Yesterday’s announcement that Ford would be closing its Geelong and Broadmeadows production line, ending nearly a century of car making in Victoria can be likened to a death from cancer. Sad, but not unexpected. I can testify first hand as to the significance of Ford in the Geelong community as a major employer; news viewers would have heard it said that everyone in Geelong knows someone involved with Ford, and although it sounds cliched, it’s true. It is fortunate that, except for what I viewed as the Herald Sun’s rather juvenile populism in today’s edition (Headline: Car giant takes cash and hits the road), the blame game is not being played. Because, in the end, this misfortune was a product of a confluence of factors. Yes, Ford management has not been perfect. If they had have worked to create export markets for the Falcon, as Toyota has done with its vehicles, perhaps the company could have continued here. And the company quite frankly dropped the ball, continuing to focus on producing larger vehicles for the domestic market when petrol prices and other factors were against them. The high dollar also did not help, as did our growing preference for smaller imported cars, stemming from both the dollar and fuel prices. Also, the high cost of producing here, 4 times higher than in Asia also did not help. Some would argue this is a product of the industrial relations conditions here, but this is only part of the story. For one, in spite of all their rhetoric about free trade, subsidies in nations such as America and Germany are per capita as much as 15 times higher than here in Australia, with similar disparities in tariffs imposed on imported vehicles.
Fortunately, for those in Broadmeadows, they are in the state’s manufacturing heartland, and hopefully many will be able to find similar employment locally. As for Geelong, the city has repeatedly shown its resilience, in the face of the Pyramid collapse in the 1990s and in the face of a downturn in manufacturing. Doubtless there will be pain for many, but hopefully with government investment and the will to succeed, grow and modernise, Geelong will bounce back.