Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (14:4 1): My question is to the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. Will the minister update the House on the Steel Transformation Plan Bill? Why is this legislation important to the Australian steel industry and what would be the impact on workers and industry if the steel transformation plan is not established?
Mr COMBET (Charlton—Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) (14:41): I thank the member for Cunningham because she certainly has a very keen interest in seeing the steel transformation plan implemented. Of course, it was passed by the House of Representatives yesterday along with the other clean energy bills and it was opposed—astonishingly—by the Liberal and National Parties. As is well known, the steel industry is facing very difficult times in this country. Global markets are struggling.
The high value of the dollar has made steel exports less competitive and imports cheaper, and iron ore and coking coal prices are high. The two major companies have been losing money in their steel production and we are already seeing job losses and the closure of a blast furnace in Port Kembla because of these factors.
This government is committed to steel manufacturing in this country. We are committed to the workers that it employs and we are committed to regions like Whyalla and Port Kembla that depend upon the steel industry.
That is why the government has worked very closely with the steel industry in developing the $300 million steel transformation plan, which is supported by Bluescope, OneSteel and the unions representing the steel workforce. The plan itself is designed to support the industry and its workforce through these difficult times, to help reduce the emissions intensity of the industry, to support innovation and to support research and development, the application of new technology and investment in the industry. Importantly, the plan and the fact that it will be legislated will provide confidence to the financial institutions that help the industry invest.
For the last six months the Leader of the Opposition has visited Australian steel towns and workplaces to emphasise his alleged commitment to the industry. He told Whyalla that he was so concerned that Whyalla would be wiped off the map, that Whyalla risks becoming a ghost town—an economic wasteland. He told steelworkers in Port Kembla, trying to terrify them, that he was concerned that they would lose their jobs to people in China and Indonesia. He told the Australian Steel Convention: … steel is critical to our way of life—
Mr PYNE: Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. On direct relevance, I fail to see how this unbridled attack on the Leader of the Opposition could be relevant to the question he was asked.
The SPEAKER: This gets us to an interpretation of direct relevance. I suggest to the minister that he reduces the amount of argument and reference to people in the answer. I am happy for him to discuss the policy matters, but this is a response that is bordering on those that I characterised last sitting week as what we were trying to avoid. The minister has the call.
Mr COMBET: Thank you. I was asked what would happen if the steel plan were not established. There has been a lot of commentary about the difficulties confronting the steel industry, and many, including the Leader of the Opposition, have made observations about the importance of the industry, its survival and its competitiveness. After all of the statements that the Leader of the Opposition has made you would think that he was a veritable man of steel; but, in fact, he is a cream puff. When the opportunity came—
The SPEAKER: The minister will now come to his conclusion.
Mr COMBET: the opposition voted against a $300 million plan to support the steel industry. It voted against the workers in the industry. It voted against the company's position in support of the plan. In addition, with the importance of this plan to investment confidence in the industry, the last thing that the industry needs is the Leader of the Opposition to be making a 'blood oath' that he will repeal the legislation. No-one believes that that will be lived up to.
The SPEAKER: The minister will now resume his seat.