Monday, 2 May 2016
Private Members' Business
That this House:
(1) notes with concern that one of Australia's major steel manufacturers, Arrium, has recently been placed into administration, highlighting the risk to Whyalla's economy and our national steelmaking capabilities;
(2) recognises the multiple pressures currently being experienced by the Australian steel industry, including the impact of a global over supply of steel;
(3) further notes the worrying evidence presented to the Senate Economics References Committee's inquiry into the future of Australia's steel industry, on the widespread importation and use of structural steel that does not meet Australian standards and presents a threat to public safety;
(4) notes the plan announced by Labor to support Australia's strategically significant metals manufacturing industries, particularly the steel industry, by:
(a) ensuring Australian standards are upheld in Government funded projects and supporting local steel producers in meeting certification standards;
(b) seeking to maximise the use of locally produced steel in Australian Government funded projects and put in place regular reporting of usage levels;
(c) halving the thresholds for projects required to have an Australian Industry Participation Plan from $500 million down to $250 million for private projects, and from $20 million to $10 million for public projects;
(d) doubling funding for the Australian Industry Participation (AIP) Authority and appointing an AIP Board;
(e) ensuring Australia's anti-dumping system has the right powers and penalties in place;
(f) creating a national Steel Supplier Advocate; and
(g) establishing a tripartite Metals Manufacturing Investment Council to work closely with the Government to deliver these measures;
(5) condemns the Government's failure to take a comprehensive approach to securing the future of Australia's steel industry; and
(6) calls on the Government to take serious action to support Australia's strategically significant metals manufacturing industries, particularly the steel industry.
It is a great pleasure to address the Federation Chamber on this very important issue related to the steel industry. We know that this is not just about Arrium or BlueScope; it is about the national interest and our capacity to make steel in this country.
There has been a great deal of agitation about this issue. We cannot say that it has just come out of the blue. This has been an issue for over a year now. Bill Shorten wrote to the Prime Minister in October last year seeking bipartisanship to support the steel industry, offering our support for the government to come out with a policy. What we have seen from those opposite has been absolutely zip—zero. We have seen lacklustre attempts to deal with the crisis affecting our steel industry. We have the member for Grey here as the lone government speaker on this motion. Of course, he is a bit like Robinson Crusoe on this government. He is shipwrecked up there and marooned in a sea of free traders and in a sea of flat-earthers in this government.
We know that on the Labor side we have had very spirited representation from the Weatherill Labor government, in particular, my good friend Tom Koutsantonis, who has introduced a policy on standards and procurement for the South Australian government to lead the way amongst state governments. We have seen the Victorians do something similar. We also had Eddie Hughes, the state member for Whyalla, lead a delegation of steelworkers to Canberra to make sure that they were represented in this building. The delegation included Steve McMillian, from AMWU, Andrew Maine, an AMWU delegate at the Whyalla steelworks, Scott Martin, from the AWU, Stuart Munro, the AWU delegate on the site, Greg Warner, from the CFMEU, Brad Prince, a CFMEU delegate at the steelworks, Bill Metropolis, my friend from the electricians union, and Leigh Fewster, a electrician and delegate at the steelworks.
Those men had to come to this place to secure adequate representation and attention for their issues. I guess that does reflect on this government's interests and on the member for Grey and his capacity to bring their interests to the attention of both this House and the government. That is a great pity. Steelmaking at Whyalla is an essential thing for that town. We know of the catastrophic consequences if the steelworks was to close in Whyalla. As catastrophic as the car industry closures have been, we know that if the steelworks was to close in Whyalla it would be like that with the dial turned up. We know that this is a government of flat earthers, a government that has been completely disinterested in industrial policy, and I have seen the consequences of that with the deliberate shutdown of the car industry in this country by Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey. We have seen the consequences of that in South Australia.
Labor has a six-point policy. We have come out and put our cards on the table in the run-up to the next election. We have put this issue front and centre. We have been promoting the interests of the steel industry in this House for some time. I know my colleagues from Wollongong have had a great interest in this area of public policy making. We are committed to providing in government some relief and security for these workers.
