Toyota Motor Corp. President Katsuaki Watanabe visits Down Under for talks with government officials on the future of the auto maker’s Australian operations.

Watanabe met with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Industry Minister Kim Carr and Victoria Premier John Brumby.

One subject likely broached was the parent auto maker’s approval to continue engine-plant operations in Australia after 2012, when the next-generation Camry is planned.

The facility, which produced more than 112,000 engines last year, has gone through the approval process for each Camry generation in 2002 and 2006.

But this time around, Toyota reportedly is looking to its lower-cost Thailand plant to ship the engines to Australia duty-free under the Australia-Thailand free-trade agreement.

Brumby tells a news conference at Toyota Australia headquarters in Melbourne the meetings are for “further discussions about Toyota and about their possible investments in the future.

“We welcome (Watanabe’s) strong endorsement of the government support that has been provided for this great project (the Australian-built Camry hybrid),” Brumby says.

Rudd tells the news conference that he, Carr and Brumby believe passionately in the future of Australian manufacturing.

“We also believe passionately in the future of the Australian automobile industry and that’s why we’re here today with our friends from Toyota,” he says.

Rudd says building the Camry Hybrid sedan in Australia will be a great step forward for the country’s manufacturing industry.

“That’s what our new car plan for Australia is all about. And it begins with this decision to bring in an Australian manufactured hybrid here at Toyota from 2010.

“If we want to tackle climate change, the best way to do that is through hybrid vehicles,” says Brumby. “If we want to reduce emissions in the transport sector, the best way to do that is through hybrid vehicles. And of course, the next-generation of hybrid vehicles, the plug-in (hybrid-electric) vehicles, you’ll be able to take it home at night, and if you’re a subscriber to green power, plug into the power point and your car will be completely carbon neutral.

“In terms of these big challenges we’ve got in Australia at the moment, how we sustain our manufacturing industry, how we tackle climate change, there is no better way of doing this than through the production of hybrid vehicles,” he says.

“What we want is to see long-term commitment and investment in Australian automobile manufacturing. Toyota is part of that.”

Rudd says the Australian government will do everything possible to sustain the domestic auto industry.

“And that means working in partnership with the big car companies,” he says. “We make no apology for that. And we will talk, we will jawbone, we will negotiate, we will get the best deal – hopefully – for the Australian consumer, and for Australian manufacturing and Australian manufacturing jobs.”