23 April 2021


SUBJECTS: Labor's Rebuilding Australia Fund, Hydrogen Hubs

STEPHEN JONES, MEMBER FOR WHITLAM: Great to be here with Sharon Bird at Bisalloy Steel. I want to thank Glenn and his team for showing us around the facility this morning, but also talking to us about some of the challenges and opportunities facing local manufacturing. Bisalloy are producing world class hardened steel. It’s used in the defence industry, it’s used in the mining industry, it’s used in the civil construction industry. We want to ensure that operations like [Bisalloy] are able to expand. We want to ensure that they’re able to modernise their plant and equipment. And we want to ensure that we’re able to build a big ecosystem of engineering and fabricating businesses in the Illawarra and throughout Australia.

That’s why Labor has announced our $15 billion Rebuilding Australia Fund. Over the last two decades we’ve seen too many businesses and too many jobs go offshore. During the pandemic we’ve realised how vulnerable that leaves our economy, how vulnerable that leaves our workforce, and I think that’s a wakeup call. We’ve got to rebuild Australia by investing in engineering and manufacturing. Great businesses like Bisalloy can be a part of that process. Already world leaders in producing hardened steel, we have the capacity to do much more than this. So Labor’s $15 billion Rebuilding Australia Fund will be a key part of reboosting manufacturing and engineering in the Illawarra and throughout the country. I’d also like to say a few words about the announcement Scott Morrison made yesterday in the Hunter Valley. It’s not 6 months since Scott Morrison came to the Illawarra, stood up at Bluescope, and made an announcement about Newcastle. About improving energy efficiency throughout our industry, particularly heavy industry. Once again Scott Morrison has forgotten about the Illawarra. He stood up in Newcastle yesterday and made an announcement about the future of hydrogen hubs in this country. What is extraordinary is that the NSW Government, local businesses, and national businesses have identified the Illawarra and Port Kembla as a key hub for the production and development of hydrogen as an energy [source]. If all of these businesses and the NSW Government get it, why doesn’t Scott Morrison? Why was the Illawarra excluded as one of the key hydrogen hubs when he made that announcement yesterday? It’s not good enough. The people of the Illawarra are being left behind again by the Morrison Government. We have so much to offer. All we need is a bit of courage and imagination from the Prime Minister and his government.

JOURNALIST: Hydrogen has been sold as a major transitional sector for our local heavy industry workers. What does this snub mean for them?

JONES: The key to having Port Kembla and the Illawarra as a hydrogen hub is the government, the experts, scientists, all acknowledge that you need to have your hydrogen production and development facilities located alongside the big users. And the big users are Bluescope. The big users are local manufacturing. Down the track, if we don’t have access to locally sourced, cheap hydrogen, then those businesses are going to have to consider whether they’re locating here. So it’s not about the next month. It’s not about the next year. But it is about the next decade, and ensuring that we’re transforming the Illawarra economy with the energy suppliers, the skills, and the businesses that’ll keep engineering and manufacturing going in this country for decades to come.

JOURNALIST: Take us through the National Reconstruction Plan. How will it work?

JONES: Labor wants to ensure that we are working with businesses to reboot manufacturing and engineering in this country. Too many jobs have gone offshore. Labor’s idea - $15 billion worth of National Infrastructure Fund. Unlike the government’s pork barrelling Grants funds, we’d put in place an independent board with regular grants programs done on a business basis to ensure whether it’s a grant, whether it’s a loan, whether it’s co-investment, whether it’s joint equity projects, we have a business case run over all of these projects. Sharon and I are confident that businesses like Bisalloy, manufacturers in the Illawarra will stack up because we’ve got the skills, the ability. All we need is to work with government to make them kick off.

JOURNALIST: Is this similar to the Government’s HomeBuilder initiative?

JONES: The thing that’s very going to be very different with Labor’s fund: It’s $15 billion. It will work in perpetuity. It will work on the same basis as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. We have business decisions made at arms’ length from government, which are investing in enterprises, technologies and innovations that are going to grow the Australian economy and our workforce. So we’re not going to have this situation where you have National Party style pork barrelling where money is squandered on projects that don’t stack up. You’ll have money available to business on a co-investment, on a grants basis, on a co-equity basis, to ensure that we are helping business to help grow our economy and our workforce.

JOURNALIST: What did Bisalloy say to you that they need to go forward? What signal and what programs do they need to transition as well? I imagine they’re thinking about their future.

