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Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Page: 8644

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (10:41): After listening to Senator Williams' contribution to the second reading debate on this bill, the Steel Transformation Plan Bill 2011, there is no surprise that they will be voting against it because of course again, in their fine tradition, they have outlined how they are the party of 'no', they are the party that say no to everything, that run scare campaigns instead, that stick to a political kind of juggernaut situation of running scare campaigns and opposing everything rather than actually embracing what is good about the bill before them and the good that will come from it for the steel industry and the manufacturing industry.

I am pleased to speak to this bill, which does demonstrate very much the Labor government's commitment to the steel industry, just as Australia is shifting towards a new, innovative industry sector under the new carbon pricing mechanism agreed to by the Senate yesterday. While we are moving to protect steelworkers, and the steel industry, the coalition is mouthing platitudes and turning its back on that very industry. This steel transformation plan, and the carbon price, is giving manufacturing an opportunity to transform and adapt, through innovation, to meet the challenges of the future. It is very much a forward-looking plan: it is looking at the fact that we are transforming into a low-carbon economy future, into a clean energy future and preparing those parts of Australian industry, such as the steel industry and the manu­facturing industry, for that transformation. Over something like $20 billion worth of potential support is going to be accessible to manufacturers to seize this very future that those opposition senators are just not willing to embrace and so they continue to live in denial as we move forward.

I think Senator Williams highlights again—similar to Senator Macdonald, whose contributions to both the second reading and the committee stages of the clean energy bills over the last week were absolutely appalling—that he does not accept the science. Similar to Senator Macdonald, Senator Williams spoke just now about his lack of understanding of the issue of climate change. What he raised was the fact that the climate changes. Well, lo and behold, so it does! And that there are floods. Yes, there are floods! And that there are storms and the like—yes, there are!

But why are we acting on climate change per se? Because science has provided us with input to show that some of that climate change is caused by human impact. It is of our own doing.

We have an opportunity to halt that and stop it from getting worse—and time is of the essence in that sense, as scientists have shown us—and actually start to try to save this planet and turn it around. For example, something like one trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide of human origin is in our atmosphere today, and we continue to contribute to it. The senator is right: China does contribute to it to a large extent, as does the United States and other parts of the world. Climate change has no boundaries; it goes beyond countries. But if we all as individual countries take the attitude, 'China is emitting X, Y and Z, so why should we do anything if they're not doing as much as we'd like them to do right here and right now,' then no-one would do anything, would they?

I would like you to go into a classroom and explain that logic to a grade 6 or a grade 9 class, who actually have an understanding about this. They are actually learning it in their school curriculum. They are not learning, 'Climate changes and that's just how it is, so let's do nothing.' They are learning that there is science that provides facts saying that the climate is changing from the human impact of emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and it is causing detrimental effects on our planet. The result is that we need to do something about it. That is what yesterday's vote was all about. That is what it was about yesterday when you put your heads in the sand and voted against the clean energy bills.

Senator Williams: It is you who betrayed Australia.

Senator SINGH: The only betrayal of Australia going on is from you, Senator Williams, and your opposition colleagues, for not supporting moving to a clean energy future, for not supporting action on climate change and for denying the science. You spoke recently on the fact that you do deny the science; you think we should do nothing because the climate changes. And if you do agree to do something it comes down to your Direct Action Plan, which is actually about taxing Australian households to give money to polluters. The irony is unbelievable.

The coalition is against a market driven approach. You come into the Senate and say: 'Oh, what's going to happen? We're not going to know what the price of carbon is going to be, because it's a market driven approach.' It is absolutely bizarre to have the coalition be against a market driven approach. Aren't you the party of the free market? Here you are against a market driven approach when it comes to putting a price on carbon. It is quite extraordinary.

The Steel Transformation Plan, which relates to the bill we are currently focused on, is just one part of the government's suite of policies supporting the steel industry and manufacturing in general. The coalition turns up at steel sites and cries crocodile tears and, at the same time, votes against $300 million worth of support for the steel industry. Again, it is complete hypocrisy.

The steel industry, as we know, is facing a number of challenges, including the high Australian dollar and higher input costs, separate from carbon pricing itself. We understand that the Steel Transformation Plan will encourage investment and innovation in the Australian steel manu­facturing industry and will help the sector to transform into a more efficient and sustainable industry in a low-carbon economy. It builds on our existing collaboration, which the government has been supporting over several years now. For example, the CSIRO has been working with BlueScope Steel and OneSteel on the steel industry CO2 Breakthrough in Metal Production Program to increase energy efficiency and minimise costs by reducing emissions and waste, with a total investment to date of around $10 million. According to the worldsteel carbon dioxide breakthrough program, the technology resulting from the CSIRO's ISP is one of the few known technologies in the world with potential in the short term to reduce net carbon dioxide emissions by the steel industry by over 50 per cent at very minimal cost.

The University of Wollongong is another example. The CSIRO and ANSTO are individually represented on the Steel Industry Innovation Council. We know that the CAST Cooperative Research Centre, with government funding of $33.5 million, has been working with the Australian metal manufacturing sector to create business opportunities and improve processes to reduce costs and increase productivity. CAST partners include universities, business and industry players, including BlueScope Steel. These are all important transitional, researched and scientific good things that are happening in this space as we transform into a clean energy future. These are good things that the coalition senators refuse to listen to and take note of, because they are the party that just says no.

