Bluescope Steel Future


Click here to watch Sharon’s speech  


Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:30): I want to take the opportunity this evening to provide a report to the House on a matter of critical significance in my electorate. I have touched on it briefly in a previous speech, but I want to take the opportunity—given that on Monday the Minister for Industry and Science convened a roundtable in Wollongong—to update the House on what is happening. This, of course, relates to the very difficult circumstance we face as a community with the BlueScope Steel company having made it clear in public forums now, post their ASX statement, that they are faced with two options to remain viable in the steel production area into the future.  


The first option, which we hope for and have some optimism will be successful, is to restructure the workforce business to make savings of around $200 million per year. Their view is that that should put them on a sustainable footing to continue in the steel production business. There is a very sad and difficult outcome of that option—that is, it looks like around 500 people will lose their jobs. So, as you can imagine, that would have a very significant potential impact in our region. The second option, option B, as they describe it, is to close down steel production. So we are all working—at the government level, the community level, the trade union movement and the business—to make sure that we can best position the outcome to be option A, but also, more broadly, to look at ways in which we can support the community through what is a difficult time.  


I would remind the House that this is a similar situation to that which we faced in 2010, when the company previously had to restructure the business. We lost over 800 workers at that point in time and the federal and state governments worked with the company and the community to put in place a number of initiatives to assist with that transition. I very much welcome—along with my colleague, the member for Throsby—Minister Macfarlane convening a roundtable in Wollongong on Monday, which I think was a constructive opportunity to bring everybody together. We reached, broadly, four agreements. I am pleased to report that there was unanimous support around the room for the long-term viability of steel-making in the region, and a number of proposals in support of that were put forward for the minister's consideration.   


I would bring to the House's attention the fact that there was a motion in the Senate today, which was moved by the Greens and supported by Labor, but, sadly, not supported by the government on this occasion. It has in it some very constructive suggestions about ways in which we could use the antidumping regime to take some emergency action to support the steel-making industry. I would ask the government, while they may not have found themselves able to support that motion, to look at the content of it and see if there are ways they can integrate that into their response.   


There was also a commitment to the long-term diversification of the regional economy. This is something that has been ongoing and it is something that I think we have been very successful at, but I think we need continued support by all levels of government in that process. That could include projects such as the expanded use of the port, and I want to acknowledge the work of Senator Fierravanti-Wells. We have been able, in a bipartisan way, to provide support around opportunities for Defence activity at the port. It should also include progressing construction of the Maldon-Dombarton rail link, which at the moment sits with the state government after an expression of interest process. I hope that they are able to move quickly on progressing that.  


It is also obviously critically important that we provide assistance to those workers who are going to be made redundant. One of the things we have asked the minister to talk to the employment minister about is reinstating the local employment coordinator. That job can work very effectively to assess the skills and abilities of the workforce who are being displaced, as well as the job opportunities in the community and the appropriate training and extra support needed to transition those workers into the new opportunities. We also asked the minister to talk to the Minister for Communications, as the government has announced there are around 4½ thousand new positions, nationally, in the NBN construction process. We asked if, perhaps, he could convene a jobs forum with NBN contractors to work with those local workers and see whether, with some additional training, they can get opportunities in that construction process.  


It is a great outcome. I thank the minister and I hope that the actions immediately follow the roundtable.