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Tuesday, 23 August 2011
Page: 5183

Steel Industry


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (14:27): Mr President, my question is to the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr. I refer the minister to yesterday's advance of $100 million to BlueScope Steel under the $300 million Steel Transformation Plan. Can the minister explain what the government will do to compensate workers in the steel industry for lost jobs in later years under the carbon tax when at least a third of the funding allocated to transformation in the industry has already been used a year before the tax has even begun?


Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:28): I thank Senator Fierravanti-Wells for her question. Your question would come with greater force if you had actually signed up to the steel industry transformation scheme. The coalition has yet to agree to support the steel industry transformation scheme and has yet to support any practical measures in this parliament to support clean technology programs, which are of course at the core of the transformation that is required in Australian industry to be able to adjust to the circumstances that are developing within the Australian economy and allow us, as an economy and as a society, to actually build new enterprises and transform our existing enterprises to meet the challenges of climate change and meet the challenges that we are facing in terms of the major global restructuring of manufacturing.

Senator, I am somewhat amazed that you would have the audacity to ask a question about our position on the steel industry innovation programs such as we have with the steel industry transformation scheme. What we have done is provide assistance to BlueScope to allow it to make the necessary adaptations, modifications and transforma¬≠tions to ensure the long-term viability of the company. What we have done is provide financial support to the company—if it is required, Senator—to ensure that the company has the opportunity to improve its financial health and to secure the jobs of thousands of Australian workers, a policy position which you have rejected. So it is extraordinary that you should have the gall to— (Time expired)


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (14:30): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I look forward to Minister Carr's next visit to Wollongong. I am sure it will be very welcoming. If the government is arguing, as it did yesterday, that the announcements at BlueScope have no connection with the looming threat of a carbon tax—

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: I remind senators that questions should not be prefaced by a statement. Senator Fierravanti-Wells, I could not hear your question, so I am going to ask you to do it again, because of interjections on my right.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you, Mr President. If the government is arguing, as it did yesterday, that the announcements at BlueScope have no connection with the looming threat of a carbon tax, then why is it raiding a fund that has been designed specifically to deal with the impact of that very tax?




Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:31): Thank you, Senator, for that question. When I next go to Wollongong—and I do on numerous occasions—I will have great pleasure, enormous pleasure, in explaining how you have taken the attitude that you do not support the steel industry transformation scheme, how your attitude is to vote against support for workers in the Illawarra, how it is your view that workers can get on by themselves. I will be only too happy to explain, Senator, your contempt for working people in the Illawarra and your attitude, which, of course, is essentially to say, 'Let's stand back and hold out against the tide in regard to what's occurring within the global economy.' We are in the business of standing shoulder to shoulder with the workers in the Illawarra. We are in the business of standing shoulder to shoulder with the Illawarra communities. We are in the business of standing shoulder to shoulder with manufacturers across this country. Your policy is to make it easier to sack them. (Time expired)


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (14:32): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. If the plan has now been reduced to providing an average of just $40 million annually when Treasury originally assessed that at least $75 million would be required each year, how can this possibly provide adequate compen­sation for the job-destroying carbon tax?


Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:33): Senator, all I can do is point to the statements made by the company itself, that the actions of the company were about restructuring its operation to improve its financial health and were due to global circumstances which were reflected in the price of the dollar, reflected in the price of raw materials and reflected in the fact that it was facing intense import competition. What the company itself said was that its decision had nothing whatsoever to do with the pricing of carbon.

What we have, of course, is an opportunity to use the policies that we are undertaking to deal with the challenges of climate change to allow us to retool manufacturing right across this country. This is actually an economic opportunity to invest in the jobs of the future, to ensure that we have a competitive position so that blue-collar workers have high-skilled, high-wage job opportunities into the future. Your policy is to stand against that. Your policy is to oppose the economic opportunities that working people have a right to expect from this parliament. (Time expired)