Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (3.36 p.m.)-I also rise to take note of Senator Evans’s answers on Toyota and the Australian automotive industry. This side of the chamber and, I think, media commentators have increasingly noted during the last six months that this government pursues spin over substance. We have had the glossy brochure to mark the first hundred days of this government. We have had the 2020 Summit. We have had the Petrol Commissioner. We have had Fuelwatch. We have had the Asia-Pacific EU announcement. We have had the non-proliferation announcement and the revival of the Canberra commission.
These announcements were just window-dressing. They might have been empty announcements that were ill-conceived and usually did more harm than good, but at least they were not at any great cost to the taxpayer. But the announcement of a $35 million grant to Toyota to build a hybrid car is different. It does not deliver a benefit that would not have been delivered otherwise and it costs $70 million. I am annoyed about this, not just as a taxpayer to the Commonwealth but also as a Victorian taxpayer-$35 million from the Commonwealth and $35 million from the state government. The first outrage is that this was going to happen anyway but we are paying $70 million for the privilege.
When the grant was announced, the President of Toyota, Mr Watanabe-this has been mentioned many times today, but it bears repeating-said:
It was only recently that we heard about the amount, so we are not sure how we will use it.
They are not our words; they are the words of Toyota. The next day, Toyota spokesman Mike Breen said:
It would have happened regardless and we wouldn’t bring it to market unless we were going to make money.
That Toyota spokesman said that ‘it would have happened regardless’. Later that same day Toyota issued a statement saying that government support was ‘a critical factor’. I wonder what happened between Mr Breen’s comments to the press and the clarifying statement. It is echoes of ‘Iguanagate’: something is said publicly that a government does not agree with, a phone call is placed and there is a retraction of sorts. This sounds very similar to what happened in New South Wales; it is very similar indeed. This was a photo opportunity, pure and simple.
There was not even enough time before issuing the media advisory and making the announcement itself for this announcement to go to cabinet. In fact, so rushed was the announcement that the Prime Minister did not even have time to learn how to pronounce the word ‘Camry’. On radio interview after radio interview, he kept referring to a ‘Cam-rye’-and I do not know what a ‘Cam-rye’ is. That is how rushed it was. The Prime Minister did not even have the time to work out how to pronounce the name of the car that the Commonwealth was putting $35 million towards. In the budget handed down just four weeks ago, we were told that the $500 million green car fund would not start until 2011. Guess what? The PM thought: ‘It’s Tuesday. I’m in Japan. I need an announcement.’ So we get this $35 million announcement-a photo opportunity, pure and simple.
The government used to take quite a different approach to supporting the Australian car industry. Some may say that that different approach amounts to hypocrisy. Mr Deputy President, you might recall that the previous government put $20 million towards the Ford Focus project. When the current government was looking for savings for the budget and its razor gang had been established, guess what the government did-it sought to terminate that grant to Ford Australia. So serious was the government about doing that that it commissioned advice from the Australian Government Solicitor. I have a copy of it here. It is headed ‘Termination options: Commonwealth grant with Ford’. The response from the AGS to the commissioning person states:
You have requested our advice as to what the Commonwealth’s options are for terminating its existing grant deed with the Ford Motor Company of Australia. You have also sought further advice on what action Ford may itself take if the Commonwealth chooses to terminate the deed.
The advice also states:
You are advised that, with the recent change of government, a review is now being undertaken as to the government’s desire and obligation to pay to Ford the remaining $20 million in grant funding.
The conclusion of that advice is:
… in a practical sense, whilst the Commonwealth may be able to take action to terminate the deed for convenience thereby avoiding any ongoing obligation … it could nevertheless become liable to Ford to pay compensation up to an amount which is equivalent to the remaining amount of actual grant funding.
In other words, the only reason the government did not go through with that is that the AGS advice said that it would have to pay the money if it went to court anyway. This is hypocrisy, pure and simple- (Time expired)