Australian politics is renowned for being, well, on the robust side and I say that as a native of the UK, where our 'Mother of Parliaments' has its own rumbustious tradition of Punch & Judy contests in an environment specifically designed to be confrontational.

Not for the Brits the consensus-seeking semi-circles as in France for example, where deputies politely - or not - applaud at the end of their discourse.

No, for the House of Commons, it's knockabout stuff, frequently punctuated by braying, shouting and heckling, not to mention the odd witty aside tossed in to acidify the political cocktail.

Long may that last this side of the English Channel and the Australians seem to have taken some of that heritage to heart and added a hefty dose of their own salty character to boot, if the current automotive spat enlivening the political debate down under is anything to go by.

A maelstrom of uncertainty appears to be engulfing the sector and hot on the heels of Ford's shock announcement it will exit the country in 2016, comes General Motors' Holden division saying it "can't survive as a local manufacturer if we're not competitive and we don't reduce our costs."

Speculation is rife in Australia that could mean wage cuts - a drastic move if implemented and a suggestion that has already provoked outrage from the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU).

But it appears productivity expenses are ruinously high in Australia and that, coupled with the soaring Aussie dollar, has made even slashing costs not necessarily the simple mathematical exercise it appears to be at face value.

To that end, the AMWU insists there are a large variety of costs at Holden's Elizabeth and Fisherman's Bend sites, ranging from plant design, energy use and work organisation, but that labour prices make up around 16% of vehicle build cost.

"So if you were to cut labour costs by, say 10%, the minimal 1.6% cost reduction you'd get would be tokenistic at best and could be swamped overnight by a movement in the value of the Australian dollar," says AMWU  National Vehicle Division Secretary Dave Smith.

"Lowering wages and attacking workers' conditions has a negative impact on productivity and is a race to the bottom which makes no sense for Australia as a country with high skills and a high standard of living."

The union added the drop in the Australian dollar from $US1.03 to about US$0.93 cents in recent months would have already had a far more positive impact "than any lowering of working conditions could have on a company which reports to its Detroit parent" in US dollars.

"The issues confronting the vehicle industry go well beyond the control of the Holden workforce," Smith added.

There's another political card in play here. The AMWU makes no secret of its disdain for what many believe will be the new administration in Australia in around 100 days - that of the Liberal-led coalition.

There'll clearly be a more centrist if not rightist approach to life from the incoming government - if the polls are correct - as opposed to the current Labour administration and the AMWU makes no bones which way it leans.

The union has consistently claimed any new coalition headed by current Liberal leader Tony Abbott - would "gut" - to use its term - auto spending by AS$500m to 2015 - although it provides no concrete evidence of what exactly that might mean.

I've tried to contact Tony Abbot twice - the time difference doesn't help here in the UK - to see if that AS$500m is correct - but his Shadow industry Secretary Sophie Mirabella has attacked the current Australian Labour administration's carbon tax that she claims makes vehicles more expensive to produce.

"This is on top of Labour's AU$1.4bn worth of broken promises to the car industry," she said. "The coalition has repeatedly warned of the impact of the carbon tax on the car industry.

"If elected [the coalition] will act to lower manufacturing costs by immediately repealing this job-destroying carbon tax." 

Holden maintains the current challenging economic situation, allied with the country's high dollar exchange rate, means "labour-related cost reductions," a phrase that has clearly got the AMWU's goat, but chairman and managing director, Mike Deverueux, laid it firmly on the line.

"We can't survive as a local manufacturer if we're not competitive and we don't reduce our costs," he said. "All options for improving productivity are on the table."

So all the posturing and political jockeying before any election. But the key word in the potential new administration is coalition. Here in the UK, we also have a coalition that is far from perfect and results in many uneasy compromises that enrage both sides of the alliance.

But that's the reality and the AMWU may have to have to swallow a bit of pride and negotiate.

Aussies are renowned for their tough approach to life and sport - just witness the titantic battles as the UK and our cousins imminently lock horns in both the Lions and Ashes Test Matches - two series of immense importance.

But drastic talk of pay cuts and possible job losses in the auto sector needs all unions to throw their considerable weight behind sticking up for members and not blindly towing the political party line.

Here in the northern hemisphere it's the longest day - down under it's the shortest. 

There's no time to lose.

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