By hook or by crook the PM is holdin' on
Pea and thimble tricks look like open, transparent exercises when compared with the way governments have traditionally funded the Australian car industry.
Politicians love to be seen to be ''supporting Aussie jobs'', especially when they're Aussie jobs making Holden cars.
But they are much less keen on pointy heads doing the maths that calculates how much taxpayers are spending per job, or per car, propping up the industry. (The last time the Productivity Commission did it, it was about $2800 a car, although that figure was hotly disputed).
Australia's own Prime Minister ... Julia Gillard, like Ben Chifley in 1948, poses with the first Holden off the assembly line. Photo: Andrew Meares
They are also less keen on admitting, out loud, that there's effectively an international auction where governments bid to get car makers to operate in their countries, and that if they don't pay, we don't get to make cars. In other words, the payments are pretty much permanent.
True to form, Julia Gillard and her ministers didn't tell us yesterday over what period the $215 million in federal money would be paid to Holden, when it would start, or exactly which pot of money it would come from.
But the budget papers show we are spending $511 million this year on car industry assistance, and about the same seems to have been promised for each of the next four years.
Ben Chifley in 1948.
We also don't know exactly how much each of the three makers get, but estimates put total annual payments at between $200 million and $250 million. Add the $200 million or so that goes to component makers, top that with however much extra Holden will get after yesterday's announcement (likely to start well before the new models begin production) and the current appropriation is pretty much spent.
It seems the reason there was some extra cash sloshing around to pull out of the hat for Holden is because the main payment is linked to actual production, which has been down.
All of which is bad news for Tony Abbott. He says, not unreasonably, that he needs more information.
But it seems now highly unlikely he will be able to go through with his plan to cut $500 million from the car fund over the next four years, and possibly another billion dollars after 2015, and also keep his promise to save car making and blue-collar jobs. Especially when the deal with Holden is sealed in the form of a contract.
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