Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Page: 8592

Senator MILNE (TasmaniaDeputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (20:10): I rise tonight to remark on the Steel Transformation Plan Bill 2011. I note the absolute hypocrisy of the coalition and point out that the facts are quite contrary to what has been said here tonight. With or without a carbon price, this Steel Transformation Plan Bill is industry assistance and would have been required even if there had been no carbon price because of the high Australian dollar, the consequences of the global financial crisis and the situation that the Australian steel industry finds itself in.

The hypocrisy is extraordinary and I am looking forward to Senator Edwards going up to Whyalla in South Australia and telling the people at OneSteel why he opposed any injection of finance in keeping OneSteel operational in South Australia. And it will be interesting to see because the Leader of the Opposition went up to Whyalla and made a great news story about the fact that Whyalla would be razed to dust. I am sure that Minister Carr, the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, who is sitting here tonight, can recall the media coverage of the leader of the coalition up there—

Senator Edwards interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Cameron ): Senator Edwards, you cannot make interjections if you are not in your chair.

Senator MILNE: Mr Acting Deputy President will recall the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, going up to Whyalla and telling them they would be razed to dust. He got a great ovation there, but I wonder if Senator Edwards will get the same ovation when he goes up there and tells them that he will not support the $300 million Steel Transformation Plan.

Equally, I wonder whether Senator Nash, who was in this chamber earlier, is going to go down to the Illawarra and tell the people there that she is not prepared to support the $300 million Steel Transformation Plan. The scenario is that under carbon pricing the steel industry is going to get compensation under the energy-intensive, trade-exposed compen­sation plan. It is getting that already. This is a government-only initiative that came out of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, because in that committee we said that our job is to compensate for the level of trade exposure as a result of a carbon price; it is not the job of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee to look at industry assistance beyond neutralising the impact of the carbon price.

However, the government stood firm and said that the steel industry in Australia is in trouble. It is in trouble because of the legacy of the global financial crisis. It is in trouble because of the high dollar. It is in trouble because it cannot compete with cheap imports—as a result, I have to say, of free trade agreements which the government and the coalition are mad keen on and which the Greens have pointed out for years are undermining Australian industry.

Having said that, that is why we have this Steel Transformation Plan. And that is why we Greens reserved our judgment. We said, in exactly the same way as has been pointed out tonight, that it is not just the steel industry suffering because of the high dollar and it is not just the steel industry that is suffering as a consequence of the legacy of the global financial crisis, so why pick this industry? But, having picked this industry, this transformation plan—$300 million over four years—is about keeping steel manufacturing in Australia.

The reality is that if we are going to get an energy transformation to renewables in Australia we need Australian made steel. One of the issues here is that not only do we need Australia made steel but we need to seriously look at the standards against which imported steel is measured. What we are hearing, from both OneSteel and BlueScope Steel, is that imported steel does not meet minimum standards that Australian steel is required to meet and that a level playing field would go some way to assist. Having said that, one of the things that really undermined BlueScope Steel in the course of this discussion was that, on the very day or the day after the Steel Transformation Plan was announced, BlueScope Steel announced a massive bonus scheme for its executives. In fact, Paul O'Malley pocketed $712,000, on top of his $2 million salary, at the time he was sacking 1,000 workers and 300 contractors. I ask you, Mr Acting Deputy President: how can workers in Australia accept the fact that an industry says it is in trouble and needs government assistance, the government comes with $300 million over four years, and then, almost thumbing its nose at government and that request, the executive team says, 'We have now secured government support so we can reward ourselves with this massive bonus across our executive team'?

I asked to see BlueScope Steel, and when they came into my office I asked them how they could justify doing that. They said: 'Well, they're two entirely separate matters, Senator. One is our performance bonus scheme for our executive; the other, of course, is our support in the face of the consequences of the global financial crisis, the high dollar et cetera.' I pointed out to them that, as far as the Australian public, the 1,000 workers and the 300 contractors are concerned, it is precisely the same issue. It demonstrates why in Australia we need a great deal more accountability in terms of executive salaries vis-a-vis the wages and conditions of workforces.

We are talking about the realities of Australian manufacturing in a global, competitive environment in which Australian manufacturing is struggling to remain competitive, with low-wage economy comp­etition, no enforcement of a level playing field in standards and of course our high dollar brought on by the minerals boom. So I was very pleased to see the Green Jobs Illawarra Action Plan. This green jobs action plan was worked up by the University of Wollongong, the Department of Environ­ment, Climate Change and Water, the South Coast Labour Council, the Australian Industry Group, Industry and Investment New South Wales, TAFE New South Wales, the Department of Education and Training New South Wales, the Southern Councils Group and the Illawarra Business Chamber.

All those people came together in the Illawarra, recognising that the vulnerability of the Illawarra is its dependence on coal, steel and its heavy industrial base—all of which they perceive are under pressure because of the global financial environment in which they are currently competing. In February 2009 they presented a plan to the New South Wales government. It was 'an action plan for green job generation and industry development'. A review of the plan focused on manufacturing, construction and retrofitting, renewable energy and power generation, research and development, skills and training, infrastructure and general employment. The plan says that the Illawarra community has recognised that things like housing, retrofitting, food production and water recycling could generate more green jobs in the Illawarra if support is given to the Green Jobs Illawarra Action Plan.

