JIM CHALMERS MP
MEMBER FOR RANKIN
CHRIS BOWEN MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY
MEMBER FOR MCMAHON
ED HUSIC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND INNOVATION
MEMBER FOR CHIFLEY
SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES AND SUPERANNUATION
MEMBER FOR WHITLAM
SHARON BIRD MP
MEMBER FOR CUNNINGHAM
BLUESCOPE STEEL, PORT KEMLBA
FRIDAY, 19TH MARCH 2021
SUBJECTS: The future of Australian steel; Scott Morrison’s latest rort; Job Keeper; skilled migration.
SHARON BIRD: First of all, I'd like to thank the BlueScope team for hosting us here. We were of course pressing their hosting skills in October last year and we had to Labor leader Anthony Albanese is here as well. And Sue and I really are thrilled to be able to be joined by our senior economic team to talk to BlueScope and get an understanding. This is in our region and we know how significantly important it is, the employment, the opportunities that are created here in BlueScope directly but also many of the manufacturers and fabricators in our region who are intimately connected to the wellbeing of BlueScope. So this is so important as part about policy formulation to have our team down about looking directly at the local BlueScope people so thank you to the BlueScope team. I’m going to ask Stephen to introduce my colleagues but I want to say I do appreciate taking the time between two sitting weeks so they actually come here and see directly what’s going on here in our community, it’s very much appreciated by ourselves. Why don’t you tell us who we’ve got here today.
STEPHEN JONES: Thanks very much Sharon, great to be here with my friend and colleague Sharon Bird, the Member for Cunningham. We’ve go Chris Bowen here who’s Labor’s Spokesperson for Energy and Climate Change. We’ve got Jim Chalmers, the Shadow Treasurer. We've got Ed Husic, who is our Shadow Minister for Industry. Steel is in the DNA of the Illawarra and it’s in Labor’s DNA. It employees directly four and a half thousand people throughout the Illawarra probably indirectly over 10,000 people. Critical to the local economy critical to the identity of the Illawarra. It's going through some good times at the moment. Steel prices are going well. And there's a lot of building activity going on and therefore the Illawarra steel works, it's going incredibly well. We know that if you've been around for a long time, you've seen ups and downs in the steel industry, and we know that things are going to change over the decades ahead. Labor is committed to ensuring that we still have a steel industry in Australia and a steelworks in Port Kembla employing thousands of local workers in good jobs well into the future. That means we need to do the planning to look after jobs today, to ensure that we are well positioned for the steel making processes of the future. And that was the purpose of getting Labor’s core economic team down to Port Kembla today to have direct discussions with the people who are directly responsible for making steel. So we had a good briefing with John and his team. We had a good briefing with the AWU and the workers supporting this morning as well. We’re keen to ensure that an alternative Government, an Albanese Labor Government, has a plan to work in partnership with Bluescope and the steel industry to ensure that we are still making steel for decades to come. Thank you very much. I'll ask Jim Chalmers to make some comments.
JIM CHALMERS: Thanks very much Stephen, and thanks to BlueScope particularly for having us here today, for all the thought you're putting into reducing your emissions, but most of all for all the jobs and opportunities that you provide people in Illawarra. We support steel jobs because we want a future made in Australia. If we're going to have those jobs and we're going to have that future, we need to get procurement right and training right, we need to get the investment climate right so that the good work that is happening here can be replicated right around Australia. But what is really missing from the Federal Government is a plan for jobs. This Morrison Government has a plan to cut Job Keeper, to cut wages, to cut super and they've got a budget which is riddled with rorts. But what's missing is a genuine national jobs plan to make sure that we can have those secure well-paid jobs with fair entitlements into the future, so that we can do what the good people at BlueScope are doing, which is provide those jobs and opportunities. And what we discovered during the week is that so much of that Job Keeper money is being wasted on businesses that don't need it, which is preventing the Morrison Government from supporting small businesses and workers that need it. So instead of the Government chasing ideological outcomes on industrial relations, instead of them cutting wages and super and Job Keeper, instead of splashing money around in a budget riddled with rorts, what you really need to see is to get energy policy right, procurement policy and investment policy right so we can support the good work that's happening here, so we can see those jobs and opportunities created right around the country. I’ll hand you over to Ed Husic.
