Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria)– I move:
That this house notes that over the last two and a half years the government has failed to create an economic climate conducive to investment and job creation and that —
(1) the government has no target for jobs growth in manufacturing;
(2) April unemployment figures revealed that 5700 more people became unemployed and the unemployment rate rose from 5.7 per cent to 5.8 per cent, the highest of any mainland state;
(3) youth unemployment in Victoria is now 21 per cent, the highest rate in Australia, yet budget assumptions do not include a projected figure for youth unemployment;
(4) the Napthine government has cut youth employment programs that work with vulnerable young people to help them find sustainable employment;
(5) the Napthine government is more focused on creating the impression of activity on major infrastructure projects rather than actually commencing them and that —
(a) the budget allocated only $10 million of the required $9 billion for Melbourne Metro, the government’s no. 1 public transport priority;
(b) while the government says it will deliver east-west at an estimated cost of $6-8 billion, the budget allocates only $294 million or 3.6 per cent of the estimated project cost;
(c) integrated transport planning was cut by 35 per cent in the budget;
(6) the government’s confirmation that the Regional Growth Fund contains only half the $1 billion claimed and that recent machinery-of-government changes are an admission of government failure in regional development;
(7) cuts to TAFE are already limiting training opportunities for young Victorians to attain the skills they need to secure a job; and
(8) the government still does not have a jobs plan.
This motion was developed prior to Ford’s announcement last Thursday. I have had to put the contribution I had prepared to one side. I have it here in terms of facts and figures, but what I really want to talk about are paragraphs 1, 2 and 8. I will also touch on some other points in the motion.
The high level of interjections and constant barrage that I was subjected to from government members yesterday while I was attempting to make my members statement calling on the Premier to identify blue-collar jobs which redundant Ford workers would be able to apply for indicated that they have absolutely no sense of what it is like to go through a wave of retrenchments and of the human costs when there are significant job losses in a very large industry.
Thinking of those people that I have represented and those that continue to be constituents of mine and what they would like me to say today in my contribution, I am not going to get into point-scoring about what the government claims to be the unemployment figures versus what the opposition says. I will not get into a table tennis match today. I would like to use this opportunity to provide some reflections on my experience of some 20 years in the automotive industry, and hopefully government members can take some messages back to their policy-makers and program developers so that there is some genuine and serious assistance provided to the men and women who will be losing their jobs at Ford.
Job losses in the auto industry are not a new thing. When I started in the industry in 1989 it was between the second tier and award restructuring initiatives. It was when we had the Button car plan, a plan for the restructuring of the car industry. That is not to say that it went smoothly. A number of unexpected things occurred during this period.
If they were expected, the timing of those announcements took people by surprise — for example, when Nissan announced its closure we knew that there were some problems, but given that only a short time before that announcement Nissan had invested millions of dollars into a new paint shop, the last thing we expected was that it was going to completely shut down its Clayton operations. Although we had gone through a number of negotiations in terms of waves of job losses and redundancy packages, to see the final announcement of a plant closure was significant.
Following that we saw the closure of the manufacturing operations of General Motors and also the closure of the Isuzu truck plant, both in Dandenong. A number of other auto component suppliers that relied on large manufacturing also folded. The lucky ones were able to pick up contracts with other auto suppliers and continue to work. But it has been a shrinking jobs market for some time.
Even the larger, successful companies like Toyota also have not gone without pain and hurt. We saw only last year some very pointed sackings at that company, and I complained about the process vigorously at the time.
Even prior to those sackings Toyota went through an internal consolidation which saw the company’s Port Melbourne manufacturing operations cease and the transference of some of that work to the Altona plant. A subsidiary of Toyota was also established to take over the work of seat making and assembly. We went through a fairly complex set of negotiations, but with good faith on all sides we managed to work through them. Again, it was a situation where the company announced in advance what it intended to do, and we got to work, put our shoulders to the wheel and came up with solutions. We negotiated so that those who wanted to stay could stay, those who wanted to go over to the subsidiary could do so and those who wanted to go to Altona were sorted, but essentially everyone ended up with meaningful jobs.
