Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Interview with the Federal Industry Minister: Decoded

The Federal Industry Minister, Ian MacFarlane, was interviewed about Toyota closing it's local manufacturing operation on '7.30' tonight. It was not something that anyone associated with that industry would have derived much pleasure from.

Looking a bit like a tough from an Australian TV drama set in the 50's, or a rogue potato that had somehow found a body, McFarlane spelled out the Government's hardline position, without actually saying much at all. As always, it sometimes helps to have someone (me in this case) to cut through the jargon and unearth the messages that were actually being communicated.

The following is a series of quotes from the interview - which you can watch here - followed by a translation of the Minister's responses.

*  *  *

INTERVIEWER: In the wake of the Toyota closure, the Prime Minister has talked about transitioning from good jobs to better jobs. It sounds good, what does it actually mean?

FEDERAL INDUSTRY MINISTER: What it means is, over the three years that we have in front of us, that we need to work with industry, but also make sure that we work with business, to create a framework, then create the business investor confidence to ensure that the new jobs are created by new industries.

Decoded: I was handed some talking points before the interview which I memorised, but didn't really understand.

INTERVIEWER: You say that you've got three years but why are you so confident about that timeframe? The situation in the market is changing rapidly and Ford has already decided to lay off workers earlier this year. Have you got a plan in place if the timeframe changes?

FEDERAL INDUSTRY MINISTER: Well, this discussion that we're having at the moment is about the Toyota closure. And I met last night with Mr Toyota and Max Yasuda, the Australian manager, and they were categoric that they would run the full term.

Decoded: Not only is there no plan if the timeframe changes, but I couldn't believe that the head of Toyota is actually called Mr Toyota! Just to be sure, I asked him several times, 'Is your name really Toyota? Really?... Really?' He said it was. It filled in some time, anyway.

INTERVIEWER: All right, let's talk about those jobs because those numbers are huge as you know. Up to 50 000 jobs in the automotive industry, according to the Australian Industry Group, up to 200 000 people whose jobs depend on the sector. Where are those new jobs coming from?

FEDERAL INDUSTRY MINISTER: Well those new jobs will come out of innovative industries and we have set up a panel to have a look at both the economic impact in Victoria and another panel to look at South Australia and both of those panels have taken submissions and we've seen industries, take last week for example, industries based in South Australia, that aren't attached to the automotive industry, that are world leaders in their class, world leaders, employing hundreds of people, exporting product as well as supplying the domestic market.

Decoded: I can talk for a really long time without breathing in. If the job crisis gets bad enough, I may never breathe in again. 

INTERVIEWER: Yes, but I think what people are looking for here are some details. We're talking about thousands of jobs, ten of thousands of jobs, not hundred of jobs. Where are those jobs coming from?

FEDERAL INDUSTRY MINISTER: Those jobs are going to come partly from the normal job creation that occurs in Australia, remember that in the forward estimates there are 630 000 net new jobs that will be created in Australia, so some of those people will be soaked up in those areas, but we will have to work hard with the Victorian Government, and with the South Australian Government if it wants to cooperate, in bringing new industries and establishing new operations and re-orienting companies so that they can expand their operations.

Decoded: We expect quite a few former auto industry workers will find jobs at their local Charcoal Chicken. Plenty of them still around, last time I looked. And chicken remains popular. But we are also, unequivocally, absolutely, still committed to laying as much of the blame for this as possible on the respective state governments of Victoria and South Australia.

INTERVIEWER: You've been talking about transitioning Toyota and the component parts industry into an export industry, are you going to give those industries time and the help they need to do that?

FEDERAL INDUSTRY MINISTER: Well, I mean, in terms of how we deal with this, everyone understands the process and I have to say Sarah, this shouldn't be news to anyone.

Decoded: What is she on about? What day is this?

INTERVIEWER: Is there going to be money in the budget for the transition?

FEDERAL INDUSTRY MINISTER: Well... there will be money. But let's cross the bridges as we come to them.

Decoded: There may or may not be money, but there will be bridges... Many bridges.

INTERVIEWER: I think what people are looking for is a clear indication that this work has already been done. That this should not have come as a surprise. People are looking for the plan for the restructure and for the funds for the restructure that are going to be forthcoming.

FEDERAL INDUSTRY MINISTER: Well we are doing the work. We started the work the day I was sworn in as minister. I announced that I would immediately be instigating a process for the car industry. Now, issues have come on perhaps faster than people have expected but we are in a process to create long term sustainable jobs, we will train them as part of my portfolio and we will offer the training that people need.

Decoded: All of this stuff came like a bolt out of the clear blue sky. But still, we're not fortune tellers are we? Although some former car industry people may like to look at this as a career option now.

INTERVIEWER: Thanks for joining us.


Decoded: I'll miss the ABC when it's gone.