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Industry Minister in Wollongong for jobs meeting as 500 jobs hang in the balance at Bluescope -

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MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Five-hundred jobs hang in the balance at BlueScope Steel's Port Kembla plant after the company last month announced a $200 million savings drive.

If the jobs go it will be a huge hit to the Illawarra community where roughly 10,000 people are already unemployed.

The Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane has called a meeting in Wollongong with the company as well as unions, local MPs and the university.

But he says it's not just about Bluescope and wants to work on a jobs plan for the region for the next two decades.

From Canberra Eliza Borrello reports.

ELIZA BORRELLO: Joe Da Silva has worked at BlueScope Steel for almost 40 years.

The crane driver says he's witnessed the slow decline of the Australian manufacturing industry and believes the Illawarra needs to prepare for the worst.

JOE DA SILVA: A lot of people have got a misconception that, oh, it's just Newcastle survived so we can survive. But people have got to be aware that Newcastle has a lot of mines, huge mines. The Illawarra don't have that.

ELIZA BORRELLO: Mr Da Silva's close to retirement age and wanted to see out his working days with BlueScope but he's also concerned about how some of his younger colleagues would cope with losing their jobs.

JOE DA SILVA: We've got a lot of new housing, big mortgages.

ELIZA BORRELLO: Unprompted, Mr Da Silva says he's also deeply concerned about the Government's proposed Free Trade Agreement with China.

JOE DA SILVA: It's about competing with overseas markets not playing the same game that we play. We like to feel that we're a fair society but there's a real world out there that doesn't see it like that.

What China's doing to the market is a perfect example. We need to have things in place to protect us from that.

ELIZA BORRELLO: He's talking about allegations China has been dumping steel on global markets at prices below the cost of production.

The Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane says the free trade agreement and the challenges facing the steel industry are different issues.

IAN MACFARLANE: Because the free trade agreement hasn't even come into place yet.

ELIZA BORRELLO: But do you accept that given he is a blue collar worker in this plant, he hears Australia is signing a free trade deal with China and there are also claims about Australia being affected by the Chinese dumping steel below market prices that he would be concerned?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well look I can understand people hearing these stories and in terms of anti-dumping, our government has significantly increased the measures to some of the strictest in the world. But what we're going to see is opportunities for more jobs and new jobs.

ELIZA BORRELLO: New jobs is what that the Minister wants to focus on when he meets BlueScope and other key stakeholders in Wollongong today.

IAN MACFARLANE: Today is not about bringing money to the table or saying that we'll do this or that. We've made no decision as to how any form of assistance to the region may take shape.

We have to see what is going to make the biggest difference and make sure that whatever we do, we have jobs in the region that are going to be there in 10 and 20 years' time.

ELIZA BORRELLO: But he says there will be money for re-training, if it's needed.

IAN MACFARLANE: Through both Centrelink and job placement. And we have done training packages for, for instance the car industry. But that level of redundancies, whilst it's significant, is not at the same scale as the level we're seeing in the car industry.

ELIZA BORRELLO: The local Federal Labor Member Stephen Jones says government investment in the region would help safeguard jobs.

STEPHEN JONES: We need support around new infrastructure projects. We need support around labour market programs.

ELIZA BORRELLO: The University of Wollongong has been invited to today's meeting as part of the search for the region's jobs of the future.

Joe Da Silva is hoping blue collar work will remain part of the mix.

JOE DA SILVA: We can't all be doctors, we can't be all surgeons,

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: BlueScope Steel worker Joe Da Silva ending that report from Eliza Borrello.