Those who chose to leave took packages, but a lot of work needed to be done to make sure that the process went seamlessly and production and car volumes were maintained. We ran round-the-clock information sessions — during day, afternoon and night shifts — so that everyone understood exactly what was going on. As you can imagine, in a large car plant the rumour mill is absolutely enormous. You need to be on top of it 24/7, otherwise things can get quite out of hand, particularly when emotions are, quite naturally, running high over issues of lives being dislocated and jobs subsequently being lost.
The car manufacturing industry is a very interesting, vibrant and changing industry, and members of the unions know and understand that. There have been occasions when I have walked onto the shop floor and seen familiar faces of people I first knew when they worked with different companies.
These people might have been made redundant, found a job in another manufacturing company and then worked their way back into the vehicle industry with one of the major employers. Unfortunately in the case of Ford, that is not going to happen. Those sorts of cases will now not occur because there has been a major shrinkage in the automotive and manufacturing industries.
The other problem we have is that employees who remain with the major car companies have deliberately made a decision to stay and not to take packages, and they need those jobs desperately. As I said yesterday a lot of these people are around 50 years of age, many have mortgages and many have children and grandchildren. I will talk about their children a little bit later. These people cannot afford to retire, and some of them have made the decision that they cannot afford to take a package. They need long-term, sustainable, honest, good work so they can keep putting food on the table and have an opportunity for their families to continue to work in either the car industry or beyond.
There is now a high unemployment level in Geelong, hovering at around 6.8 per cent, which will make it more difficult for workers at Ford Geelong to obtain similar jobs. Shell has also announced its decision to close its Geelong oil refinery, which will mean further job losses. Alcoa is at a point which is quite interesting, and a number of other companies are on the brink. Essentially there are no blue-collar, non-trades jobs for people to move into not only in Geelong but also in Broadmeadows.
The concern I raise today is that because of this set of circumstances the people who are affected will be left behind, and I underline that we do not want these people left behind.
If we do not have a tailor-made response to last Thursday’s announcement, there is a very high possibility that these people will fall between the cracks, and we will lose their skills to our local economies, not just now but forever. There will not be those other jobbing shops for them to go to where they can sit and wait for another job in the manufacturing industry to come up. To say that will be the case is just not being honest with those people.
As I said yesterday, I understand that in response to questions asked by Broadmeadows workers the government has said the Epping market is a possibility in terms of employment. The reality is that the construction of that market is almost finished, so there are no construction jobs there.
By the time these people leave Ford most if not all of the jobs will be taken, and that is simply a fact. The other thing those opposite have said in terms of Geelong is, ‘Hopefully we will get the national disability insurance scheme headquarters based in Geelong’. I agree — I hope we do too, and I am lobbying ferociously for it. But to think that is going to be the panacea instead of a tailor-made approach for Geelong for non-trades-based blue-collar workers is living in Disneyland. The government needs to be very clear and very honest with people about what it intends to offer in terms of a package. For a long time now we have been calling on the government to put forward a jobs plan, but one has not been forthcoming.
Before I get to that I want to say I was really disheartened by the response of the government last week. In terms of true leadership, the Premier should have at least been at one of the sites, if not both.
Honourable members interjecting.
The PRESIDENT — Order! Ms Tierney has the floor.
Ms TIERNEY — In government, as in opposition, you have good days and bad days. There are days when there are issues that are outside of your control and decisions are made that you know are going to have dreadful ramifications for people. What you really need to do is talk to the people who have been directly affected. Pick up the phone! Go and talk to people. Ring up the people that are very close to those who have been affected by what has happened. That did not happen, and it still has not happened, apart from one short visit the Premier made to the Broadmeadows site on Monday. It has not happened in terms of those other MPs who purport to represent western Victoria; they have not made contact with one vehicle worker since the announcement.
Mr Ramsay — This is absolute rubbish.
Ms TIERNEY — It is not rubbish; it is true.
We had a meeting at 3 o’clock at Kardinia Park last Thursday afternoon. It was organised by the federal member for Corio, Richard Marles. That meeting pulled together all the key players. David Koch was there, all the stakeholders were there and the mayor was there. It was an important meeting because we needed an immediate response from the wider Geelong community in terms of what its views were and what its response was going to be.
