Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:24): I rise to participate in this matter of public importance debate in this House on manufacturing and its future. I am joined in the House by my colleague the member for Throsby. Members of the House would be aware that we took the opportunity in this chamber to put on the record the events that happened in our region yesterday with the BlueScope Steel announcement and our direct and real concern for the families that have been affected by that decision. We are determined to stand with them in providing the support that the government is able to provide to them and more broadly in providing support to BlueScope as a continuing steel manufacturer in our region. We will continue the work that we have already begun on providing opportunities for support and expansion of the manufacturing sector in our region.
It is important and a good opportunity to take those comments made yesterday further in addressing this particular debate before the House today. It is a sad pity and in many ways a fairly disgraceful pity that those opposite are seeking to use what is a difficult time for those families in our region and for our region as a whole as a political point-scoring exercise around the carbon tax issue when it has been made quite clear on numerous occasions by BlueScope Steel executives that the carbon tax had no impact on the outcome that was announced yesterday. The executives made that point at the time when we announced the Clean Energy Future package.
It is important to indicate to the House in this debate that the member for Throsby and I believe that the future of manufacturing is a key point to this nation and has an important role to play in the mix of our economy into the future. It is true to say that we are in a transition process within our manufacturing sector to the more high value-added production processes, to greater utilisation of innovation and to putting the production of research and development into the delivery of new products and services in the sector. The manufacturing businesses that will make it through this transition that we are experiencing will have a package of production techniques innovations, creative thought and use technologies in ways that we could not even imagine a few years ago. They will have a full line of service opportunity in providing problem-solving solutions for production of those products and aftersales service and follow up in an integrated model that will give us a real competitive advantage, I believe, in the international market.
In our area we are working on expanding the significant relationship that these businesses have with our local university. At the University of Wollongong our government has already been thinking about this linkage and we have funded $43.8 million to the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials and additionally a $25 million investment in a Sustainable Buildings Research Centre on the Innovation Campus of the University of Wollongong. These are directly designed to create opportunities in the new space for modern manufacturing and to link those to the opportunities in our region.
Next Tuesday my colleague the member for Throsby and I will convene an Illawarra manufacturing expo. This is designed to ensure that local manufacturers are aware of and able to access the many different programs that are available through a range of Commonwealth government departments. I should indicate that a number of those programs are on the chopping block of the opposition in their search to find $70 billion worth of savings. We are hosting this event at the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials to allow us to encourage and foster the development of an ongoing relationship and partnership between the University of Wollongong and the manufacturing community in the region. We are grateful that the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, will be the guest of honour at that Illawarra manufacturing expo. I should indicate that it is important to recognise not only that the University of Wollongong and the various federal government departments are in our region playing a role but that today we particularly welcome the information that BHP Billiton, through Illawarra Coal, have announced that they are going to step up as a good corporate citizen in the region and play a role in assisting us through this process. They have indicated that they are putting in place an initiative whereby they will establish an online job centre to take job applications from people affected by the BlueScope steel announcement, as well as other local people who are interested in joining the coal industry.
Mr Colin Bloomfield, whom we work closely with in our region, said the company had recently employed a number of people without experience in the mining industry and they will look to employ up to 50 more people in a range of roles across their Illawarra coal operations. They are also open to taking applications from people for their interstate activities, including their Queensland coal operations where they have more than 750 job vacancies and their iron ore operations in Western Australia where they have 600 vacancies.
This is an example of the strength of our region. The Illawarra has been through difficult times in the past and I think the great resilience of our region is the fact that we all do pull together, whether it is the community sector or the government sector and elected representatives or our media, who play an important role in sustaining confidence for the community in our future. All of us pull together, and this is an example of our corporate sector also being a part of that.
The member for Throsby and I will work with all the lead organisations in our region, whether it is business organisations, the Illawarra Business Chamber, the Illawarra branches of the Australian Industry Group and Regional Development Australia or our union organisations—the South Coast Labour Council and the affected unions, in particular the AWU and the AMWU—to find opportunities and ways forward for our region in the confidence that our people are up to this task. Part of that task is finding the opportunities that do exist with the introduction of a price on carbon.
Those opposite only ever want to run a fear campaign. I point them to a tremendous example. The Illawarra Mercury gave us great coverage of a green jobs conference, organised by our regional development organisation. They highlighted the story —those opposite scoffing might want to listen to this —of a manufacturer in my seat called David Brown Gears. The company was originally established as a manufacturer of mass produced gear components. That business has been transformed to become the type of integrated business in manufacturing that I talked about earlier. It produces significant massive sized gear products. It goes in, looks at the challenge, particularly for large conveyors and so forth, designs specific solutions and problem solves where there are issues.
It provides the product, it does follow-up service and advice and it is doing particularly well. The Illawarra Mercury highlighted a new line of opportunity for the company, which it has now got into—that is, gears for wind turbines.
This is a story of manufacturing into the future.
It is about opportunity as well. Those opposite never want to talk about the important role that many manufacturing businesses continue to play and will increasingly have opportunities for under a price on carbon. I think it is important that when we have these debates we also understand in regions like mine—the member for Throsby and I have generational commitment to our region—the challenges of transition. We understand it is a hard time and the Gillard government will stand shoulder to shoulder with a region like ours with confidence in its future and the future of manufacturing more broadly.
It is an absolute disgrace that in a debate like this those opposite—and in particular the member for Indi in her opening contribution—only see a political opportunity to run another version, another strand, of a fear campaign on a price on carbon. That is an absolute abrogation of responsibility not only to the 800 families directly affected in our region but also to those who are seeking a future in our region. They need to hear a message of confidence, quite frankly, from those in this House in our future, in the future of our region and in the future of manufacturing across the nation.
I finally point out that those opposite have absolutely no solutions. They oppose the Steel Transformation Plan, they oppose our bringing the money forward and they oppose our applying the innovation and industry investment fund—all of those things that are going to be used to transform our region. What are they proposing? Absolutely nothing, as if the manufacturing problem does not exist. (Time expired)