They have been desperate to get the House's attention. They have been desperate to get the government's attention. What have we had? We had the Prime Minister rock up in Whyalla and they hid him down there at the park. The member for Grey shuffled him into a park for a press conference, trying to hide from the local community, trying to hide from local workers. They only met with the council. They did not go and meet with the unions. They did not go and meet with the workforce at all because they might have got a contrary opinion or might not have got the golfers claps they were looking for. Then the Prime Minister got ambushed by Raylene. That is what happens when you try and wrap a Prime Minster up in cotton wool, when you try and do fly-in fly-out press conferences in towns like Whyalla.
It is important that the steel industry remains in South Australia. It is important that the steel industry remains in Australia overall. Thousands of jobs are caught up in it. The very future of Whyalla as a functional town is caught up with it. This motion is about getting this issue debated in this House, making sure it is front and centre at the next election and making sure that workers in Whyalla and elsewhere know Labor is on their side.
There are things that I would concur with the member for Wakefield on. Certainly, my faith in the steel industry in Whyalla is still strong and the need for the steel industry to survive for Whyalla, for South Australia, for Australia and for the people that live in Whyalla is exceedingly strong. A very good case can be made. Over the course of some time, I hope to be able to bring to this House the reason that I believe that there will be a future for the steel industry.
Of course, the member for Wakefield did visit Whyalla. He and his friend Senator Carr addressed a union organised rally there. I attended that quite happily. I spoke to the rally. But let me tell you about Senator Carr's contribution. I was reminded of Frank Blevins. You might remember Frank Blevins, Member for Wakefield.
He once stood in front of a farmers rally outside Festival Theatre in Adelaide. He said, 'You are just basking in the politics of the warm inner glow.' That is what Senator Carr did. He just played to the union crowd, offered nothing constructive but inflamed anger for no good reason.
Mr Champion interjecting—
Let me go on.
If the member had been listening, he would know I did not speak ill of the dead. I just reported what Frank Blevins told that congregation. That is what Senator Carr was doing in Whyalla. Let me come to the response the Labor Party is putting up, because they are here to 'rescue' the Australian steel industry. It is worth remembering that they inflicted the carbon tax on the Australian steel industry. But don't worry about that! They put an extra $100 million into the Steel Transformation Plan. We were told at the time by Julia Gillard and others that this had nothing to do with the carbon tax, that it was about building a new Australian industry, a transformed industry.
Mr Champion interjecting—
The member for Wakefield would do better to listen with his ears than his mouth, let me tell you. The $100 million was supposed to give us a modern, competitive Australian steel industry. What did it do? It went to pay your carbon tax. That is the problem here. And now the latest raft of remedies they have for the steel industry is to establish not one, not two but three new government bodies to have a look at the situation. They will appoint a board—
An honourable member interjecting—
I will tell you what I have done in minute, mate. It is to appoint a board to the Australian Industry Participation Authority to provide a new national steel supplier advocate and establish another body—a tripartite Metals Manufacturing Investment Council. Really? That is three new government committees—none of them with any clout—but the member just wants to waste the Australian taxpayers' money and their time. The member for Wakefield had a go at Malcolm Turnbull. Malcolm Turnbull came to Whyalla and he dropped off an 80,000 tonne order for Australian rail.
Mr Champion interjecting—
Madam Deputy Speaker, I ask that you pull the member for Wakefield into gear.
It is an appalling piece of behaviour. What he did on that day was drop off an order for 80,000 tonnes of rail—one of the most important things. The Whyalla steel smelter is capable of producing 1.2 million tonnes of steel. At the moment it is doing 950,000. This is a very important order. It is like a motel. If the motel is running at 50 per cent, the motel owner is losing money. If it is running at 100 per cent, he is making money. That was a very important order—and it was not a fit-up and it was not mickey mouse—because it brought forward rail work that had to occur within the next six years, and it increases the capacity of the line by going from 47 kilograms per metre to 60 kilograms per metre, enabling an extra eight tonne of truck. In addition to this—and I hope to continue on this in a little while—we have made enormous changes with the Anti-Dumping Commissioner. The Anti-Dumping Commissioner— (Time expired)
It is a very important matter before us, and I appreciate the member for Wakefield bringing it before the House, although it is not the first time I have had the opportunity to talk to the House about the steel industry. I and the member for Throsby, like many of our colleagues in South Australia, have been through some significantly difficult times with the steel industry. Indeed, in 2010 at BlueScope, we had a significant restructure of the sector. If you include those down the supply chains, that ended up with over 1,000 jobs lost. At that point there was a really important, direct and immediate intervention by the then Gillard government. In fact, the Prime Minister visited the region twice. There was a response to support for the steel industry that others have referred to—the Steel Transformation Plan. There was support for our region: a joint investment in diversifying the economy of $30 million contributed by the federal government, the state government and BlueScope themselves, and a package of support for the dislocated workers. It was a time at which the region saw what a good and effective federal government actually does for a region going through tough times such as this.
