‘I am angry’: PM slams Holden exit after $2b handout

 

The Federal Government has lashed out at General Motors for "walking away" from the Australian market and killing off the iconic Holden brand after accepting billions of dollars to keep its operation afloat.

In 2013, it was revealed the car manufacturer had been gifted a staggering $2.17 billion in subsidies over just 12 years to help keep the thousands of jobs ticking over.

But when the Abbott Government reduced its support the once mighty company eventually closed its Adelaide plant in 2017, which was the beginning of the end for the brand synonymous with Australia's working class culture.

GM confirmed today the Holden brand will disappear at the end of the year after revealing it will no longer make cars suitable for Australian roads.

"I am disappointed but not surprised," Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters this afternoon.

"I am angry, like I think many Australians would be. Australian taxpayers put millions into this multinational company (but) they let the brand just wither away on their watch.

"(It's) very disappointing, that, over many years, more than $2 billion was directly provided to General Motors for the Holden operations.

"Now they are leaving it behind."

Mr Morrison said General Motors let Holden ‘wither on their watch’. Picture: Gary Ramage
Mr Morrison said General Motors let Holden ‘wither on their watch’. Picture: Gary Ramage

Industry Minister Karen Andrews' frustration with the failing car company extended to its poor communication and lack of respect for her cabinet and colleagues.

"I don't think it's acceptable for Holden to have made this decision without any consultation with government," she said.

"It would have shown a considerable amount of goodwill, as well as decency, in picking up the phone and talking to government beforehand."

 

 

Leading independent economist Saul Eslake said he had sympathy for the Government's irritation but the diminishing popularity of the Holden brand coupled with its inability to evolve for modern consumers meant it had no option but to cease its operation.

"If they're not selling enough cars for the business to be viable, I'm not sure that commercially they could have taken any other decision," he told news.com.au.

"Over a long period of time they have not only received cash investments from the government but also tariff protection as well.

"But ultimately it comes down to whether or not the brand is popular with consumers and it would seem that over a long period of time it has become much less so."

 

General Motors delivered the final nail to the Holden coffin.
General Motors delivered the final nail to the Holden coffin.

 

State and federal Labor leaders were critical of the Government's decision to cut support for the Holden operation back in 2013 when then Treasurer Joe Hockey was bullish with his ultimatum, famously telling GM "either you're here, or you're not."

Deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek said the investment through subsidies was justified given the company's huge contribution to the wider community.

In 2013, she said Holden had generated $32.7 billion to the Australian economy between 2001 and 2012, over a period when the government had handed out $1.8 billion in support.

But Mr Eslake told news.com.au cutting the funding to Holden was the right call.

"It was becoming increasingly unviable commercially to continue producing in Australia," he said.

"If the Government had continued to throw money at supporting the production of cars which were increasingly less popular we would have got to this point some stage or another."

Knowing what policymakers know now about the doomed car manufacturing industry, Mr Eslake said dishing out so much cash was a mistake.

"With the benefit of hindsight, governments might well have done something different," he said.

james.hall1@news.com.au