. I think when the Hawke and Keating governments took that brave decision, difficult and brave, with the support of the opposition, it was important. I’ll give Stephen one thing. Unlike some of his colleagues, he’s saying we aren’t… he’s got his political criticisms, but some of his colleagues are saying “it’s all the Abbott Government’s fault” and a predictable, depressing political dialogue. And I’ve got to say, probably half the caucus believes that the other half’s pretending. But if you look from the time of Mitsubishi in 2008, Ford under Labor, and Holden. I mean the statement from Detroit after Holden announced their exit. It was very clear. They said Australia is too small. It’s part of a globalised enterprise and the adjustment was part of the future, and there was nothing any government could’ve done.
JAYES: I’ll let you respond as well. But there was a statement from Tony Abbott saying Toyota needs to look to the export market as well. 70 per cent of Australian production of Camry and Aurion cars were exported, so that wasn’t the answer either. But when you look at the three year transition, that perhaps these workers have, also at Ford and Holden, if Australians aren’t buying these Ford and Holden cars… like the January sales for Ford were down so they announced 300 redundancies earlier than thought. Can these industries that are already going in 2017 even stay that long?
JONES: As Steve Bracks has said, the writing was on the wall for Toyota when Holden announced it was closing its doors because they need a conglomeration. They need an economic ecosystem in the auto industry, and it’s very difficult to sustain one company alone. So I agree with Steve Bracks, you know, we should’ve been proactive at that point in time. Now we were handing out money to chocolate factories in Tasmania. Maybe if we dip some of those cars in chocolate they might have been more fundable.
JAYES: But did the previous government did not address the issue of the high Australian dollar as much as…
JONES: Well we tried to do what we could to work with the auto industry through very difficult trading conditions. You can’t deny what’s going on in the rest of the world, as the opposition tried to, as the Government tried to when they were in opposition. You can’t deny that. You can try and do what you can, what is reasonable. And I’ll just give you these two statistics: the removal of the auto industry is a $7.4 billion hit to our GDP. 50 000 jobs in Victoria alone. It’s gonna take a little bit more than a bit of barbed wire and sticky tape…
JAYES: Now Tony Abbott has warned in the party room meeting today that there has been economic shocks and there will be more to come. Do you think he needs to soften this hardline approach to industry assistance?
SMITH: No, I think he’s talking quite rightly about the reality of the changing structure of the Australian economy. And the car industry is a perfect example of that. I mean you made the point quite rightly Laura. Australians aren’t buying Australian cars like they once did. In fact, 85 per cent of cars on the road are imported. Now back in 2008, Lindsay Tanner said after Mitsubishi left “we resisted the temptation to bail them out”. That was Labor in 2008. Now maybe Stephen had a different view back then but what the Prime Minister’s talking about is facing reality, not pretending. We’ve got a changing economy and we’ve got challenges that we need to confront on the international scene.
JAYES: Okay, I do want to quickly ask about the union Royal Commission and Senator Abetz has just moved a motion in the Senate to bring on the vote for reinstating the ABCC. Stephen Jones, after the allegations we have seen, quite appalling from the HSU, more recently from the CFMEU, why stand in the way of reinstating the ABCC? Why not just give it another go?
JONES: Because the ABCC is not a police force and it’s not a judicial body.
JAYES: But was it given time to work?
JONES: Well it was given time to work, in my view, and there are significant problems with it. I actually think civil rights in this country, whether it’s building workers or any other citizen actually matter, and the ABCC was an egregious assault on peoples’ civil rights, the sorts of civil rights that people from the Liberal Party used to champion. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t give our police force and every other investigative bodies every resource they need to crack down on these allegations of corruption. Nobody defends them; absolutely nobody defends them, but I’m not saying the ABCC was the right way to go about looking at it.
JAYES: Labor says the Royal Commission is a witch-hunt. When you have a look at how much this is going to cost, is it really worth it to do? And is there a double goal here to attack IR legislation at the same time?
SMITH: The goal is to deal with the very serious allegations that have arisen. Now, Stephen and Labor say it’s incredibly serious but not serious enough for a royal commission. That’s what they’re saying. Now the truth of this is the union movement doesn’t want the Royal Commission and Labor can’t agree to anything the union movement doesn’t want. You need a comprehensive inquiry; only a royal commission can do that, can look at systemic issues, can call people and compel people to give evidence, and if Labor hasn’t had enough evidence for a royal commission, I’d like Stephen to say what else he’s waiting for.
JAYES: I’m going to cut you off there with the debate because you two have to get on with Question Time, where there’ll be plenty of debate today. Gentlemen, thanks so much for joining me on the program. And now we take you to the House of Representatives for the first Question Time of 2014.