Football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars, as they say. (And Fords, too, of course.) Perhaps it’s the vastness of the land, or an inherited tribal allegiance to the brands and Bathurst heroes, but the red lion and blue oval somehow became part of the national ethos.

Except there’s nothing very Australian about Ford or General Motors, two foreign-owned corporations under extraordinary financial strain for whom our backwater market isn’t a major priority. And Australians fell out of love with Falcons, Commodores and other locally-made sedans long ago. Too expensive, compared to Asian-made competitors; too fuel-guzzling, as the price of unleaded climbs higher.

But the thought that perhaps we might not make cars in this country — an almost inevitable consequence of globalisation — is too frightening for anyone in government to contemplate. A vocal union-led workforce and strong community support in the manufacturing centres of Geelong and Adelaide demand governments continue to prop up an industry too big to fail — at least in terms of political damage.

It flies in the face of the economic rationalism both sides of politics subscribe to. As Bernard Keane writes today:

“Such assistance of course is exactly what the government has been advised by Treasury not to do — support those industries under pressure from the resources boom in an effort to delay or prevent structural change in the economy. The problem is particularly acute for the automotive sector, which has been hammered not just by a high dollar, or input costs inflated by the resources boom, or even subsidised foreign competition, but by Australians themselves who have turned their backs on the traditional big family car offerings local manufacturers continue to push at them, in favour of smaller vehicles.”

Dick Johnson retired; Peter Brock is dead. Australians stopped buying the local big-bangers. When will the politicians catch up?

Peter Fray

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