JONES: Sharon and I asked the managers of Bisalloy what they needed to take the next step forward. A couple of things came up. They’re looking at energy. They’re looking at how they can do more and expand their process – more value added for what they’re currently producing. But the problem with the existing grant funds is it’s so sporadic. You might get notice on a Monday to get an application in by Friday. It means quality applications aren’t coming forward and businesses have got to drop everything – drop their main game – to be a part of the action. That’s not good enough if you want serious projects coming forward and serious programs. We’ve got to do this on a business basis. We’ve got to do this on a commercial basis and operate in the same way that a commercial organisation would. Therefore serious timelines, ongoing grant programs, and business acumen running it.

JOURNALIST: Just to the budget issue. What commitmenet will Labor make to this region at a federal level about a hydrogen fund?

JONES: We don’t want to wait until the next election. Money is being spent over the next 12 months. We’re calling on Scott Morrison and the Liberals to ensure that-

JOURNALIST: Shouldn’t you roll out your plan now too? We could be in an election in November. What are you going to do?

JONES: We won’t be in an election until March next year. Let’s be fair dinkum about that. We’ve been announcing our policies on a step-by-step basis. If you look at the policy that Scott Morrison is rolling out over the last 12 months, it was the policy that Labor took to the last election on hydrogen. Establish hydrogen hubs, ensure that we are in the business of research and technology in hydrogen. Scott Morrison had no policy of his own going into the last election. He copied Labor’s. You don’t need a photocopy, go to the original. We’re developing the policies that will ensure that we have hydrogen industry and the manufacturing that that will enable in this country.

JOURNALIST: Can you criticise what they’re doing though if you’re not putting anything on the table?

JONES: There’s 12 months to the next election. Let me go to your direct issue though, about not putting anything on the table. Already we have announced a childcare plan to ensure that women are able to go back to the workforce, boosting economic capacity. We’ve announced Rewiring the Nation to ensure that we are connecting renewable energy generation to the places where it’s being used. Today we’re talking about the $15 billion dollar Rebuilding Australia Fund, a key part of which is ensuring that we are able to retool businesses for the energy needs of the future and invest in hydrogen technology, hydrogen production and hydrogen distribution. All a key part of that fund.

SHARON BIRD, MEMBER FOR CUNNINGHAM: I will add my thanks to Bisalloy and the team here for having us today. This business has 40 years of history in the Illawarra. We’ve met operators just this morning who’ve said [they] came in when [they] were 20, and I think they’ll allow me to say that it’s quite a few decades later and they’re still here, working in good quality, highly skilled jobs with an employer that values their local employment base. This is an exact example of the sorts of manufacturing and production companies that developed in this region because we had a major steelworks here. It’s that ecosystem that’s created so many businesses, and at the end of the day, so many good quality jobs. Now we can, as a government, work cooperatively with those businesses as they face the challenges that come towards them in the future, the energy transition challenges, the pressures on local manufacturing. We’ve seen in the last 12 months with the COVID experience, how important having domestic manufacturing is. Well you can’t just say it’s not sustainable in Australia, for one reason or another, and let it go. Because we need to have foundation manufacturing happening in this country. So governments need to get back in this space. That’s why I think Labor’s commitment to this $15 billion fund, to work in partnership with local businesses as they look to expand and diversify their production, transform how they do business, their energy usage – those sorts of things need to be done in partnership with governments because great local people like we’ve just met here this morning have good jobs, and they’re great local businesses, and we want to see them continue for another 40 years.

JOURNALIST: It’s the future of your community, your workers. Are you hoping they put a hydrogen hub plan on the table? What are you telling Labor they need to do?

BIRD: Absolutely. I advocate for my local area all the time in partnership with Stephen and we’ll continue to do that. I think the really important thing out of what we’re talking about today is that if you have local businesses who want to take advantage of what’s happening with hydrogen locally, and let’s face it, there are businesses who, regards to what the Federal Government is doing, are acting in this space, we need to be partnering with them as well further down the chain. Companies like Bisalloy, who may want to reconfigure their own energy use as new opportunities become available. And so I think it’s really important to do the headline stuff, such as getting the Federal Government to recognise the opportunities and what’s already happening with hydrogen in our local area, but I also think it’s important that you ensure that the benefits of that flow more broadly through your local industry. And that’s exactly what we’re looking at today with Bisalloy, other manufacturers and fabricators, and this particular fund.