BlueScope Steel

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Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (12:53): I thank my colleague the member for Throsby for bringing the motion before the House and I acknowledge my other colleague the member for Gilmore, who is here to speak on the motion as well.

It has been a particularly tough time for our region, but it is something that we are, sadly, all too familiar with. We have been through a major restructure with BlueScope in the past that had a significant impact on job losses and we face the same dilemma before us again now. Not so long ago, BlueScope management made it clear to our community that in order to sustain steel production in the region they would need to find $200 million in savings—what they called a 'game-changing' plan—to make it a viable option.

I have to say we have seen two important outcomes from that that provide support and strength to their decision to continue to produce steel. First is a very strong and clearly demonstrated commitment by the community more broadly to see BlueScope continue its steel production in the Illawarra. There was a rally on 19 September in our region at which hundreds and hundreds of people turned out. For example, our local media outlets, including the Illawarra Mercury, got on board the Save Our Steel campaign. Leadership across community, industry and unions have all made clear statements publicly that they are willing to work with the company to see steel production continue. So we have got that pillar, if you like, in place.

This past week, we saw a second critically important part of that story be achieved. That was due to no small effort by the trade union movement in the Illawarra—in particular, as my colleague has said, the local branch of the Australian Workers' Union under the leadership of Wayne Phillips. It is not an easy task to have to talk to your membership about the fact that there are two choices before them: one which would potentially cost the jobs of around 500 of their friends and colleagues and the other that would see the plant shut and 5,000 jobs be lost. It is never, ever an easy thing to have to do. Wayne and his team have worked through that with their members to get an outcome that has been welcomed by BlueScope Steel in providing that opportunity for some fairly difficult decisions—not only job losses but also things like freezes on wages and so forth—to be put in place to give viability to the steelworks. I should also acknowledge the Australian Metalworkers Union and the Electrical Trades Union as well, and also the South Coast Labour Council's Arthur Rorris, who has been working with them. This was, I think, one of the most difficult tasks of any leader of an organisation, and in particular a trade union, because their prime concern is the welfare and wellbeing of their members. So that is never, ever an easy thing to do, and yet they had the meeting and endorsed that outcome. BlueScope put out a statement as a result of that indicating that they welcomed the game-changing approach, and the CEO, Paul O'Malley, said that the agreement was significant and an essential step. So two of those important requirements are in place.

I do want to acknowledge that one of the local steelworkers at the meeting, Lance Turner, made a comment in the Illawarra Mercury, and it is true. He said

I know a few of my good mates who are going to lose their jobs out of this … Even they had to put their hands up …

So people joined together in that meeting in a broader statement of support for each other and their community, knowing full well that some of them will have a very significant outcome from that personally for them and their families.

As a result of the issues we are facing, we now, as the member for Throsby said, need both levels of government to come up to their responsibilities on what they can do. My state colleagues have been calling on the Baird government to particularly address the direct concerns that the company has raised with them around tax matters that they can assist with. At the federal level, obviously there is an opportunity through antidumping actions to make sure that we are taking action so that the dumping of cheap steel is not undermining our local industry. There are important opportunities around government procurement in ensuring the maximisation of the participation of locally produced steel in federally or state-funded projects. But also we need to take very urgent action, now that we know around 500 people are going to be losing their jobs, to give them and their families the support to ensure that they have access to the sorts of training support and job-seeking support that they will need in what is a difficult labour market as it is. So I commend all the locals for their work and I call on governments to now do their part in providing solutions on this very difficult issue.