FRIDAY was the saddest of days for Australian manufacturing.
With the final Commodore rolling off Holden’s assembly line in Adelaide, the Australian car-making industry is officially at an end, 69 years after it began.
Some 955 people have lost their job at the plant, and while Holden says it will continue to employ hundreds of people in this country in research and development capabilities, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Australian manufacturing is being whittled away, plant by plant, industry by industry.
In the past decade, Mitsubishi, Ford, Toyota and now Holden have stopped manufacturing in this country. Until quite recently, Australia was sending tens of thousands of cars abroad for export every year.
But a variety of factors – a federal refusal to keep paying car makers subsidies, the rise of massive Asian industrial capability and the continued reduction in tariffs, principal among them – have produced a “back to the future” situation where we are now where we were before Holden started in 1948: reliant on imports for all of our cars.
The huge increase in international trade that is one of the main features of the modern globalist approach means that small countries like Australia – and at 24 million we are a small nation – find it hard to reach the economies of scale needed to sustain big manufacturing without tariffs or other industry protection.
Since deregulation-linked job losses began in the 1980s, economists have promised that people lost from one industry will be re-employed in other sectors. In general terms, this has happened, but older workers, especially, often struggle to attract new employers, and even those who do make the switch often find that the old certainties of full-time work are replaced by the vagaries of part-time or casual employment.
The Holden closure comes at a time of statistically strong jobs growth, but as Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said this week, there are still more than 700,000 Australians unemployed. In the Hunter, our jobless rate has slipped to be noticeably above the state and national average, and there do not appear to be great numbers of big employers looking to take advantage of our lower costs by moving here.
Adelaide, at least, has a reviving naval shipbuilding industry to look forward to, but even so, Friday’s Holden closure will not have been without its human cost.