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Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Page: 8631


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (09:41): Nothing in that pretty hopeless contribution from Senator Abetz on the Steel Transformation Plan Bill 2011 surprised me. The contribution from Senator Abetz really did not deal with the issues facing the steel industry. Senator Abetz has never cared about the steel industry in his whole political career. Senator Abetz talked about genuine trade unionists standing up. I remind Senator Abetz that genuine trade unionists did stand up against the coalition and against Senator Abetz when he was the champion of Work Choices in the Senate, when his job was to argue that Work Choices was going to be of great benefit to working people in this country. Similar misrepresentations are now taking place when Senator Abetz is running the same nonsense about the sky falling in because the Labor government is taking steps to deal with carbon pollution and global warming.

Senator Abetz should be reminded that when the workers and good trade unionists did stand up they threw Senator Abetz and John Howard out on their ear. Clearly the position of the coalition is one that is false. It is a false concern that they are raising about manufacturing because in the 11½ years of the Howard government they were never concerned about manufacturing jobs. In terms of supposedly driving productivity in manufacturing they only raised Work Choices and trying to compete on low wages and low skills. That is the history of the coalition. Any steelworkers who are listening in know exactly where the coalition stand. They know exactly their position. Here we have the coalition running the argument that $300 million should not be allocated to help the steel industry through the difficulties it has with two main issues: (1) the global financial crisis, which the coalition fail to accept ever happened; and (2) the dollar being so strong that it is putting huge pressure on manufacturing companies around the country. And what is the coalition's answer to the strong dollar? Their answer is to give the mining companies back almost $11 billion—to give Gina Rinehart, Twiggy Forrest, Anglo-American, BHP and Rio Tinto $11 billion. That is their answer to the global financial crisis and the strength of the dollar. The strength of the dollar is the main issue that we are facing.

I suppose another problem that we face is the lack of skills across our industry base because of the complete ignorance of the Howard government in accepting and understanding that if you build your skills base you build the strength of the economy. They then fiddled the books in relation to skills and argued that if you were trained as a hamburger flipper at McDonald's you were then a skilled person who should be allocated as being trained against the traditional trades—an absolute nonsense.

Let us come back to the steel industry. I actually know something about the steel industry. I actually worked in the steel industry. I do not think there would be too many on the other side who have ever worked in the steel industry.

Senator Milne interjecting

Senator CAMERON: But I have worked in the steel industry. Senator Milne says 'ever worked', and I think that is right: some of them have never, ever worked in a real job. That is the position over there.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator CAMERON: In they come, baying and moaning because the nerve has been touched. What would the lawyers on the other side know about workers in the steel industry? I know what it is like to work in the steel industry. I know what it is like to work in the manufacturing industry. I know what it is like to work in the power industry. I know what it is like to work in the shipbuilding industry. My background is as a fitter. I have been on the job and worked. I have not simply come here as the result of some preselection deal as a lawyer who has done nothing else but try to be an ambulance chaser for their whole life. So I actually know something about the manufacturing industry. I have never been an ambulance chaser like those on the other side. I have to say I am quite glad that I have no legal training. I am quite happy to say that I left school when I was 15 and have no formal qualification other than a City and Guilds trade certificate. But that does me against you lot over there. I must say the investment that has been made in the legal training for you lot over there has been misspent, because there is not a lot between the ears. A lot of you over there just fail to accept the absolute basics in this debate. The absolute basics are that our manufacturing is under pressure because of the success of our mining industry. The mining industry is driving the dollar up, and it is putting huge pressures on our steel industry.

How do we want to deal with it? We want to deal with it by increasing the skill base. We want to deal with it by promoting innovation. We want to deal with it by promoting best practice. We want to deal with it by making sure we have decent management training in this country, decent management systems in this country, managers who can actually compete internationally—something that in 11½ years the Liberals and the coalition failed to deal with. These are the issues for manufacturing in this country: dealing with the high dollar, innovating, building the skill base and making sure we have strong management skills within the industry.

We know what is around the corner with the coalition: they want to go back to Work Choices. They think that that is the best way to compete. They do not want to compete on best practice. They do not want to compete on quality. They do not want to compete on timely delivery. They do not want to compete on the skill base of the workforce. They just want to take away their penalty rates, take away their shift allowances and take away any condition we can have. They want to introduce what they describe as 'flexibility'. I say to every worker in this country: when you hear a coalition MP or senator talk about 'flexibility' you should immediately think about Work Choices, because 'flexibility' is code for the coalition's Work Choices. They said they could never speak the name Work Choices again, so what have they done? They have introduced the concept of 'flexibility'. So when you hear them talk about 'flexibility' it is flexibility to get rid of your penalty rates. The steel industry will compete through 'flexibility'.

