Toyota dominates question time
Toyota's decision to stop making cars in Australia was the dominant issue in the first federal question time of the year, with Bill Shorten targeting Tony Abbott.PT0M0S 620 349
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Tony Abbott has told his colleagues that there would be more economic shocks to come in the wake of Toyota's decision to pull out of Australia.
The warning came as the manufacturing sector reeled from the news amid fears that related high-technology manufacturing might also face extinction.
"I fully share the dismay of members opposite, of members on all sides of this house": Tony Abbott. Photo: Andrew Meares
Mr Abbott told Parliament he was as devastated as anyone by the car company's planned departure.
''I fully share the dismay of members opposite, of members on all sides of this house, at the announcement that Toyota made yesterday,'' he said. ''Every single one of us, every single one of us, is devastated by this announcement, just as we were devastated by the announcement in December that Holden would cease manufacturing.''
Earlier in the day, he warned his MPs that economic adjustment was never easy. ''There have been economic shocks and there will be more to come,'' he told the Coalition party room, a spokesman said.
''We feel the concern for people in painful economic circumstances but our concern shouldn't allow us to depart from the truth that only profitable businesses create jobs.''
But with pressure intensifying from the opposition to explain what was done to convince Toyota to stay, Mr Abbott counselled against the folly of governments ''chasing businesses down the street with a blank cheque''.
The issue dominated the first parliamentary question time for the year, with the opposition accusing the government of callous indifference to workers in the automotive sector.
Mr Abbott said Toyota would have cut production costs but had been frustrated. ''I very much regret the fact that when Toyota just a few months ago sought to talk to their workers about improving productivity in their factory, they were denied because of the operation of our system that opportunity,'' he told Parliament.
The comments were a reference to the refusal by automotive sector unions to allow the company to vary enterprise bargaining agreement provisions as it moved to cut costs in its Australian operation.
Toyota confirmed on Tuesday that it would continue with a challenge to the recent Federal Court decision disallowing any changes to its EBA outside of the specified variation conditions. The government, through Workplace Relations Minister Eric Abetz, also confirmed that it would persist in backing the Toyota challenge.
In Parliament, Mr Shorten accused him of blaming automotive workers on $50,000 a year for the company's withdrawal.
The opposition stepped up its claim on Tuesday that Toyota had been planning to build two new models in Australia from 2017 and that those plans were being developed as recently as the second half of 2013, but the withdrawal of Holden prompted a rethink at the makers' Japanese headquarters.
Former industry and innovation minister Kim Carr has revealed he was in active discussions with Toyota management during the final days of the Labor government about the future of the industry. He was confident the cars would have been built here subject to suitable financial assistance. One of them was a new generation Camry.
The claim appears to be supported by a Toyota submission made to the government's Productivity Commission inquiry into the automotive industry in December. In its submission, the car maker listed as its key request an auto industry policy described as ''a long-term, consistent, globally competitive policy suitable for the Australian context to attract future investment''.
Mr Abbott's office confirmed on Tuesday that the Prime Minister had received no advance notice of the Toyota decision.
The company's global head Akio Toyoda, its Australian chief Max Yasuda, and three other executives flew to Canberra on Monday night for a 9pm meeting with Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane.
Mr Abbott also attended for a brief period. However, it was made clear that the company's mind was made up and it decision to leave was irreversible.