Federal industry minister Christopher Pyne revealed today he had a December meeting with Belgian businessman Guido Dumarey, whose Punch Corporation has “a track record of being able to purchase General Motors factories and turn them around”.
State minister Kyam Maher has also met with Dumarey, both here and in Belgium, to discuss his proposal to take over the Elizabeth plant.
“I’ve engaged closely with him and with General Motors and given him a letter of support from the Commonwealth Government indicating that we will do what we can to help him to realise his goal,” Pyne told ABC radio today.
Dumarey wants to produce 30,000 vehicles a year at Elizabeth – reportedly the Commodore – on licence to GM. His company already produces transmissions from a former GM plant in Strasbourg, France, which had been due to close.
However, Pyne warned Holden workers not to raise their hopes too high, telling journalists: “I think it would be unwise to raise the expectations particularly of the Holden workers that there was a silver bullet for the car industry to save the car industry in northern Adelaide.”
Pyne said that Dumarey wanted access to the Federal Government’s automotive transformation scheme to support his takeover of the factory.
Premier Jay Weatherill said his Government was interested in Dumarey’s proposal but the Federal Government needed to change its policies on the car industry in order to see the factory saved as an automotive concern.
“I think there’s a growing awareness that the decision to close Holdens was a mistake and I think the Federal Government are beginning to realise that,” Weatherill said.
He said the lower exchange rate meant there was a chance to maintain a profitable car industry in Australia, as long as federal support was forthcoming.
“There would have to be a massive change in perspective for the car industry to be satisfied there’s a long-term viable future here,” he said.
The Premier also cautioned that while several parties had expressed interest in the Elizabeth plant, “we’re a long way off getting a solution.” He also pointed out that the plant didn’t belong to the Government, but to GM.
“We are assessing this carefully,” he told ABC radio.
“I mean there are lots of ideas that are being floated about the GM Plant Elizabeth; this is just one of them and many of them actually are very interesting. But the fact that we’ve got somebody that thinks that he could continue to make this plant a car plant, I think is a very interesting development.”
Pyne rejected Weatherill’s claim that the Federal Government “drove” the automotive industry out of Australia.
He said if Punch Corporation purchased the Elizabeth factory and produced 30,000 vehicles a year, then it would have access to funds from the automotive transformation scheme, which is legislated to continue until 2021.
Dumarey said last year that there had been a change in attitude from the Federal Government to his project after Malcolm Turnbull ousted Tony Abbott as prime minister.
Holden says it’s open to the idea but has not received a formal offer.
The company remains on track to close its assembly operations by the end of 2017.
“The future of our Adelaide plant remains a work in progress,” a spokesman said.
“If a party is interested in the ongoing use of one our sites, Holden and GM will assess any detailed plans should they be submitted.”
The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union said it was more than willing to work with Dumarey.
“We have the workforce in regards to building the car from A to Z,” SA branch general secretary John Camillo said.
“With the Australian dollar being less than 70 cents now, there is quite a margin there to make profits in selling to the international market.”
But he said there was no guarantee the proposal would come off the ground.
“Is Holden prepared to sell the company after 2017 and is Holden prepared to allow another organisation to buy the patent of the Commodore?”
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