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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 5013

Ms GRIERSON (Newcastle) (20:46): It is an interesting time in my city, the city of Newcastle, a time of ongoing economic diversification and transition. With another regional city, Geelong, facing a significant threat to their local economy with the recent announcement by Ford, it is worth comparing our two cities and revisiting the way Newcastle responded to the closure of its then major employer, the BHP steelworks, in 1999. Just like the car industry, the steel industry received considerable investment and subsidies from the federal government over many years, and, just like the car industry, those subsidies sustained the operation of our steel industry for some time. But, while governments can invest, it is companies that make the commercial decisions about how these subsidies are applied, and it is my view that in both these industries too little was done too late. Innovating, driving new markets and supply chain integration are key outcomes of business decisions, and in both cases these companies could have done more earlier to avoid the final closures.

Just like the future closure of Ford's operation in three years time, we in Newcastle had prior knowledge of the intended closure of BHP. With government, we had time to plan for this major event, an event many commentators said would be a catastrophe for our region, but we used that time wisely. We planned for the reskilling of our workforce and ensured that support services were provided to the BHP workforce facing termination, just as the Gillard government is doing now. And, as the Gillard government and the Victorian government have announced assistance funds, we at the time received structural adjustment funding of $20 million each from the state and federal governments.

While the federal allocation under Howard went to individual enterprises, the New South Wales contribution under Bob Carr was directed at the relocation and establishment of the CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle. Of the individual enterprise approach, two stand out: the development of the marina in Newcastle and the development of the Stuart piano. The former was a key example of low-risk, long-term diversification. It complemented well the activities of the Port of Newcastle and the activities of the Honeysuckle Development Corporation, which, under federal Labor's Building Better Cities program, was redeveloping former industrial harbourside lands. The marina has added great vibrancy to our city and continues today to sustain employment and leisure related activities, particularly tourism.

The piano was a somewhat high-risk enterprise but highly innovative. The Stuart piano is now world renowned and continues its niche manufacturing—just. The global downturn and the high Australian dollar have had an impact, but the Stuart piano has achieved well-deserved acclaim and hopefully will receive the commercial support it deserves in future.

But investment into the CSIRO Energy Centre is where the real diversification and economic future success came for Newcastle. Last week, CSIRO Newcastle announced a $13 million Future Grid Cluster research collaboration with four universities, including the University of Newcastle. That will provide a framework to assist the electricity sector to make an estimated $240 million worth of decisions in the next two decades, decisions that CSIRO predicts could involve 20 different energy sources and technologies and require sector capacity across the nation to plan and design the most efficient low-emissions electricity grid for Australia. Add that to the work of Ausgrid, federal Labor's Smart Grid Smart City program, and add to that too under the federal government's ARENA the work of CSIRO to improve the best possible solar forecasting for the electricity system to boost levels of solar power on the grid and you are starting to understand the potential this has developed for our city. Add to that the bid by local industry in partnership with local research institutes for Newcastle to be an energy industry innovation precinct and the real long-term value of that $20 million by Bob Carr's Labor government makes amazing economic sense.

I note the Prime Minister today announced the location of the administration headquarters for DisabilityCare Australia would be located in Geelong. This decision by the Gillard Labor government provides for the city of Geelong and its people an embedded federal function to anchor services and to grow the disability service sector, related expertise and research and product development and innovation.

Key to our region's success has been the ability of Newcastle to collaborate and pursue innovation in manufacturing and research. Forging strong partnerships is central. In that way the role of the University of Newcastle and the Hunter Institute of TAFE cannot be underestimated. I note it was a New South Wales Labor government that granted autonomy to our regional university back in 1965 and our current Labor government has invested $22 million to provide new facilities to our TAFE. I have no doubt that the highly regarded Deakin University and the Gordon Institute of TAFE in Geelong will be key partners in Geelong's future prosperity, especially if Labor governments are there to keep investing.