We came together, as we always have — and with the last Geelong Investment and Innovation Fund response as well — to say that we understand the plight of the workers, that the measures Ford has announced are going to have an enormous impact on individual workers but also on the local Geelong economy and that we will band together and form ourselves into a task force that will be meeting on a regular basis to address the specific local issues in Geelong. It was also an important message that we needed to send out to the members of the local Geelong community to remind ourselves how resilient we are.
I thank Richard Marles and all the other people who were in attendance on Thursday afternoon.
Mr Ramsay — Mr Koch was in attendance.
Ms TIERNEY — I have already mentioned that; Mr Ramsay is not listening. The next day local MPs were scheduled to have a meeting with the mayor, which had been scheduled for some time. Unfortunately on Thursday night we received text messages or emails saying the meeting had been cancelled. We then found out that the Premier was meeting at the council chambers and that local Labor members were not even invited. I think that is poor form when — —
Mr Ramsay interjected.
The PRESIDENT — Order! I am of the view that Mr Ramsay will have an opportunity to join the speakers list and rebut aspects of Ms Tierney’s contribution that he disagrees with. He could perhaps take some notes and save his comments for such an opportunity.
Ms TIERNEY — Last Thursday’s announcement was traumatic for a lot of people.
We thought the announcement might happen, but again the timing took us by enormous surprise. I was in my car when I was rung by one of the shop stewards. I had to pull over and ask him to give me some time, and I then rang him back. When I got to my destination in Belmont I was lucky enough to see a woman who I know, but not particularly well, and I was very fortunate she was there. She was able to offer me some very sage advice and a good cup of tea; essentially she held me steady for the rest of the day. I say that because I know many people who are going to be affected by this decision.
It is possible in a very strong sense that a lot of those jobs at Ford are going to be lost before September 2016, because September 2016 is largely dependent on whether the facelift of the new Falcon, scheduled for September 2014, is successful. If that facelift does not dramatically pick up sales, job losses are going to happen much earlier than 2016. That is why it is so important for people to get their heads around this issue. It is not going away.
In fact it is going to get worse as the auto component suppliers, who we know are also going to be affected by this, will continue to have problems dealing with the real lives of those who are affected by this decision.
Thursday’s announcement represented a D-day. We know it is going to be tough for Ford workers. We really do not know where the jobs are that they will be moving into, as I said, particularly the blue-collar jobs. As Cesar mentioned yesterday in his inaugural speech, we are seeing these honest manual jobs disappear out of our economy, and we need a much better approach on how we deal with the situation.
The PRESIDENT — Order! It is Mr Melhem, not Cesar.
Ms TIERNEY — Thank you, President — Mr Melhem.
If Ford workers were not working on the lines or on machines today, they would definitely be here to ask those very questions.
Essentially the situation at both Ford sites at the moment is that people are starting to deal with the shock. In their own minds they are trying to work out their plans, their family plans and their finances. I have had many conversations in recent times with people who have been going through major readjustments, and in some cases weddings have needed to be put off. Major financial decisions will essentially now only be dreams; they will not be able to be implemented. I am very concerned that unless the workers can start seeing some semblance of understanding from members opposite and from government members in the other chamber, then they are going to continue to lose faith in what is happening.
Prior to 2010 there was optimism around Victoria.
We were the engine of the Australian economy. We had an infrastructure plan, and a lot of people were employed. Yes, there might have been some problems here and there, but overall we were a state that was on the move. We had a plan, and we were implementing it. That is not the case in terms of this government. This government needs to send very clear and proper messages to those who have been affected by Thursday’s announcement.
Mrs Peulich — Do you drive a Ford?
Ms TIERNEY– That is the very point I am attempting to make: when I try to convey the problems affecting Ford workers as a result of the announcement last Thursday I have ridiculous interjections asking me whether I drive a Ford.
Mrs Peulich — Do you?
Ms TIERNEY — Of course I do.
Ms Broad — What an idiotic interjection.
