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Monday, 25 February 1985
Page: 108


Senator MAGUIRE —I direct my question to the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce. What were the major matters raised in the December 1984 report of the Steel Industry Authority? How is the Government's steel industry plan progressing? What levels of steel production were achieved at Port Kembla and Newcastle in New South Wales and at Whyalla in South Australia during 1984?


Senator BUTTON —The report of the Steel Industry Authority for the quarter ending December 1984 was given to the Government at the end of last year or early this year. I am not able to give the honourable senator, as he requested, details by steel mill of the precise levels of production. However, I can say that annual production in the steel industry is now running at about 6 million tonnes, which is close to the operating capacity of the Australian steel industry. Production in the period January to November 1984 increased by 11 per cent over the same period in 1983. More importantly, productivity in the steel industry is now exceeding initial targets and is currently averaging 254 tonnes per employee per annum. Honourable senators will remember that at the time the steel industry plan was announced the Government had the goal of attaining a productivity rate of 250 tonnes per employee per annum in the first year of the plan. That has been exceeded. Employment in the steel division--


Senator Peter Rae —What is the attrition rate?


Senator BUTTON —I was coming to that. At the end of 1984 employment was 24,196 compared with 25,206 in January 1984. Those employment reductions were all achieved by natural attrition.

Profits for the steel division of the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd for 1983-84 were $97m. The company, in accordance with the steel industry plan, has announced major items of investment which include a continuous slab caster at Port Kembla costing $146m and a continuous bloom caster at Newcastle, which I think was announced two or three weeks ago, at a cost of $90m. The investment by the company in the first year of the steel plan is now at about four-fifths or more of the total investment level promised by the company in terms of the overall parameters of the steel plan in the course of five years. So that result has been obtained in a little over one year.

I should say in respect of the safety mechanism provided by the steel plan that there have been problems with an increase in the level of imports of particular categories of steel, and the category of cold rolled strip and sheet continues to be below the 80 per cent level provided in the steel industry plan. Nonetheless, the overwhelming situation of the industry is very healthy, and the Steel Industry Authority will report shortly on those areas where the market share has fallen below 80 per cent in 1984.