ED HUSIC: Thanks Jim, thanks to Shaz and Jonesy for organising this today. It's been a real pleasure to tour this facility. And as someone whose Dad was welder for nearly 50 years, I can tell you one of the things he valued most was Australian-made steel. I don't want to tell you that words he applied to imported steel, we’ll keep this fresh and clean today. But I like a lot of steelworkers, a lot of metalworkers, he valued Australian steel. And if you look at BlueScope, BlueScope’s history is one of evolution. It's one of thinking ahead about what needs to be done to keep steelmaking going in this country so that we have great Australian made steel used in so many ways. And as Jonesy said earlier, he mentioned that at the moment things are good. And there is a lot of potential longer term with respect to the future of steel making this country and that evolution we've heard about today from the team here at BlueScope. But you need to have a Government that's on your side and particularly on the side of Australian steel making. We got a lot of words used by the Federal Government, a lot of statements made about manufacturing. But their heart is never in it when it matters most. And in particular, I think of those steel workers and those manufacturing workers down in Portland Victoria the moment that work with outfits like Capital Prints that gets supply steel from right here from BlueScope who are wondering why the Federal Government isn't stepping in and ensuring that think that bodies like Snowy Hydro are using more Australian steel in the wind farms that have been are going to generate energy used by Snowy Hydro. And I also wonder too about what might happen in Whyalla, there’s big concerns now about what might happen down there. And the Government is not said, even though it's spend time with Greensills that are now the cause of so much concern about what might happen in Whyalla. The Federal Government, the Prime Minister and the former Finance Minister can sit down with Greensills but I just wonder if they're applying the time to think about the future of steel making jobs in Whyalla that are effected as result of what we've seen there. Again, we need to have, and as Jim said, thinking about procurement thinking about supporting Aussie jobs making sure that that's a reality. This is the stuff that needs to happen. And we do need a Government that's on the side of Aussie steel making in particular, the workers that make it livelihoods from it. And I’ll hand over to Chris Bowen.
CHRIS BOWEN: Thanks Ed. As everyone has said this has been a really important visit. As we transform our economy to a renewable economy, we’re going to need steel and lots of it. As we rebuild, as we build renewable energy infrastructure, that will take steel and we want to see Australian steel dominating that market. Just need to do with one other matter before we take questions. Overnight would see the latest revelations, the latest rort from the Morrison Government. A damning National Audit Office report into the Collinsville coal-fired power station feasibility study. Angus Taylor has been responsible for the worst administration of public funds you could possibly imagine, and that comes as no surprise. Angus Taylor is the most scandal prone minister in a crowded field in the Morrison cabinet. The audit office has not held any criticism back. They find that this feasibility study has not met Government procurement guidelines, has not been in keeping with good fiscal management and has been administered in a totally inappropriate way by Angus Taylor. This was a political fixed by Scott Morrison in the leadup to the last election to mislead the voters of Northern Queensland that he would deliver a coal fired power station. Instead, he delivered a feasibility study and the Audit Office has found he won't even deliver that. Half a feasibility study, $3m given to a company which has never built a power station and doesn't have the funds to do it. Angus Taylor should hang his head in shame and Scott Morrison should join him. On the day that the Senate committee has reported on sport rorts, now we find another rort. It appears that this is a weekly occurrence under the Morrison Government. Rort after rort after rort. Cheap politics before substance and an eye on the political spin cycle, not the economic future of North Queensland. This comes as no surprise and Angus Taylor’s hands and his maladministration, the worst Cabinet Minister in a very crowded field. Now, I'm going to take your easy questions. Jim and Ed are going to take a the hard questions.
REPORTER: This would be to anyone, you’re talking about steel procurement. Are you actually so far as putting a mandate for minimum use of Australian steel?
HUSIC: So we want to look at the use of procurement in ways that can support Australian manufacturing and that is part of our process right now. We think that the Government though is in the box seat. They can make the call. They have Snowy Hydro there that will draw power from some of these wind farms that are being built right now. And it was a deep concern to me than 150 jobs in (indistinct) that might be affected by the refusal of Snowy Hydro the press the case for Aussie steel. And again, the question has to be asked why isn't the Morrison Government stepping forward and providing that level of security? I know for a fact that they will ask beforehand. They have been lobbying, people have gone to Canberra. They've been asking for the support. They've been hoping that the Government can back them in. And again the Government is always there saying that they back manufacturing but here is the test. Will they do it right now? And that's what we really need to see regardless of, you know, obviously the policies that we take to the election are very important. But the actions that could be taken right now will mean the world to a lot of people.
