Hockey attacks AMWU
In question time, Joe Hockey links Toyota's decision to stop car production in Australia to union inflexibility on wages and conditions.PT0M0S 620 349
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Treasurer Joe Hockey is standing by his claim that Toyota nominated costly workplace conditions at its Altona plant as ''the key impediment'' to remaining in Australia as the blame-game over its withdrawal focused on union power.
Responding to a Fairfax Media report that Toyota's Australian boss Max Yasuda had met Mr Hockey on December 3, at which time he had made the comments, Mr Hockey used a morning radio appearance to declare the report accurate.
Treasurer Joe Hockey during Question Time. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
''It was a private conversation, but it's an accurate report,'' he told Fairfax Radio.
''Well I saw the report this morning and it is accurate … the fact is that they were very concerned about the conditions that existed at Toyota in Australia.''
However, Toyota became the second company after SPC Ardmona to seek to correct the record over its industrial relations by issuing a short statement denying categorically that it had ''blamed'' the unions for its impending withdrawal.
''Toyota Australia has never blamed the union for its decision to close its manufacturing operations by the end of 2017, neither publicly or in private discussions with any stakeholder,'' the statement said.
''As stated at the time of the announcement, there is no single reason that led to this decision.''
The embarrassing argument opened the way for a full-throated political attack by the opposition claiming Mr Hockey was verballing Toyota, just as he had been caught over-egging the role of unions in rendering SPC Ardmona's Shepparton factory unprofitable.
It came as a senior car industry source told Fairfax Media that all three car makers were deeply concerned at calls to ditch the existing 5 per cent import tariff, now Ford, Holden and Toyota had decided to leave the country within the next three years.
The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said nothing was set in concrete when it came to departure, predicting that Ford was likely to pull out of Australia by the end of this year in any event, more than a year earlier than its announced 2016 closure date.
He said car companies were concerned at the possibility of the Abbott government scrapping the tariff on the grounds of there being no longer any local industry to protect, and were worried that tens of millions in federal assistance via the Automotive Transformation Scheme may now be wound back, to save money for a cash-strapped budget.
On top of Ford's 2016 deadline, Holden and Toyota have since set 2017 as their last year of manufacture here, but jobs could well be cut before then.
Car industry executives visited Canberra on Wednesday to reinforce the need for the government to honour current arrangements.
In Parliament, the opposition leapt on the contradiction between Mr Hockey's version of his December meeting with Mr Yasuda and Toyota's subsequent denial.
Opposition members also said Mr Hockey had breached an established convention by speaking about the details of a private discussion with a senior chief executive, for political purposes.
''The message to other company bosses from this affair is watch what you say to the Treasurer because it will not necessarily remain confidential,'' said one Labor insider.
The opposition asked who was lying about the meeting - the Treasurer or the company?
Mr Hockey refused to answer specifically. ''I don't publicly discuss what is said to me by members of the Labor Party frontbench either,'' he said. ''But if I break the seal and start revealing everything that is said to me or I say to the media, then I'll have to do it for the Labor Party frontbench, and that could be pretty embarrassing."