Question Without Notice - Manufacturing

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (14:36): My question is to the Treasurer. Will the Treasurer outline for the House the important measures that have been announced to support steel manufacturing in Australia?

Honourable members interjecting —

The SPEAKER: Order! The Treasurer will resume his seat. The question has been asked. The Treasurer has the call. He will be heard in silence.

Mr SWAN (Lilley—Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer) (14:36): I thank the member for Cunningham for that very important question, and I know she will be working very hard with locals who have been affected by this decision which has been announced today, because this House does understand, I believe, just how significant an announcement this is and what a blow it is to affected workers, their families and their communities. There is no question that this government is committed to a very strong manufacturing sector for our country, and a critical part of a strong manufacturing sector is, of course, a strong steel industry. The steel industry faces a number of challenges: rising input prices, excess global supply, weak domestic demand and, of course, a higher dollar.

A higher dollar certainly delivers cheaper prices to many consumers, but it also means that more of our manufacturers are under pressure. Sadly, we are seeing the consequences of that today.

So the thoughts of everybody, at least on this side of the House, are with all of those workers that are affected today. That is why we will contribute $20 million to a new investment fund to support growth and new jobs in the region. BlueScope and the New South Wales government are also providing $5 million each, totalling $30 million, and we are providing a further $10 million to provide redundant workers with immediate access to intensive support, training and relocation services.

The government will also allow BlueScope to draw down up to $100 million in advance payments from the $300 million Steel Transformation Plan. This just underscores how important this plan is, and for the life of me I simply cannot understand why those opposite are opposing the Steel Transformation Plan. It is just as irresponsible as their plan to rip out $500 million in support for the automobile industry. They simply have no sense of the challenges facing manufacturing industry in this country.

BlueScope has provided a number of important assurances. The Port Kembla blast furnace and the metal-coating line at Western Port will be able to be reactivated if conditions improve—that is the commitment that has been given—and redundant workers will be paid their full legal entitlements.

BlueScope will continue as a significant employer in the region over the life of the Steel Transformation Plan and, importantly, remains committed to steel production in Australia.

So on this side of the House we understand that, if we want to continue to have a strong manufacturing industry into the future, we do need a long-term reform plan. That is why the government is cutting company tax to 29 per cent, with a head start for small business, and using the revenue from the MRRT—once again, that very significant reform is opposed by those on the other side of the House. It is why we are putting in place major tax concessions for small business—the $6,500 instant asset write-off. Nothing could be more important to the cash flow of a small business than a $6,500 instant asset write-off, which is opposed by those of the other side of the House, for 2.7 million small businesses in our country, many of which are not in the fast lane of the mining boom. It is also why we are committed to a $3 billion skills and training package.

What we are on about is putting in place the longterm reforms to strengthen and broaden our economy and to make sure the opportunities of the mining boom are spread right around our economy. We have a plan for the future; sadly, those opposite do not. They have only a plan for picking fault, scoring points and talking down our economy. That is the only plan they have.

(Time expired) Mr Buchholz interjecting—

The SPEAKER: The member for Wright! Order! It is a long way up there—nearly in the Senate—but I still heard that. It is disturbing, because the member for Sturt is seeking the call.