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Speech – General Motors Holden – Private Members Business

10 Jun | '2020

I rise to speak about the General Motors Holden decision to walk away from Australia and from Australians. I do, along with the member for Grey, acknowledge that business is business. However, it is a disappointing and an unexpected decision that has enormous ramifications for 200 dealers, potentially 9,000 employees and 1.6 million vehicle owners across Australia. It’s not acceptable that this decision was made without government consultation when it affects so many jobs.

Holden has a special place in Australian history, with its own culture and its own loyal brand followers. Holden has a special place in my own heart. You see, my own family were closely linked to the Holden brand for three generations, since the beginning of its history. From the mid-forties, my grandfather Bill worked in the South Australian Woodville plant for 25 years on the line. My father, Roger, and many of his best mates also received their gold watches for 25 years of service at the Elizabeth plant. He worked first as a trimmer and later as a foreman. It was because he was an employee of Holden that he was able to access affordable South Australian trust housing for his family of six, from which we benefited greatly—including my two brothers, who also worked at GMH for a time.

Holden represented the opportunity for those who wanted to work, and it represented an iconic brand to millions of Australian households. In the seventies and eighties, you were either a Holden family or a Ford family. The day the factory closed in October 2017, plunging hundreds of workers into unemployment, was a very sad day for the people of my home town, and it saw the end of car manufacturing in this country. It was a disaster for the local economy and the end of an era for the workers of Elizabeth and their families.

Like 199 other dealerships across the country, von Bibra Motors in Southport have been severely impacted by this decision. Max Johnson, who’s the general manager, said: ‘It’s bad when a franchise just pulls out from underneath you.’ Five jobs were lost immediately and, over the long term, 20 jobs will be lost. My heart goes out to those families in my electorate who’ve been impacted by this decision with no notice. At the peak of Holden Southport, von Bibra were selling 100 cars a month. Now, more than 30 per cent of their turnover has vanished. Von Bibra invested $3.5 million in November 2018 to renovate a new showroom for Holden, and they are now left with a shiny new showroom that houses second-hand vehicles. Wade von Bibra said: ‘The decision to build was made based on the advice from Holden, who gave assurance for the long term, and it was very disappointing to be completely blindsided.’ On behalf of Wade and the injustice to those who worked for the brand with loyalty and dedication for decades, I call on General Motors to ensure that their final act in Australia is to adequately compensate Holden dealers. Those around the country like Wade and those with single-brand franchises who have had to close their doors, who have invested significant capital in showroom facilities, service and repair equipment, stock and parts, need assistance for redundancy payments.

It’s concerning that negotiations between dealers and the franchisor have been difficult, and I want to reiterate the government’s expectation that they work to achieve a fair outcome for those caught out. It’s time for GMH to do the right thing by these dealers who’ve carried their brand and to recognise that there are 1.6 million Holden automobiles currently on Australia’s roads. Holden customers deserve to have confidence that there’ll be ongoing support from General Motors and servicing and spare parts for their future. Wade von Bibra tells me that negotiations are back on the table for dealers, and I call on Holden to do the right thing by Australians.

The Morrison government has made regulatory reforms to automotive franchising arrangements to make the system fairer for consumers, dealers and manufacturers. The amendments to the Franchising Code of Conduct commenced on 1 June 2020, and the reforms are in three areas: end of term obligations, capital expenditure and dispute resolution. These reforms have been fast-tracked to respond to pressures such as COVID-19, declining car sales and the restructure of major brands. The government wants to help automotive franchises to continue operating and create jobs.

The Morrison government’s Manufacturing Modernisation Fund is now supporting around 200 projects around Australia, worth about $215 million, including two businesses in Moncrieff. Patterson Glass in Nerang and Chemical House in Molendinar can now invest in new equipment and technologies to transform and upgrade their manufacturing operations.

As we face the coronavirus pandemic and look to come out the other side stronger, this investment in manufacturing is critical. I commend the Morrison government’s determination to further strengthen Australian manufacturing, and the current pandemic gives us the opportunity as a nation to reassess and commit to the value of Australian-made goods.

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