Let us play that forward to the end of last year, when BlueScope again announced, as an impact of the international circumstances, that they needed to take some fairly difficult decisions, and we were looking at more workers being retrenched from the plant. Realistically, as BlueScope was clear, we were looking at the potential of the plant shutting down. So who stepped up? Who stepped up at the end of last year for the steel industry and for the Illawarra region? First of all, the trade union movement and the workers stepped up, and we had an unprecedented outcome where there was a negotiated agreement that meant all of those workers ended up with less money and fewer conditions, but their commitment was demonstrated, very clearly, to keep those jobs operating in our region. They stepped up. The state government sort of stepped up, with a bit of tax relief—deferred tax payments—to assist BlueScope.
We had a really significant roundtable where all the local players came together—the business chambers, the unions, the local members, community organisations, the local government mayors and so forth. They were called together to a peak roundtable, convened by the minister at the time, Minister Macfarlane, to talk about what needed to happen in the region—that is, firstly, to support the steel industry, and, secondly, to allow diversification of the local economy.
What was the outcome of that? Minister Macfarlane stood outside afterwards and did his press conference with his coalition colleagues and said that there would be a nice big announcement for the region. That got us excited—that there was something big that was going to make a real difference to the local region. We have not heard sight nor sound of it since that announcement, which was very quickly walked away from.
What then happened, as we went through this process, is that there was a change of minister and Minister Pyne became the minister for the sector. Minister Pyne thought he needed to hear all of this again, so he called all of the same players together. Unfortunately, he could not make it to Wollongong so we all had to traipse up to Sydney. Up we went and laid out all of our case again, hoping for some outcome. And there was absolutely nothing.
This government has not made a clear, announced policy and plan for the steel industry. I do not envy the member for Grey his position. It is a tough policy area—we all understand that; we have been through it for many years now—but you need to have a commitment to industry policy and you have to have a clearly articulated policy for the steel sector. It is a strategically important sector, and it is also significantly important to the regions where it operates. We have not seen that from the government. We have seen sound bites and half announcements, but there is no coordinated strategic approach.
By comparison, Bill Shorten and Kim Carr attended the BlueScope site with me and the member for Throsby and our candidate for Gilmore, Fiona Phillips, and announced a plan—a full plan of six significant initiatives to give a future to our steel industry. That is what is required. That is what we need—not a minister who thinks the Port Kembla Steelworks is in the electorate of Gilmore, or a minister who thinks he can make a simple announcement and get away with it. It is simply not enough. (Time expired)
I rise today to speak on this motion in support of my colleague the member for Grey and the positive initiatives the government has undertaken to help the steel industry and, in particular, the people of Whyalla. As the member for Grey said, the initiative to build 1,200 kilometres of rail from Adelaide to Tarcoola and to bring forward a contract to help Whyalla and, in particular, the people working at Arrium is a massive announcement. Everyone has people connected with Arrium and people working in Whyalla. We know they are going through some difficult times and we know there are challenges there, but they also recognise the work that we are doing. When I am at shopping centres or throughout my electorate, I have people from the member for Grey's electorate who come up to me and say: 'I don't live in your electorate. I live in the Yorke Peninsula or the Eyre Peninsula and Rowan Ramsey, the member for Grey, is doing a great job. He is fighting hard for our jobs, he is fighting hard for our future and he is fighting hard for Arrium.' They say that with sincerity. They know he is doing the best he can and they also know that this government is taking specific steps to help the people of Arrium and Whyalla.
The member for Grey was going to talk, in particular, about the Anti-Dumping Commission, so I will continue on another point that the government has made. Local steel manufacturers will now have a better opportunity to compete on a level playing field after the government accepted two Anti-Dumping Commission recommendations to impose dumping duties on Chinese-made steel reinforcing bar and rod core imported into Australia. These anti-dumping decisions have ensured that Australian steel manufacturers can compete on even ground in the local market with imports from other countries like China, South Korea and Taiwan. The Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Christopher Pyne, said that these decisions are another step that we have taken to help local producers, whether in Wollongong at BlueScope or at Arrium in Whyalla. In amongst this, there have been a whole lot of initiatives over the last year or so that we have taken to help Australian industries compete in global markets: the $50 million Manufacturing Transition Program, the $225 million Industry Growth Centres Initiative, the Industry Skills Fund that helps companies upskill their employees—$664 million over five years—and scrapping the carbon tax, which is so important to reduce costs for businesses.
