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Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Page: 6968

Steel Industry

Senator COLBECK (Tasmania) (14:42): My question is to the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr. I refer to Prime Minister Gillard's statement of 13 September 2011 that the government's Steel Transformation Plan is 'a bridge to build resilience and competitiveness' in the Australian steel industry. Can the minister confirm that over 80 per cent of steel industry workers are employed in businesses other than BlueScope and OneSteel and that none of those firms qualify for assistance under the Steel Transformation Plan?

Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:42): It would help if Senator Colbeck were actually supporting these measures. If he was actually serious about supporting steel innovation and supporting the steel industry, he would be supporting this scheme. But he is not. This is a clear example of the Liberal Party's view that it is all right to scramble to office on the back of cheap publicity around their alleged sympa­thy for workers in manufacturing without being prepared to do anything about it.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on both sides! The interjections do not help in listening to the answer.

Senator CARR: The $300 million Steel Transformation Plan will encourage investment, it will encourage innovation and it will encourage competitiveness for the Australian steel manufacturing industry. It will help transform the industry through increasing efficiency and by ensuring that the industry is economically sustainable in a low-carbon economy. The additional support is coming through various investments thro­ugh the Jobs and Competitiveness Progr­am and through our research program—where we see, for instance, that the CSIRO is working closely with BlueScope Steel and other steel manufacturers to develop oppor­tunities for further innovation in the industry. It is not just a question of the $300 million we are providing through this scheme but of the hundreds of millions of dollars that are being provided through a whole range of measures that this government is committed to.

Senator Abetz: No.

Senator CARR: It is billions of dollars, Senator. You are actually voting against billions of dollars in support for manufact­uring in this country. You cannot have it both ways. If you vote against the support, you have to wear the responsibility for your turning your back on manufacturing workers of this country, and that is precisely what you are doing. There are billions of dollars in support provided to manufacturing workers through this steel innovation council, through the steel transformation scheme and through the various measures this govern­ment is proposing to pursue through this package of legislation coming into the Senate shortly.

Senator COLBECK (Tasmania) (14:44): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the Gillard government cannot agree as to whether its proposed Steel Transformation Plan will last four, five or six years, will the minister now concede that the government can give no indication of compensation to the steel industry beyond 2015-16 and that the entire funds of the plan could be exhausted within just one year and one day?

Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:45): Senator Colbeck, I just want to be clear about this. You are saying you will not support the industry getting any money at all, and you want to argue the toss about how many years the support goes for. It is an extraordinarily contradictory position. Do you support this scheme or don't you? Do you support providing assistance to the steel industry or don't you? Do you support steelworkers or don't you? These are pretty fundamental questions, Senator, and so far all I have heard from you is that you do not. You are turning your back on the steel industry of this country. You are turning your back on workers of this country.

Senator Brandis: Mr President, I rise on a point of order on direct relevance: the minister has obviously gone nowhere near the question. He was asked a narrow, specific question: will the compensation under the plan run beyond 2015-16? He has not even approached that question.

The PRESIDENT: The minister has 27 seconds remaining to answer the question. Minister, I draw your attention to the question.

Senator CARR: The question is about whether or not we will provide assistance for the out years, and the answer is that we will. We are providing assistance through a range of measures. We are providing assistance on the basis of there being innovation under­taken within the steel industry. We come back to the simple proposition: do you support a steel industry in this country or don't you? All I hear so far is: no, you do not. You do not support workers of this country. You do not support manufacturing. What you do support— (Time expired)

Senator COLBECK (Tasmania) (14:47): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister explain why BlueScope is expanding its operations and its workforce in countries like Indonesia but at the same time pulling back its operations and expansion in Australia? Was Prime Minister Gillard fully aware of the devastating impact the carbon tax would have on Australian industry when she promised there would be no carbon tax under a government she leads?

Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:47): I have explained that we are providing $300 million of assistance, which is out over the five-year period; I have explained that we are part of a broader set of measures that are not just confined to the $300 million; and all I have heard from those opposite is that they will not support it. What I have also heard from BlueScope and from OneSteel is that decisions in regard to the redundancy have absolutely nothing whatso­ever to do with the question of the climate change legislation. They were very explicit about that, very direct and very much to the point. It is a pity you did not hear them.

But workers of this country are now listening to you, and they want to know where you stand in terms of your support for the working people of this country. All I have heard so far is that you are not prepared to back the steelworkers of this country and you are not really prepared to back manu­facturing workers of this country. All you want to do is to move the legislation to make it easier to sack them. Your only interest in blue-collar workers is whether or not you can get a cheap headline for the short term. You have no interest in the long-term future of working people of this country. (Time expired)