Govt favours car makers over taxpayers: former auto industry leader

Bill Scales, the former chairman of the Automotive Industry Authority, has said the refusal of the government to release automotive subsidy figures is a big step backward.

Scales, who is now the chancellor of Swinburne University, told The Australian Financial Review that the Department of Industry’s decision to withhold the figures was an echo of the 60s and 70s attitude of viewing the industry, rather than taxpayers, as their client.

“I think this is a very serious and retrograde step that the whole of the Australian community should be concerned about,” Scales told The AFR, adding that the purpose of the department was now looking dubious.

“It calls into question whether we should have any longer an Industry Department because it may just be that in an open-access world where we are trying to place ourselves at the centre of the changes of the so-called Asian century, an Industry Department may no longer be relevant.”

The same newspaper yesterday reported that GM Holden and Toyota admitted they may need further assistance to remain viable, after it was told by the Industry Department – in response to a Freedom of Information request – that disclosing the amount of assistance was not in the public interest.

Last September another FOI request for figures was blocked, with industry minister Greg Combet claiming that their public knowledge would hurt car businesses.

“The confidence in [companies] sharing their commercial information with government would be severely prejudiced and, not only that, it would have investment and employment consequences,” said Combet at the time.