Another example is the Defence Materials Technology Centre, which has undertaken several research programs involving private industry—including BlueScope Steel, Bisalloy Steels and Thales Australia—with the University of Wollongong and government researchers. These programs are developing improved steel for armoured vehicles and better design and fabrication processes to reduce weight and cost. It is another innovative example of how innovation comes with the change to a low-carbon economy. That is the kind of business certainty that yesterday provides. Yesterday businesses were given some certainty, because now we know that we have a new market mechanism structure in place for their industry and for the investment and the innovation that comes with our transforming to a clean energy future. I think I have mentioned before in this place that I visited Alstom, an engineering factory in Tasmania, which was waiting to find out the outcome of yesterday's vote on the clean energy bills to give their business certainty so that they can continue to invest in Tasmania and the jobs that they provide in engineering support to our hydroelectricity scheme in Tasmania, as well as a number of other clients that they support in the clean energy sector in the rest of the country. All of these programs are developed to improve steel for armoured vehicles, as I said, and to improve outcomes that transition us into that clean energy future.

Aside from improving capabilities and protection available to Australian service personnel, research that has been undertaken also offers huge potential for civilian manufacturing applications and exports. This willingness of universities to support the communities that sustain them demonstrates the public-spirited nature of our public institutions, our universities. These contri­butions show again that the science and research sectors are a natural fit with industries and communities, with industries like the steel industry, and when they do work together, whether in good times or difficult times, our innovation system can very much capitalise on opportunity and minimise that adversity.

The $300 million Steel Transformation Plan is a special, appropriate scheme with assistance under the plan capped at $75 million per year. The Steel Transformation Plan will operate over six payment years from 2011-12 to 2016-17. There is no confusion about the term of assistance under the $300 million plan. As announced on 10 July this year, payments under the self-assessment component of that Steel Transformation Plan will be made six months in arrears and therefore the eligibility activity period will be a four-year period whereas the payment period will be a five-year period. As announced on 22 August, competitive assistance advances will also be available in the 2011-12 financial year. Accordingly, taking both these elements together, assistance under the Steel Transformation Plan is to be made available over those six payment years from 2011-12 to 2016-17.

On top of that, the government is also supporting the SMEs, the small and medium enterprises, through the clean technology programs which the coalition also oppose. For example, the new $200 million Clean Technology Food and Foundries Investment Program will provide grants worth up to $50 million over six years to the metal-forging and foundries industries. These grants will assist the industries to invest in energy efficient equipment and low-pollution technologies, processes and products. The government is also supporting these SMEs through tailored business management advisory services, through Enterprise Connect, for example, which the coalition is proposing to cut $100 million from.

Senator Nash interjecting

Senator SINGH: The amount of negativity that comes from those senators opposite that continue to oppose everything leads to their putting their heads in the sand in not accepting that we have to take hold of the issues that climate change science provide to us and change our trajectory into a clean energy future.

Senator Nash interjecting

Senator SINGH: Instead, it sends us back into the old dark ages—

Senator Nash interjecting

Senator SINGH: Senator Nash, your opposition to the clean energy bills again highlights the fact that the opposition are focused on taking this nation into the dark ages, to the days when we did not believe scientists, when we certainly did not act on anything that science provided and when nothing really happened. It was a sad period in our history. We do not live in the dark ages anymore; we live in a time when we do embrace science and we do accept that we need to take hold of peer reviewed science. Unfortunately, those opposite continue to not support the science, although I tend to think that some of them do actually support the science and they are just playing politics on this issue. It suits them to try and be naysayers and be scaremongers and oppose everything because they see that that is perhaps their role rather than actually coming together and doing something for the benefit of all Australians, for our environment and for industries that need our support such as the steel industry. But, unfortunately, we will continue to see the naysaying opposition just oppose having Australia move into a clean energy future when so many other countries in the world have already embraced it and are embracing it. Why are they doing it? Why do we have these ongoing UN meetings to try and move this globe forward? We care about the future of this planet. We care about the fact that we need to do something to ensure that the human impact that we have on it is not going to be to its detriment—not just for us but for our children and for our children's children. That brings me back again to the bill and the fact that the bill focuses very much on steel transformation. It is a fact that steelmakers are very supportive of the Steel Transformation Plan. Australian steelmakers are facing considerable challenges from external factors other than the carbon price. I am sure that Senator Williams will acknowledge that. BlueScope has stated that it is restructuring its operations to improve its financial health in response to the global circumstances it faces, including the high Australian dollar, high raw material costs and intense import competition. They are realities that BlueScope Steel has to live with in the current global market. It is essential, therefore, that the steel manufacturing industry is supported during this period of transition, and that is exactly what the Steel Transformation Plan will provide: further support for Australian jobs and ensuring the future of the Australian steel industry. Labor senators on this side of the chamber very much support jobs. We are the party that very much supports working people. We support their rights and we support their jobs. Opposition senators have a long track record of not supporting jobs, ripping out workers' rights and ensuring that workers are not protected and not supported in any kind of transition to a clean energy future or a future where there is global uncertainty in the steel industry. We do not believe in leaving those workers in the lurch, and that is why we are supporting this bill.