REPORTER: What about actual, would you if you're in Government have a mandated minimum for Australian steel?
HUSIC: I would love to be able to make the announcement but I have to work with the Shadow Finance Minister who has the overall control of procurement policy. And these are conversations that we've had in the opposition and are having in opposition. But again, I make the point by the time we get to that that point in time when the election’s being held and people are making decisions, I do worry that the process of time will proceed as such that the support is not provided right now by the Federal Government to make this happen and we actually think they should be stepping forward to give that surity.
BOWEN: Had a great talk with BlueScope today about the opportunities and the challenges of green steel going forward, their efforts to ensure as much of the energy supply is renewable as possible, bearing in mind the need to keep very reliable firmed power coming to this plan 24/7. So, I see this is very much not only BlueScope but across the board Australian industry, a partnership between Government and industry to ensure that these heavy industries, these trade-exposures industries, can meet their commitment, their obligation to reach net zero as soon as possible, and as a nation, we make it net zero by 2050. So there are great opportunities, we discussed some of those today. There's more discussions to be had. I found the briefing today are very informative as we go through our policy development proposals and we'll have more to say coming weeks and months about how we can work with industry to ensure net zero by 2050.
BOWEN: Before the election, we’ll be dropping policy before the election. But today has been a good discussion talking about, you know, you hear a lot about green steel. That's a process. We need to have steps along the way towards green steel. Green steel as we go, making advances as we move towards that. But BlueScope is already getting more of its energy from renewable sources. Like many industries they need to have firmed reliable power as well. They are doing the hard yards as they take his heavy industry and turn it into more renewables enterprise and they deserve the support of Government as they do. So Government shouldn't ignore the challenge. If you set the national target of net zero by 2050, that's the essential starting point for then working with industry. If you don't have that essential starting point, which more than 120 countries around the world have, every developed nation has except for Australia. Now I say except for Australia, the nation actually has set that target. Every state and territory, Labor and Liberal. All the big companies, the BCA. The only people who haven’t are the Federal Government, Scott Morrison’s Government. They are the ones who haven't come to the party. And the Anthony Albanese Labor Government will.
BOWEN: Well it’s not viable yet. Nobody’s pretending that it is. There's lots of technology which shows great potential to be commercially available, but it not yet. The key to making it commercially viable is working together. CSIRO doing the pure research, industry working with ARENA and the CFC to make that more commercial.
BOWEN: Well, we're looking at all sorts of options including you know, we've got the existing cfc which we defended, which we created and we defended including as late as this sitting as the Government tried to undermine it. They've got a CFC bill which would have diluted the purpose of the CFC which you will never see again because of infighting in the Government and Labor’s opposition to it. So we’ll defend the CFC, we’ll defend ARENA we’ll defend CSIRO funding and we will work constructively with industry and get their feedback as we have this morning as to what good Government policy frameworks and support look like.
BOWEN: Look good discussions this morning as Jim and Ed said, and Stephen and Sharon and the AWU and also with BlueScope. But more broadly I've had these discussions in my two months in the portfolio across country with workers, in coal-fired power stations last week in Billaweela at a coal mine in Emerald in Queensland. And I'll tell you what every single worker I've spoken to whether it's here or in central Queensland has said to me, what's next? We want to know what's next. We want to know the plan for moving to a low emission economy. Every single one of them has accepted that it's going to happen. Every single one of them knows that the economy needs to move toward more renewable footing. And every single one of them I've spoken to who understands this great opportunity their jobs for the future that the jobs will change and these work will change but there will be massive opportunities for them and for their kids. As we invest massively energy generation, we need to generate more electricity not less. We need to electrify many things which currently are driven by electric power. And we need to make that generation carbon neutral. And we need to upgrade our grid as we do so the energy can get from the massive power, solar farms and wind farms around the country in to the grid, which is going to take massive investment including from our Rewiring The Nation fund which Anthony Albanese announced last year. All these create opportunities, but for those opportunities to be realised we need the proper policy framework and only Labor with will deliver that.
BOWEN: I don’t see these things as a risk, I see these thing as important opportunities for the alternative Government and for the country. And to your question, I think it is a good thing that Anthony Albanese’s been here and we’ve got such a senior team here at the invitation of Stephen and Sharon. That's not something to defend, that’s something to embrace because as we've going through the work of announcing our policies. And frankly, you're seeing more policy from us than from the Government in this space. And very soon as I said the rewiring the nation fund and you’ll see more in coming weeks and months. We've got a lot more to say and do but we’re going to be formed by the best possible expertise including, expertise in steelmaking here at BlueScope.
