Boeing Australia boss defends automotive industry protection

Ian Thomas, the president of Boeing Australia & South Pacific and the head of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Manufacturing Leaders Group, has spoken out in favour of taxpayer support for automotive manufacturers and their contribution to the sector’s “ecosystem”.

The Boeing leader added to the debate around taxpayer support for car makers – re-ignited by Holden announcing it would retrench 500 workers after revealing the week before that it had received nearly $2.2 billion in government support over the last 12 years – by saying government support should continue.

He claimed that the automotive segment needed public funding "if Australia wants to continue to be a place that builds things, not just digs or cuts".

"We went through this in the US — do you provide incentives, what is the nature of those incentives, what is the size of it and so on," he told The Australian.

He conceded that the Australian dollar’s strength had provided a huge challenge for manufacturing, but there was still an opportunity for innovative companies to perform.

Thomas pointed out that much of the machinery the company used and many of its workers had backgrounds in automotive.

"The robots come out of automotive. Our suppliers also supply automotive. It is a shared ecosystem, whether it is on the R&D side and some of the fundamental research, or on the skilling side for our employees. There is a lot that we learn and draw from automotive.”

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