Steel Industry

Click here to watch Sharon’s speech

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (11:57): It is a very important matter before us, and I appreciate the member for Wakefield bringing it before the House, although it is not the first time I have had the opportunity to talk to the House about the steel industry. I and the member for Throsby, like many of our colleagues in South Australia, have been through some significantly difficult times with the steel industry. Indeed, in 2010 at BlueScope, we had a significant restructure of the sector. If you include those down the supply chains, that ended up with over 1,000 jobs lost. At that point there was a really important, direct and immediate intervention by the then Gillard government. In fact, the Prime Minister visited the region twice. There was a response to support for the steel industry that others have referred to—the Steel Transformation Plan. There was support for our region: a joint investment in diversifying the economy of $30 million contributed by the federal government, the state government and BlueScope themselves, and a package of support for the dislocated workers. It was a time at which the region saw what a good and effective federal government actually does for a region going through tough times such as this.  

Let us play that forward to the end of last year, when BlueScope again announced, as an impact of the international circumstances, that they needed to take some fairly difficult decisions, and we were looking at more workers being retrenched from the plant. Realistically, as BlueScope was clear, we were looking at the potential of the plant shutting down. So who stepped up? Who stepped up at the end of last year for the steel industry and for the Illawarra region? First of all, the trade union movement and the workers stepped up, and we had an unprecedented outcome where there was a negotiated agreement that meant all of those workers ended up with less money and fewer conditions, but their commitment was demonstrated, very clearly, to keep those jobs operating in our region. They stepped up. The state government sort of stepped up, with a bit of tax relief—deferred tax payments—to assist BlueScope.  

We had a really significant roundtable where all the local players came together—the business chambers, the unions, the local members, community organisations, the local government mayors and so forth. They were called together to a peak roundtable, convened by the minister at the time, Minister Macfarlane, to talk about what needed to happen in the region—that is, firstly, to support the steel industry, and, secondly, to allow diversification of the local economy.  

What was the outcome of that? Minister Macfarlane stood outside afterwards and did his press conference with his coalition colleagues and said that there would be a nice big announcement for the region. That got us excited—that there was something big that was going to make a real difference to the local region. We have not heard sight nor sound of it since that announcement, which was very quickly walked away from.  

What then happened, as we went through this process, is that there was a change of minister and Minister Pyne became the minister for the sector. Minister Pyne thought he needed to hear all of this again, so he called all of the same players together. Unfortunately, he could not make it to Wollongong so we all had to traipse up to Sydney. Up we went and laid out all of our case again, hoping for some outcome. And there was absolutely nothing.  

This government has not made a clear, announced policy and plan for the steel industry. I do not envy the member for Grey his position. It is a tough policy area—we all understand that; we have been through it for many years now—but you need to have a commitment to industry policy and you have to have a clearly articulated policy for the steel sector. It is a strategically important sector, and it is also significantly important to the regions where it operates. We have not seen that from the government. We have seen sound bites and half announcements, but there is no coordinated strategic approach.  

By comparison, Bill Shorten and Kim Carr attended the BlueScope site with me and the member for Throsby and our candidate for Gilmore, Fiona Phillips, and announced a plan—a full plan of six significant initiatives to give a future to our steel industry. That is what is required. That is what we need—not a minister who thinks the Port Kembla Steelworks is in the electorate of Gilmore, or a minister who thinks he can make a simple announcement and get away with it. It is simply not enough. (Time expired)