PM Kevin Rudd recently proposed a $6.2 billion package for Australia's auto industry to develop the next generation of hopefully environment-friendly vehicles, to be spread over over the next few years. This comes at a time when the US parents of Australia's local car industry are facing their worst crisis ever. Many say that this is not the time to throw more taxpayers' money at the industry.
It is widely believed that this package comes at the behest of intense lobbying by the car sector and the pressure to keep a few thousand auto workers at their jobs, just has the domestic economy is bound for a credit-crunch driven tailspin.
The government's main argument is that Australia happens to be one of only 14 countries in the world that has the manpower, the technology and the plants to create a car from scratch, a strategic advantage that must be kept for the benefit of future Australians.
With the proposal comes a policy guideline for Australia's car manufacturers to produce fuel-efficient and alternative fuel vehicles, which follows from the country's goal to ultimately become a carbon-emissions free society some time this century.
Critics of the green car proposal say that this green spin on the car industry assistance package is simply a deal sweetener, and little more than that. They would prefer that the government invest its budget on developing public transportation within and between urban centres nationwide.
Freight and high speed mass rail transport, biycle lanes and trams have long been neglected, according to Australian transportation analysts. A case in point is the spate of level-crossing collisions between private vehicles and railways in North Queensland. Also a rank point is the fact that Australia, despite the geographical dispersal of its major cities and its long history of railways, has yet to come up with a high-speed link comparable to France, Japan and South Korea.
On the other hand, many would like to see Australian manufacturers like Holden and Ford Australia to come up with their internally-generated green car development plans, something that these cash-strapped entities will be hard-pressed to finance given the current doldrums of the doemstic car market.
Next year, domestic car sales are expected to decline from five to nine per cent, with little hope for an upturn until the end of 2010. Australia's car sector directly employs 9,000, and up to 63,000 people in offshoot industries.