We had another weapon in our structural adjustment armoury and that was the Hunter Valley Research Foundation, founded in 1956 after the devastating Maitland floods of 1955. The Hunter Valley Research Foundation, originally funded by community donations and given major annual sponsorship from the then NSW Labor government, has been integral to informing decisions regarding the regional economy. The economic and social research findings of this foundation have guided the development of the Hunter region for decades. The foundation has become the standard bearer for regional research, playing an indispensable role in data collection and research relevant to our unique regional needs. It has also produced a wellbeing survey—the first in this nation. For regions such as the Hunter, an understanding of our local economy, our population, our health, our manufacturing, our education and our wellbeing is pivotal to achieving growth and prosperity. They therefore play an important part in guiding future investments and strategies. No other institute, including the ABS, provides this information or resource. To the people of Geelong, I encourage them to consider how they might set up an equivalent organisation for their region.

Another key factor to our resilience was industrial harmony. That industrial harmony can be attributed to the leadership of our unions and the leadership provided by the NSW Industrial Relations Commission in Newcastle post the Hawke-Keating accord, a harmony which has continued under Fair Work Australia, which has an office in Newcastle thanks to Julia Gillard and a federal Labor government. This industrial harmony and regional approach has underpinned the resilience of our manufacturers, particularly the coal mining industry, adding further insulation to our economy.

The port of Newcastle is indeed the largest exporter of coal in the world, reaching 121.9 million tonnes last year—a record which it will eclipse this year. But the port now handles more than 40 commodities, including alumina, wheat, steel, cement and fertiliser. That sort of diversification has been part of our success story. Imports of mining related heavy equipment, fuels and other bulk liquids have increased with the port of Newcastle now handling over $20 billion in trade annually and still growing.

So what have these factors had in common? Great leaders is a big part of the answer in many cases. While I will always be grateful for the leadership provided by the previous Vice-Chancellor of the University of Newcastle Professor Nick Saunders and for his contribution to our region's success and to the incumbent Vice-Chancellor Caroline McMillen for the way she too has embraced the potential and aspirations of our region, I also acknowledge the contribution and vision of TAFE Directors Gaye Hart and Phil Cox. Also, tonight I pay particular tribute to three wonderful leaders who are all retiring in 2013—Gary Webb, CEO of the Port of Newcastle; Dr Wej Paradise, CEO of Hunter Valley Research Foundation; and, Deputy President of Fair Work Australia, Rod Harrison. Each of you leaves a marvellous legacy to the people of Newcastle and the Hunter region. For the past 12 years I have had the great pleasure of working with all three of you. Your professionalism and dedication, your absolute commitment to Newcastle and your deep understanding of the part your organisation played in the growth of the local economy and the future welfare of the people was in each case exceptional. Gentlemen, I salute you, and I wish you all great personal satisfaction and happiness in your retirement. You each made Newcastle a better place. Thank you.

Finally, the other common denominator in the ongoing resilience and diversification of our regional economy was the timely and enduring support extended to Newcastle and the Hunter by both federal and state Labor governments. In fact, the greatest threats to our ongoing prosperity are Liberal governments. In New South Wales, the Liberal government has denied the Port of Newcastle the opportunity to further diversify through the development of a container terminal. This decision is a slap in the face to Newcastle and to our future economic growth. It also denies the people of New South Wales the development of new markets and new supply chains, particularly in the agriculture and food production sectors, and the economic and employment growth that this would produce. At the federal level, the continuation of industrial harmony in my region is threatened by any prospect that a Tony Abbott-led government would gain power in the September elections. And if a climate-change denier—as Mr Abbott is—became PM, our clean energy future would be severely hampered too. Under the Howard government, investment into regional Australia meant the regional rorts that saw obscene pork barrelling while seats like mine were missed out entirely. So my message to the good people of Geelong from the Newcastle experience is: put your faith in Labor governments, who genuinely put their faith in you and in your economic success. And be very afraid of a future in your region under a Liberal government, particularly one led by Tony Abbott.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms O'Neill ): The question is:

That grievances be noted.