Transcript - ABC Illawarra - Steel, 21 April, 2016

JOURNALIST: Joining me now is Sharon Bird, the Labor MP for Cunningham, Sharon Bird good morning.. 

BIRD:           Good morning Tony 

JOURNALIST: Why did the ALP side with the Coalition and vote down Senator Lambie’s motion on Tuesday evening? 

BIRD:           Let’s just clarify what happened in the Senate that evening. There were actually three steel industry motions debated, remembering of course, these motions hold no power over government decision making. They are just an opportunity for people to put their policy on the agenda in the Senate and have that explained. There were actually three motions, one by the Independents, of putting what they believe is the appropriate policy forward. One by the Greens putting their policy forward and one by Labor in which we put our policy forward which was what Bill announced when he was down here the other week. I didn’t think it would surprise anybody that the way we vote is in support of our policy position which is what we did. 

Importantly I suppose we need to understand the debate allows people a couple of minutes, at most, to make points about those particular motions. Kim Carr made it very clear that Labor is committed to a Steel Industry Plan and to delivering a long term future for our steel industry and that is why we put this six point plan together, that is why we came down and announced it in Wollongong at BlueScope and that is the way we voted in support of our policy. 

JOURNALIST: And by doing so has the ALP abandoned workers on the shop floor? 

BIRD:                     I absolutely reject that argument. The important thing here is people are debating what is the appropriate mechanism? What mechanism they would prefer to have used to keep the steel industry operating into the long term. Kim Carr outlined quite clearly that the policy we are proceeding with, which is to actually look at the Australian standards and make sure they are utilised in all Australian projects, has actually already got proven runs on the board. 

He outlined in South Australia, when the Senate Committee went to Whyalla to take evidence, that the steel advocate in South Australia said that by using that down there they had increased local steel companies winning contracts from 40 per cent to 91 per cent so we do believe that it is good policy that will deliver outcomes. There is no doubt Stephen Jones and I are absolutely committed to supporting our local steel industry, supporting those local jobs and we will continue to do that. 

JOURNALIST: Wayne Phillips also said that federal politicians who won’t mandate for at least 90 per cent Australian steel, to be used in federal government projects, are hiding behind Trade Agreements or using them as an excuse for not being able to do so. Do our existing Trade Agreements prevent such a mandate? 

BIRD:           Look the trade agreement issue is one that is raised quite regularly. For me, I would argue that what we need to achieve is the outcome that we want, which is our local steel producers winning contracts to do the work. Now we believe, we believe that it will work because we have evidence given to committees that it is working in South Australia, that you can achieve that by putting in place these Australian standards. Putting in place the participation plans to make sure for a start that we know where steel is being used and whether it is Australian or not and then making sure we maximise those Australian companies that are missing out getting the chance to get that work. 

To some extent we can go around in circles asking what the mechanism is. I think the really important thing for the industry is actually getting the outcome. The outcome is local Australian steel producers getting the jobs and projects. 

JOURNALIST: Wayne Phillips also said that Senator Lambie’s motion was almost word for word from the South Coast Labour Council and the Australian Workers’ Union submission to the Senate Steel Inquiry when it visited Wollongong on April 1st, do you endorse that submission and its thoughts? 

BIRD:           It probably wouldn’t surprise you that I endorse Labor policy. What is actually being debated, and this is a point that I was just trying to make to you, is that there are different mechanisms to get towards a sustainable long term future for the steel industry. People have been putting those forward and that is good, we should be having that debate. Indeed when Bill Shorten was here, and announced our six point plan, Wayne and some others made the point that it is not exactly what they want but it is a really important and significant step forward. 

The contrast, as we go into the election, is a Liberal government who have done absolutely nothing. I mean in all the time that has gone past, months and months now, since the BlueScope last round decisions where the workers stepped up and did all that they could to ensure the long term future of their plant, the federal Turnbull government have done absolutely nothing. We saw the ridiculous farce where Christopher Pyne made us all traipse up to Sydney to talk about the region and the steel industry and nothing came of it and then he stood up in Parliament and talked about Port Kembla in the seat of Gilmore, he doesn’t even know where we are? 

We will have debate about the best mechanism. Labor is absolutely committed to a steel industry plan and to getting one with a long term future and we face an election where the return of the Turnbull government will see absolutely nothing for those workers or those industries. 

JOURNALIST: Sharon Bird two more quick points before I let you go and thank you for your response this morning to what Wayne Phillips had to say yesterday. You could tell he was passionate and he was angry but what is your response to his threat that his branch of the Australian Workers Union will not provide financial support for local ALP members in future elections campaigns? 

BIRD:           First of all I want to say I have the greatest respect for Wayne and the branch and all the workers. They have been through really tough times and I would be the last one to criticise them for putting forward their case and how they want to see the steel industry go into the future. I think Wayne would understand that we will continue to pursue our Labor policy and we do believe it will deliver for the industry and the decision that the branch make about how they campaign at the election is up to them, I wouldn’t criticise the decision that they make. They can be absolutely assured that Stephen Jones and I will continue to advocate very, very strongly for our local steel industry and our local jobs and we believe that Labor policy will deliver for that. 

JOURNALIST: What would be your message then to Wayne Phillips as he considers resigning his membership of the ALP, the party he loves? 

BIRD:           I’ve had long conversations, many, many times with Wayne and I know his passion and I just hope he makes a decision that he can continue with us but I will respect whatever decisions Wayne makes. 

JOURNALIST: Thank you very much for your time this morning. 

BIRD:           No problems Tony, thank you.