Ms TIERNEY — It is ridiculous that Mrs Peulich is wasting the chamber’s time on this issue.
Mrs Peulich interjected.
Ms TIERNEY — It is, and that is why I drive one.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Tarlamis) — Order! Ms Tierney has the call. I ask members to refrain from interjecting. There are plenty of opportunities for them to make a contribution to the debate.
Ms TIERNEY — The key points are that this government needs to get on board and understand the impact this decision is having and will continue to have on Ford workers. No-one needs to be left behind in this. If we leave this group of people behind, it means that all the other Ford workers will have no opportunity, it will mean all those other workers affected when manufacturing jobs are scrapped will also be left behind, and we will not be able to resurrect them, their families or their skills.
We have also seen a number of other receiverships. I am quite concerned about CMI Fuel Systems in Bayswater. That company has two other companies operating in suburban Melbourne that are under fire. I was again told this morning that there are at least another dozen automotive component suppliers that are on the brink.
We call on this government to provide a jobs plan. The Premier has announced the establishment of a ministerial task force, and we were excited by that prospect, but my hopes were dashed yesterday when Mr Lenders asked the Minister for Higher Education and Skills, Minister Hall, about that task force. The chamber was informed that that ministerial task force has not even met, nearly a week out from the Ford announcement. I implore those opposite to respond quickly to what is happening to the workforce at Ford, the workforce at automotive component suppliers and, dare I say, the workforce at other manufacturing facilities, because we need that plan as soon as possible.
People are starting to feel incredibly pessimistic, and they are starting to feel quite angry. They are also highlighting to me that this announcement impacts not only on their family budgets but also on their teenage kids, who are finding it difficult not just to get a job but also to get more than one shift a week at different enterprises in Geelong and around Broadmeadows.
Whether it be in a service station, at Wendy’s or at McDonald’s — you name it — they are doing it tough. At this point in time they simply cannot see an employment future for their children, and as we know, youth unemployment statistics are through the roof, at around 21 per cent. As I understand it, that is the highest in the country.
In closing, I thank a number of people who have been heavily involved and have been dealing with a number of really difficult issues since Thursday. They include people like Henry Fuller, Tony Anderson at the casting plant, John Kotwic at the main Geelong plant, Doreen Sindoni, Dean Brown, Stewie Harris, who was fantastic the other day, Wendy Haby and Paul Boulos. Paul was on commercial television one night last week when he said, ‘I have been here all my life. I have been here since I was 18. I know nothing else. I am skilled, I want to work and I cannot retire. We really need some assistance’. He spoke from the heart and with honesty, and he spoke from a basis of fact.
I think his ask is not too hard for us to respond to. It is straightforward, and we need to respect that by putting our shoulders to the wheel.
I also thank Dominic Balliro, whom I have known for 30 years. What a stalwart! He has been there for ages and will be there right up until the end. Nick Dorio, Billy Hasiotis, Jonio Cham, Robert Corevski, Tony Casabene and John Angelovski — these people are not just people who hold things together, they are the ones who people go to for assistance and advice. I am proud to call them friends, and I consider many of them members of my extended family.
I say with a strong and heavy heart that as politicians we can have this debate today and then have a table tennis match, but at the centre of this are the Ford workers. I believe they deserve much better than they are currently being offered by the government in terms of the money, and just as importantly they deserve a lot more in terms of respect.
At the very least they should be spoken to directly and not have to rely on other people to tell them what they are saying or what they are thinking. They might be many in number, but they are not just numbers. They are people who live and breathe. They have houses, mortgages, families and community groups. All we are asking is that they have an opportunity to continue in sustainable employment that is skilled, of high quality and for which they are paid the proper rates with the proper conditions.
With that, I look forward to the contributions of other members, particularly those on the Labor side, who will talk about a whole range of points I was not able to get to in my contribution today. Again I thank all those who have been able to hold things together since Thursday. I will continue to fight for them, particularly in terms of appropriate and well-tailored employment that needs to be provided for there to be no hiccups and a seamless integration for the Geelong local economy and the northern suburbs of the city.