Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria)— My question is to the Minister for Industry and State Development. Given my history prior to coming to this house and indeed because Geelong is in my electorate, this issue is of incredible importance to me and to Ford workers at Geelong. Can the minister advise the house of the details of the package announced today by the Premier and the federal Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources?
Hon. T. C. THEOPHANOUS (Minister for Industry and State Development)— I thank the member for her sensible question in relation to this issue and for what I know is her very strong and passionate interest in what happens in Geelong. As members would already know, Ford Australia’s president, Tom Gorman, today announced that from 2010 Ford will import a new V6 engine for use in the company’s locally made Falcon, Falcon Ute and Territory model lines. As a result the company will discontinue its Australian I6 engine operation in Geelong in 2010.
Ford has advised the Victorian government that this decision was driven by changes in consumer behaviour, including lower demand for large cars and the increased popularity of small imported vehicles. The Victorian government is obviously concerned by the Ford announcement. We have had detailed discussions with Ford, and I have personally spoken on a number of occasions with Tom Gorman about the issues involved here. We have canvassed options, and I have also spoken to my federal counterpart about the issues going back some time. No-one remains unconcerned about this.
The only person who I think is gleeful about this may be the opposition spokesperson, David Davis. He seems to be pleased every time he hears about job losses in this state, but I have never heard him at any time congratulate the government when the opposite occurs.
I have expressed the concern of the government in relation to those job losses. We have been working with my federal counterpart. As a result of that the Premier, along with Minister Macfarlane, has announced the establishment of a new fund for Geelong which will involve a federal government contribution as well as a contribution from Ford. The focus of the fund will be on creating jobs in Geelong. It will be called the Geelong Investment and Innovation Fund and will inject $24 million into the Geelong economy to help generate new investment and new jobs for that region. The fund will be led by an advisory committee which will be chaired by a local business person and will also include representatives from both the state and federal governments.
Our discussions with Ford have also led Ford to make some additional commitments. These include, firstly, maximising redeployment opportunities across its manufacturing operations for the 600 people affected by today’s decision. Those not able to be redeployed will be offered a voluntary separation in the first instance. Secondly, there will be a continuation of its remaining Victorian manufacturing operations, including the employment of 1400 people in Geelong and 3000 people in Campbellfield. Thirdly, its new R and D centre will be completed by year’s end as part of the $1.8 billion Australian investment program announced in 2006. Fourthly, it will continue to grow investment programs in new emissions laboratories and wind tunnel technology at its testing facilities in Lara.
In addition to establishing the new fund, the Victorian government will work closely with unions — and I have met the union on this issue as well — with employees at the Ford engine plant and with the Geelong community to ensure that any impact on Geelong is minimised. We will do everything possible to assist those affected. We will assist in identifying new opportunities for employees and helping them to obtain new skills, if needed. We will continue to develop and execute a comprehensive regional plan that will identify and exploit opportunities to attract new investment into the region.
Let me say broadly about Geelong that under the current government it has gone from strength to strength. It has excellent jobs growth and continuing population growth in the region. In the last year alone almost 6000 new jobs were created in that region as a result of actions by regional, state and federal governments and all of the people involved.
- An honourable member interjected.
Hon. T. C. THEOPHANOUS — I have expressed concern about the 600 jobs, but I am trying to put it into some context. I know the member does not want to hear about the context.
- An honourable member interjected.
Hon. T. C. THEOPHANOUS — Maybe the member should go and talk to his federal counterpart, the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, Ian Macfarlane. According to what he said, he knew about this a month and a half ago. I do not see him having great success in changing the decision of Ford. The fact is that both the federal government and this government have tried to work with Ford and have established this fund to try to minimise the impact on the Geelong community. The context is that the Geelong economy is growing.
It has been growing. Its population growth has been extensive, and its jobs growth has been extensive as well.
It is important to note that it was pointed out by Laurie Miller, the head of the Geelong Chamber of Commerce and Industry, that it is a very different Geelong at the moment. It is a lot different to when Ford had 5500 jobs in Geelong out of a total of 70 000 jobs in Geelong, and any impact from job losses at Ford at that time would have been absolutely devastating. Today there are 110 000 jobs in the Geelong work force and there are 230 000 regret the 600 job losses, it should be put in the context that the Geelong economy is a strong economy. It is a growing economy; it has a growing population base. We believe the $24 million set aside by a combination of the state and federal governments and Ford itself to assist the Geelong economy will have the effect of minimising the impact on Geelong workers.