This is the context in which we are discussing this tonight. Let it be very clear that the coalition are not supporting any industry assistance to steel manufacturing in Australia. For them, any change into the future is about importing steel from other countries. That is basically where the coalition are coming from. They are failing to recognise that this is an industry assistance plan over and above the compensation for the carbon price. It is separate from the carbon price. That is why we are voting on it separately—because it is a separate measure from the carbon price, which has its own compensation mechanisms. Clearly, the coalition have gone out and manipulated and exploited as much as they possibly can the concerns the workers have in those regions. They are now voting against an injection of funds that would enable the kind of development that would see diversification in these regions, where they desperately need innovation. The fact is that, if we are to have a steel industry in Australia into the future, we have to have innovation, we have to have enforcement of higher standards and we have to have better skills training.

I am very sad that, as a result of BlueScope's announcement of the loss of 1,000 jobs, we are going to see significant changes in the Illawarra. I am certainly hoping they will embrace the low-carbon economy. From discussions with them and with OneSteel I know that they recognise that they have to now embrace the development of new products to give them a competitive advantage in the domestic economy. They started talking about the way that they have been working with Australian universities, innovators and entrepreneurs to develop products that are suitable for the Australian construction environment.

One of those products is a roof coating paint that reduces the internal temperature by up to six degrees of houses that are in extreme environments that suffer from very high temperatures during the summer. I congratulated them on the fact that they are saying: 'Okay, we need to be manufacturing a product that is suitable for the Australian domestic environment. We need to produce something that Australian builders and consumers will want to use because it will seriously improve the quality of life and the energy consumption of people living in those dwellings.' I put to them: 'Has BlueScope or OneSteel talked with, for example, the University of Newcastle about the work they are doing on thin-film solar? Have they actually been and talked to them?'

There is the opportunity to maximise domestic competitive advantage with those products. They have not talked to them, but they undertook to start looking at that because they are looking at ways in which they can advantage domestic manufacturing.

From the Greens point of view we are really keen to make sure, as we manufacture the towers for wind turbines, as we see the rollout and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation funding large-scale solar arrays in Australia and solar thermal, that it is Australian steel that is behind the rollout of those facilities. I want to make sure that we are producing steel in Australia to drive this renewable energy revolution. That is one of the strengths of the package that we have developed in the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee with the Independents, the government, the Greens and industry all talking to one another and saying, 'How can we have an integrated package that says we need education and training, we need maximising of innovation, we need rolling out of the university research sector with the manufacturers to develop products which are suitable for Australian conditions and which maximise the return to Australian manufacturers?' That is what the thinking has been.

Everybody knows that productivity in this century is not going to be about using more resources. Productivity in this century is going to be about using more brainpower to maximise local opportunity by getting cleverer about the resources we use. It does not matter whether it is agriculture or manufacturing, that is the challenge that we need to follow.

Having said that and having talked about the Green Jobs Illawarra Action Plan, which I think has a lot of merit, I want to move the second reading amendment that I have circulated in the chamber. For the benefit of those here I will read it out now and I move:

At the end of the motion, add: "and that the Government, in allocating funds under the Steel Transformation Plan, pay particular regard to the Green Jobs Illawarra Action Plan and any other similar plans in other affected regions".

The advantage of this is that the Illawarra has stood up and said, 'We know we are vulnerable.' Therefore they have sought a community group, if you like, which includes all stakeholders in the Illawarra, and undertaken to move to a situation where they create new jobs, new diversity, new strength. One of the advantages of the Green Jobs Illawarra Action Plan is that it can be replicated in other areas of vulnerability. And there are other areas around Australia of similar vulnerability where their previous advantage has been based on coal and heavy manufacturing. They now know they can move to developing new strengths in the new industries of the low-carbon economy, particularly renewables and the whole green jobs through efficiency, for example. I would like to think that in rolling out the Steel Transformation Plan, not only can this plan be taken into account in the case of BlueScope in the Illawarra, but it can be taken into account in other places around Australia.

I would hope that the government would feel able to support this second reading amendment because it is asking that the government 'pay particular regard to'. It is not actually enforcing anything other than a request to the government to look at this plan as it rolls out the $300 million and ask: is there any way we can use some of that money with BlueScope to advantage the Illawarra and build resilience there against ongoing vagaries of the global environment—and the South Australian experience of OneSteel—and make sure we do not lose any more jobs? And also make sure that, if people are losing their jobs—as has occurred with OneSteel with the 1,000 who lost their jobs and with the 300 contractors—there are other opportunities that they can go to in the same area rather than having to leave the Illawarra. I do congratulate all of those bodies who have participated in the plan and I would hope that we would get the government's support for this second reading amendment.

Finally, I want to note that there can be no pretence anymore that the coalition did nothing other than, in the most cynical way, exploit the concerns of people in vulnerable regions. They went to those areas to hype up their anxiety over a carbon price, in spite of the fact that the energy-intensive trade-exposed industries will be compensated under a carbon price. But they did not care about that. They were prepared to exploit the vulnerabilities of those communities in order to try and improve their opinion poll results. When it comes down to actually saying that we understand your vulnerability, we know how the global financial crisis affected you, we know how the dollar is affecting you, we know how competition is affecting you and we are prepared to stand up behind an industry assistance plan, the coalition run a mile.

Their leader has cut and run and flown to London rather than face the fact that in this parliament today this carbon price, the whole mechanism, passed the parliament. We all know that that Conservative leaders meeting does not start in London until the 10th. There was every capacity to fly out tonight and still get there. Anyway, the meeting is being chaired by John Howard. The Leader of the Opposition could have—

Senator Humphries: For God's sake, Christine, have you got any real arguments?

Senator Birmingham: Do what, Christine? What did you expect him to do?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Cameron ): Order! Senator Birmingham!

Senator MILNE: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. He could have just gone to Sydney to meet John Howard. I do hope when he meets David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, that David Cameron will point out to the Leader of the Opposition that the United Kingdom has a target of a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2027. I look forward to hearing what the Leader of the Opposition's response to that is when he comes back to Australia.