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Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Page: 1808

Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (09:59):    I rise to voice my serious concerns about recent job losses and ongoing challenges for the manufacturing sector in my electorate of Newcastle. Newcastle has seen tough times in manufacturing before—the closure of the BHP steelworks is perhaps the most notable. We have become a strong and resilient region with a highly skilled workforce; a great track record in research and development; and a willingness to embrace new science, technology and innovation—value adding to everything we do. Newcastle has undergone massive social, economic and cultural transformation in recent decades, but there has always been a sense of direction, an overarching plan to support jobs and industry, and a plan to create new jobs for the future. Significantly, these plans have required the support of all levels of government to be effective. Regretfully, this Liberal government has no plan on the table for combatting job losses in our region.

In recent months we have seen the closure of businesses, declining opportunities and significant job losses in Newcastle. Cuts and closures at Brindabella Airlines, Bluetongue Brewery, Sensis, Westrac and UGL have all had an impact locally. And just last week Newcastle shipbuilder Forgacs warned that they will have to close their Carrington and Tomago shipyards within 18 months, laying off more than 900 highly skilled tradesmen and women, unless the federal government expedites decisions on future naval shipbuilding projects.

The government's response so far is to put all decisions on hold. That is not good enough. Our defence manufacturers do not have the luxury of being able to wait another 12 months or more for the government to release yet another defence white paper. The last two defence white papers clearly mapped out Australia's need for more than 40 new ships. We do not need another review to tell us that. What we do need, however, is a government that is willing to stand up for Australian manufacturing and Australian jobs. Forgacs are not asking for a handout; they are ready, willing and able to build these new naval ships here in Australia. But they need this government to act now—to bring forward these naval projects so they do not have to lay off skilled workers and we do not lose our capacity to build ships in Newcastle.

In 2013, Labor made a commitment to bring forward the contracts to replace HMAS Success and HMAS Sirius. Unfortunately, this new government has made no such commitment, so the future of shipbuilders like Forgacs in Newcastle, BAE Systems in Melbourne and ASC in Adelaide remains uncertain.

As opposition leader, Tony Abbott said he did not want to lead a country that didn't make things any more. He embarked on a photo opportunity tour of mining and manufacturing sites around the country—high-vis vest and hard hat donned—pretending to be the 'best friend' of Australian workers. That was before the election. After the election it is a very different story. Unemployment has risen to its highest level in more than a decade and the Prime Minister's promise to create a million new jobs within five years seems more far-fetched by the day. I call on the government to act now to ensure that shipbuilding has a future in Australia. Bring forward the naval shipbuilding contracts before it is too late.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! Before I proceed, under standing order 193 members' statements is for 30 minutes. But if it would suit the convenience of the Federation Chamber, and there being no objections, we will continue with members' statements.