The matters raised by Arrium creditors are not ones that any government—be it local, state or federal—can address through drastic intervention. We know from the international steel market—and the member for Wakefield, being the learned man that he is, would realise this that Port Talbot in the United Kingdom, in Wales, is suffering the exact same challenges that Arrium does in Whyalla—that the UK steel industry, among others right around the world, have the same challenges in terms of lower prices and an oversupply of steel. So Arrium has challenges, as others have. The federal government will also work with the South Australian government.
Mr Champion interjecting—
In that respect, all of us together want to get the right outcome for the people of Whyalla.
I just want to finish on a massive decision that was announced last week and that the member for Wakefield should be very proud of, and also the member for Throsby—I mentioned it to him last week when we ran into each other—about using Australian steel in shipbuilding projects. We have $90 billion of shipbuilding projects in Australia over the decades to come, whether it be patrol vessels, frigates or submarines. Last week, the government and Malcolm Turnbull made it clear that we will look at using Australian steel in these projects. This is a welcome initiative and something that I have raised with the industry minister and the defence minister. I know that it is an area that my colleague Rowan Ramsey, the member for Grey, like many South Australian members of parliament, has fought hard on—to get the best result for Australia and the best outcome for South Australia on defence shipbuilding. I can see the member for Wakefield smiling and saying, 'Well done, South Australian Liberal MPs!' You knew that we fought hard and got a great result for that, and so do the people of South Australia. Now, whether it is submarines or frigates, Australian products will be used and Australian suppliers will be beneficiaries. In terms of the amount, it is like a Royal Adelaide Hospital being built every year for the next 45 years. That is how big these defence shipbuilding announcements are for Australia. The Royal Adelaide Hospital was a massive project in South Australia. It is like one of them being built in the next 45 years. Just imagine that. And the South Australian people, quite rightly, are rejoicing in this great announcement, where there will be more Australian steel, more Australian suppliers and more work for Australians. It is another great federal government initiative.
The workers of the Illawarra do not need to be lectured about the importance of trade and trade agreements. We know all about the importance of trade in the Illawarra. We have been trading with the world since the harbour at Port Kembla was first built—from wool to steel to grain to coal, cars and containers. They all pass through the port, creating jobs and opportunities for local businesses. We know about that. But the steelworks remains an anchor business for the region.
The steel industry has changed. There is a bigger market and the supply has doubled over the last decade. Over 800 million tonnes a year is now being produced by China—over half the world's supply. We have gone through the changes in the Illawarra. We have gone through them most recently when we saw up to 1,000 workers lose their jobs as a result of the restructuring. If it were not for the hard work put in by the workers at BlueScope, and their unions, the business would not be there today. But we know that something more needs to be done. If the biggest supplier in the market is not responding to obvious market signals then Australia must act to protect its industry from businesses that do not play by the normal rules. This is exactly what is happening.
Labor has a plan. We need a plan, but the Turnbull government, seemingly, only has a plan to save the seat of the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, who has no real plan for steel. He has a plan to get beyond the next election, but he has not got a plan for the future of the steel industry. By contrast, Labor has a plan that is both tough and legal, and it is proven. We will mandate Australian standards in federal government funded projects. We will do that. We will ensure that it is Australian standards and Australian steel that are going in to those Australian funded projects. We will maximise the use of locally produced steel in government funded projects, and we will make businesses planning large projects put in place Australian Industry Participation Plans. Currently, if it is less than $500 million it does not have to put in such a plan, but under Labor's proposal the threshold will be lowered to $250 million for such projects. They will be required to put in place a plan which shows how local businesses can get a slice of the action and are not excluded because of the operation of global supply chains.
Labor will double the funding for the Australian Industry Participation Authority. This is an authority that was put in place as part of the Australian Jobs Act. These guys voted against it. They have never supported the Australian Jobs Act, just like they do not support Australian jobs. They gutted the staffing for it. Is it any wonder it is floundering today? Labor will also help small and medium-sized steel fabricators become more competitive through a steel supplier advocate.
