SYDNEY (AFP) - Prime Minister Tony Abbott insisted on Tuesday there was nothing he could do to prevent Toyota halting car manufacturing in Australia as fears it will spark an economic crisis gather pace.
The Japanese giant on Monday said it would stop making cars in Australia in 2017, citing high production costs, a strong local dollar and a small domestic market in a decision that kills off the country's 66-year-old auto manufacturing industry.
It follows Mitsubishi shuttering plants five years ago, Ford halting production in 2016 and US giant General Motors announcing in December that its Holden offshoot would also cease local manufacturing by 2017.
The demise of the industry has sparked a political firefight with the Labor opposition blaming the government for not doing enough to prevent Toyota from walking away and unions warning 50,000 jobs could be lost down the supply chain, mostly in component manufacturing and transport.
Opposition industry spokesman Kim Carr compared the impact on the worst-hit states of Victoria and South Australia to the Great Depression which struck the nation in the 1930s.
"There's likely to be, for many blue collar Australians, an economic crisis the like of which we haven't seen since the Great Depression," he told ABC radio.
"There are going to be families that won't be able to get work. There will be whole communities that will be savaged by this decision." Since coming to power last year, the conservative government has adopted a hard line on industry assistance, warning only last week that "the age of entitlement is over" when it comes to taxpayer-funded handouts.
Abbott said Tuesday that tens of millions of dollars had been thrown at the ailing car industry in recent years and had not saved it.
"This is a very considered decision (by Toyota) and it is a final decision and it's not as if the government could have leapt in at the 11th hour and said here's another A$100 million (S$114 million) or A$200 million, please, please, please stay," he said.
"We've tried that with the motor industry. It hasn't worked and the best thing now is to focus on things that we can do and which are profitable." Victoria state Premier Denis Napthine met workers at Toyota's Altona plant in Melbourne on Tuesday and said "there was a sense of disappointment, but also a sense of where do we go from here".
He was due to meet Abbott later in Canberra to thrash out a package to assist retrenched workers in the state as well as drum up more money for key infrastructure and industries of the future to help their transition.
Toyota has manufactured cars in Australia since 1963 and still produces the top-selling Camry sedan and other models in the country.