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Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Page: 5188

Senator LUNDY (2:17 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr. Can the minister advise the Senate on the progress of the government’s economic stimulus strategy and its implications for the Australian steel industry? What impact has the global downturn had on steel markets, the demand for steel, steel prices and steel production? How has this affected Australian steel makers such as BlueScope and OneSteel? How is the government’s stimulus strategy helping maintain jobs and activity in this vital industry, and how well placed is the industry to benefit from recovery? Finally, how will the government’s investment in nation-building infrastructure maximise those benefits?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I thank Senator Lundy for her question. In reporting their results for 2008-09, BlueScope and OneSteel have confirmed what those of us on this side of the chamber have known all along. They confirm that the world has been going through a period of what BlueScope calls quite unprecedented financial and economic turmoil. OneSteel explains that demand in prices for steel collapsed last November as the world was gripped by recession. This is a recession those opposite do not believe in. They point to the strength of the Australian economy and say, ‘We don’t need a stimulus strategy.’ They forget the economy is strong precisely because we have had a stimulus strategy, a strategy that is working. Australia is better placed than just about any other developed country to take advantage of recovery. That is also the message that we are getting from the steel industry. Demand for steel has risen each month since May. BlueScope CEO Paul O’Malley says the company is ‘increasingly positive’ about the domestic market. BlueScope is about to relight its No. 5 blast furnace at Port Kembla. OneSteel says it is encouraged by the Commonwealth’s action ‘to invest in infrastructure and boost residential and non-residential building activity’. It expects domestic demand to grow in line with improved economic conditions, greater confidence and the impact of government stimulus initiatives.

If only we could inject a bit more steel into the Liberal Party. If only we could get the Liberal Party to appreciate just how important these stimulus measures are. If only we could get the Liberal Party to actually believe in manufacturing. (Time expired)

Senator LUNDY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister inform the Senate how, in addition to the general boost to employment and economic activity provided by its stimulus strategy, the government is supporting the Australian steel industry? What is it doing to promote innovation and increase productivity in the sector? What is it doing to strengthen the capabilities of individual firms and the supply chain as a whole? What role can existing initiatives, such as Enterprise Connect and the Industry Capability Network, play in equipping the industry for the challenges and opportunities of the future, including, specifically, the export opportunities?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —The Australian government is working with steel companies, large and small, to build on this industry’s strong tradition of innovation. First, we have invited steelmakers, steel unions, steel consumers and researchers to form a Steel Industry Innovation Council. BlueScope has welcomed the council’s capacity to ‘identify major infrastructure projects and opportunities where the Australian steel industry can demonstrate its capability and competitiveness’. Its members will include the CSIRO and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, who have been asked to focus on how we can continue the transformation of steel production. Second, the innovation council will advise the government on the appointment of steel supplier advocates to build connections between Australian suppliers and major project proponents in this country and world wide. (Time expired)

Senator LUNDY —Mr President, I do have a further supplementary question. Can the minister explain to the Senate the background to the government’s decision to appoint a supplier advocate for the steel industry? How does this initiative serve the government’s stated objective of giving Australian firms in steel and other industries full, fair and reasonable access to compete for work, both in Australia and overseas? Have any other supplier advocates been announced? What other measures is the government taking to build the capabilities of Australian companies and ensure they have the best possible chance of winning work in open competition?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —The government has announced a package of measures to increase Australian industry participation in major projects and procurements. We want to give everyone the chance to buy Australian, both at home and abroad. This package includes $8.2 million to establish a new supplier advocate program, an extra $8.5 million for the industry capability network to match companies and opportunities and $2.5 million to apply the Australian Industry Participation National Framework to major Commonwealth procurement and infrastructure projects. We have already announced that there will be supplier advocates for steel, for textiles, for clothing and for footwear. Others will follow. This is a major advance for Australian industry and Australian workers. It is about supporting them in their efforts to win work in this country and around the world. We ask the Liberal Party to do the same.