But we all know that you need a cop on the beat, and you need to ensure that the cop is funded. So we will toughen our antidumping laws and we will ensure that the regulator has resources to act quickly and to stamp out job-killing dumping of overseas steel into Australian markets. Minister Pyne has not acted on the Anti-Dumping Commission report. We will use it to tighten our antidumping rules. The plan is tough. It is legal and it is proven. This model has been road-tested in South Australia. When similar measures were put in place, local content shifted from 40 per cent to 91 per cent. It is tough on illegal and unfair practices, and it is also legal. And that is important. There is a lot of populism in this area. But it is important because we know that the measures that we put in place will not result in our exports being hit by retaliatory actions against our products in other countries.
My colleagues have been talking about the naval shipbuilding exercise. That is very important; $90 billion worth of new projects are going to be built over the next two decades. The member for Hindmarsh let the cat out of the bag. He let the cat out of the bag because we are getting all sorts of mixed messages from the Prime Minister and the defence minister about what is going to happen with Australian steel in this project. One day we are told by the Minister for Defence that it cannot possibly be Australian steel because we do not make it. I would invite the minister to visit BlueScope Steel and Bisalloy where we made the same steel previously, and where our steel is a preferred supplier for defence industries overseas. What an absurd situation we are going to have under this government, where defence industries in other countries are using our steel because it is a preferred product, but these guys over here say, 'Maybe we will and maybe we won't.' We deserve something a bit better than that. Labor's got a real plan for the industry, and if we are backed in at the next election we will ensure that we continue to have a steel industry in this country.
It gives me great pleasure to speak to the member for Wakefield's motion that is before the House this morning. As the member for Newcastle, I have lived through a period of tremendous steel manufacturing in our city of more than 100 years. It was with great sadness that BHP closed its doors to steel manufacturing in Newcastle some 17 years ago now. We have had to make enormous transitions in our community, so I know full well the anxieties currently being experienced by the people of South Australia and Port Kembla. I know just how tough it is to look at your local community and see the heartbreak of massive job losses when a whole industry that generations of families in your community have worked at closes its doors.
Speaking for the people of Newcastle, you can be assured that we, like other steelmaking cities around Australia, feel your pain enormously, and I stand alongside the workers of those industries today to say that Labor will always put you and your jobs first and foremost in our plans. Labor is the party of jobs. It always has been and it always will be. We need to ensure that these communities get the absolute benefits. That is why Labor's six-point steel industry plan was recently released. It reaches out to ensure that Australia continues to make steel in this country and that we are a nation that continues to manufacture.
Members opposite have sung the praises of the submarine contract going to South Australia. I am acutely aware of South Australia's experience, in terms of this government having had no plan for Australian jobs and Australian industry for years and years and now suddenly trying to play catch-up by making sure these submarines are built in South Australia. I did write to the minister last week, after she made the announcement around the submarines, and said, 'Terrific news.' We very much welcome submarines being manufactured in Australia, although we are yet to see the detail around those contracts: whether or not all 12 submarines will be built here in Australia, whether or not there will be a mandated local content component of those contracts and whether communities and shipbuilding industries in my city of Newcastle will benefit from any of the component work. I see the member for Gellibrand here. His shipbuilders down in Williamstown would also be very anxious to see if there are any kinds of flow-on benefits to shipbuilding communities around Australia that have seen massive job losses under this government's watch.
I have two shipyards at Tomago and Carrington in my electorate of Newcastle that have shed more than 1,000 jobs. That is 1,000 highly skilled men and women who have long worked on defence naval projects in the past and who are without a job, and there are another 1,400 at Williamstown in Victoria. That is the shame of this government. You think that we might have forgotten. You may stupidly think that the Australian people do not remember what has happened under your watch and think that it will be forgotten. There is no way that the people of my community or the people of Williamtown will forget about those jobs.
The lack of commitment to Australian manufacturing and to shipbuilding in particular has been astonishing. Let us hope that the contracts for those subs brings some relief to those communities and that it is not too late to shore up the capacity of our nation for naval shipbuilding. Let us make sure that the steel industry in Australia has a strong and prosperous future too. This government has an appalling track record when it comes to Australian jobs and Australian industry. Members opposite have a lot of work to do. The Australian people will not be fooled by these shenanigans. (Time expired)