BOWEN: Well, I’m not here to speak for BlueScope. We had a good discussion about some of the opportunities that are there for potential for Government and industry to work together, potential for Government and industry to ensure the framework for private investment decisions to be made. And as I said before, I mean here you have a Government botching their ham fisted attempt for a coal-fired power station in North Queensland being called out for maladministration by the Auditor General and an alternative Government listing to industry, listing the workers, talking about the future and the opportunities available.
CHALMERS: Not for once second, we’ve been entirely consistent. When it comes to steel jobs, we support steel jobs because demand for steel is rising and we want Australians to get a bigger slice of the action. When it comes to traditional blue collar jobs, we are the party of blue collar workers. It’s a point that Joel’s made, it’s a point that every single one of us has made in different ways over the years. Our task is to make sure that we manage the changes in our economy in a way that benefits Australian workers, no matter what industry they might be in or what part of Australia. That's why we spent so much time consulting with businesses and employers who are around Australia.
CHALMERS: Well that was a humiliating back down by the Government when it comes to their industrial relations changes. This is the inevitable outcome when you try and cut people's wages, attack their job security and make their conditions less fair. And the senate did the right and responsible thing in standing against those efforts and those objectives. The Government had to gut their own bill and all that's left now is less job security for casual workers in this country, when that was one of the defining problems in our economy already. And what the Government is trying to do is to use this pandemic as an excuse to come after people's wages and job security. The senate did the right and responsible thing in resisting that. The Government will come back again and again and again because it a tax on wages and job security are in their DNA. And we’ll do the right thing by Australian workers at every single turn.
CHALMERS: Well, there are two million Australians who are either unemployed or can't find the hours they need to support their loved ones, and there's about a million Australians still on the Job Keeper payment. The Government's cuts to Job Keeper at the end of this month will cut jobs. The future of the Job Keeper payment is in the Government's hands, and so any job losses which flow from those Job Keeper cuts will be on their heads. The Treasury thinks something like 100,00 jobs will be lost. The Commonwealth Bank, 110,000. One of Australia's most respected labour economist says it might be much more than that. We hope that that doesn't happen. We hope that the job losses do not fire the Job Keeper cuts. But most people expect that they will. And what we say to the Government is instead of spraying all this money around on businesses that don't need Job Keeper, if they hadn't done that, then they could afford to support struggling workers and small businesses for a little while longer. Nobody is asking for Job Keeper to go on forever. What we are saying is tailor Job Keeper to the economic conditions. That means for some industries some workers some small businesses still impacted by the closure of the international border or by social distancing and other pandemic related things, there's a case for a little bit more support for a little bit longer. And yesterday we had the unemployment figures come out. We've always welcomed the creation of new jobs, but we need a bit of perspective here. Still two million unemployed or underemployed. Still a million on Job Keeper. Still a lot of work to do as we recover from this recession and still I really need for the kind of jobs plan that we've been talking with you about today.
CHALMERS: First of all there's a role in an economy like ours for skilled migrants at times, but the overwhelming priorities right now needs to be the two million Australians who can't find a job or enough hours and all of those Australians who are stranded overseas. This is a Government which is so spectacularly out of touch, that when we've got an employment and underemployment and we've got Australians who can't get home, their highest priority is skilled migration. There's a role for skilled migration in our economy, but the highest priority needs to be getting people home and getting people jobs. This Government is leaving too many Australian stranded overseas, stranded in unemployment and stranded in underemployment.
CHALMERS: We've said at various times, really for some time, that we need to get the settings right when it comes to skilled migration. We need to get the mix right. Obviously migration in an economy like ours is incredibly important when you consider absent migration before COVID there wouldn't have been any economic growth whatsoever. So we have always understood the role of migration. You need to get the mix right need to get your priorities right. And the priority right now needs to be two million Australians unemployed or underemployed, a million on Job Keeper and tens of thousands of Australians that Scott Morrison said he would get home from overseas and has been unable or unwilling to do. All we're asking for from this Government this get your priorities right. Don't be so out of touch with what's going on in the Labor market and the people who are stuck. Don't leave Australians stranded in unemployment or underemployment.