You wait and hear it. It will be 'flexibility' to take away the penalty rates of steelworkers in this country, the 'flexibility' to take away their shift allowances, the 'flexibility' for the boss to tell them when they will start and when they will finish, the 'flexibility' for the boss to determine every move they make from when they go on the job until they leave the job. There will be no industrial democracy or rights on the job. It will be entirely managerial prerogative to determine whatever a worker does when they walk on the job. That is not an Australia that is a good Australia. That is an Australia that is the mindset of the coalition to rip away workers' rights and conditions. That is their only answer. 'Flexibility' means Work Choices. That is the clear position. What are we trying to do? We are trying to assist the steel industry, and the steel package we are putting up is completely separate from the package which was voted on historically here yesterday and which takes this country forward to do something about the environment and to reposition this country for the future. The steel bill is being put up separately as a special package to assist workers in an industry which is under huge pressure because of the global financial crisis and the strength of the dollar. It is what is described as the 'Dutch disease': the mining industry powers ahead, and the manu¬≠facturing industry ends up in difficulty. That has been well documented around the world. We have the Dutch disease at the moment. When you get a disease, what do you do? You exercise some care, exercise some support and assist the industry—and that is what we are doing. We want to help the fitters, the boilermakers, the welders and the steelworkers in the steel industry. We want management in the steel industry to lift their game: we want them to look at the research and development and the innovation that will drive the new technology and the new products to enable the industry to compete in an economy which is carbon constrained. That is the challenge for the steel industry, and we are putting up the finances to help them meet it.

But what do we get from the coalition? More negativity. I heard Senator Joyce's speech here yesterday. I do not think he mentioned the steel industry except in the first minute and in the last minute of a 20-minute speech—and it was an absolutely incoherent rant. Senator Joyce sees himself as one day being the Deputy Prime Minister of this country, who will be able to choose his portfolio. He will obviously say to Joe Hockey, 'Sorry, mate—you're never going to be the Treasurer; I'm going to be the Treasurer of this country.' Can you imagine giving the National Party the purse strings of this country? Can you imagine what a disaster that would be? We do not want to ever see Senator Joyce holding the purse strings of this country, and I know that there are some on the other side who are as horrified as I and we on this side are at that prospect.

What do we need to do? We need to build the capacity of our steel industry. We need the steel industry to be in a position where, through good work practices on the job, better management systems, higher skills, better quality products and more innovative products, they can take the opportunities that the legislation which went through this parliament yesterday offers industry in this country. If you look past all of the economic problems in Europe, one of the bright things there still is the renewables industry.

Senator Bernardi interjecting

Senator CAMERON: Senator Bernardi says 'what a dud'. But the renewables industry in Europe is employing tens of thousands of workers. It is at the forefront of building the latest technology in wind turbines, wave turbines, photovoltaics and tidal power. It is dealing with the issue of renewables technology and dealing with it effectively. In Spain there is 25 per cent unemployment at the moment, but not because—as Senator Back would have you believe—the renewable energy industry has created the problem for the economy. This is another example of the coalition's selective memory. They seem to forget that there was a global financial crisis and that we were lucky enough to get through it because there was a Labor Party in government who acted in a timely, targeted and temporary manner to make sure that we created jobs when all the while other countries around the world were losing jobs. When we are faced with a challenge we deal with it, and we dealt with the challenge that we faced in the global financial crisis. We are the envy of the world for our capacity to deal with these challenges. When we are faced with a challenge in the steel industry we will deal with it in the same way: we will look at it, and we will support the fitters, the boilermakers, the electricians and the steelworkers of Wollongong and Newcastle and elsewhere who need our support.

We are the party of working people in this country; you are the party of big business, and that is why you would hand back over $11 billion to Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and Twiggy Forrest—so that the donations keep pouring in to the Liberal Party from the big end of town. We know what it is all about, and you would do it at the expense of steelworkers in Wollongong and Newcastle. We will not do that. We are putting hundreds of millions of dollars separate from the climate change package in to assist steelworkers in this country and, as a former steelworker and as a former union official who looked after steelworkers, I cannot think of a better thing that government can do.

Senator Bernardi: You're a has-been. I think that's the best way to describe it.

Senator CAMERON: I do not know what Senator Bernardi is going on about, calling people has-beens. That is all right. I am very happy to say that I have had a very good career as a trade union official and I come here to parliament with my experience as a trade union official to actually help workers. I do not know what Senator Bernardi comes here with other than probably favourable treatment in a private school and some degree that allowed him to go into a parliamentary office and suddenly he gets preselection and becomes, I bet you, a nonevent and a joke in parliament. You and Senator Joyce, Senator Bernardi, are a bit of a joke in parliament. You are pretty well seen to have no support. No wonder Malcolm Turnbull sacked you. No wonder Malcolm Turnbull had you well and truly under control.

Coming back again to the steel industry, we will make sure that the steel industry in Australia can actually compete and look at accessing some of the huge opportunities in relation to renewable energy. Look at Spain. Senator Back said that Spain was a basket case because of renewable energy. The only bright spot in the Spanish economy is the Spanish renewable industry. They are exporting $3 billion worth of goods every year. They are at the forefront of wind power and other renewable energy. Spain employs 40,000 people in renewable energy—40,000 jobs. The sector has 700 companies, 19 wind turbine manufacturers, 270 component manufacturers, 140 wind farm developers and 277 service providers. The opportunity we can have in Australia is about the steel industry accessing the capacity to build the wind turbines of the future and the steel towers that require hundreds of millions of tonnes of steel to be built so that renewable energy is there for the future. That is the challenge for the steel industry. I am sure the steel industry will take that challenge up. But let me tell who will not take that challenge up. That is the coalition, because they are Work Choices warriors and they have no other way. (Time expired)