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Monday, 26 March 2001
Page: 25675

Mr Murphy asked the Minister representing the Minister for Industry, Science and Resources, upon notice, on 7 December 2000:

(1) Is it a fact that around 200,000 tonnes of fabricated steel is expected to land on Australia's docks in 2000 and such imports will result in the loss of more than five million direct man-hours for the Australian steel fabrication industry, with the consequent loss in skills and industry capability, as well as state and federal taxes, including revenues from the Goods and Services Tax.

(2) What support can be provided to assist this industry to adapt to this massive increase in imports.

(3) In light of the Queensland Government's Local Industry Policy, which includes commitment to local industry being given full, fair and reasonable opportunity to tender for major project work, (a) is the Minister aware that, on a number of major resource and infrastructure projects, proponents frame their contract specifications to effectively exclude local industries, such as the steel fabrication industry, from even having the chance to put in for work and (b) when will Government address this situation by introducing (i) a national local industry policy and (ii) Mandatory Project Impact Assessments for major steel projects.

(4) Is the Minister aware that work undertaken by Australian steel fabricators must comply with the Australian Standards and inspection codes, whilst steel imported from overseas is not required to comply with these standards; if so, how does the Minister propose to address the issue of imported steel not needing to comply with such standards.

(5) Is the Minister aware that a survey of the top seven fabrication firms in Australia found that almost eight out of ten jobs at those factories would cease to exist by June 2001.

(6) Is the Minister able to say whether three of the top four steel fabrication firms in Western Australia have closed.

(7) Is it a fact that the bulk of steel fabrication work on projects including the Visy project at Tumut, NSW, the Callide C. Millmerran and Tarong power stations in Queensland, and the Kwinana Fertiliser Plant in Western Australia, will be imported from overseas.

(8) Has the Minister's attention been drawn to a report in the (a) Townsville Bulletin on 15 August 2000, in which Pacific Coast Engineering Sales Manager stated that the fifteen-year-old company that employed 126 people six months ago now employs only half that number due to foreign imports of steel and will reduce the number of apprentices from 12 to two and (b) Bundaberg News Mail of 24 August 2000 stating that Stewart and Sons reports the loss of a quarter of its steel fabrication workforce as a result of foreign imports.

(9) Is the Minister aware of estimates by the Australian Institute of Steel Construction that the level of steel fabrication imports increased six-fold between 1992 and 1998 and that around two hundred thousand tonnes of fabricated steel is due to be imported.

Mr Reith (Minister for Defence) —The Minister for Industry, Science and Resources has provided the following answer to the honourable member's questions:

(1) Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate that imports of structural steel products in the ten months to 31 October 2000 totalled 50,798 tonnes.

(2) The Government is currently working with industry to address issues of industry competitiveness through the Heavy Engineering and Infrastructure Action Agenda.

(3) The Government expects project developers to provide full, fair and reasonable opportunity to Australian firms to participate in the supply of goods and services. This commitment is shared by all Australian Governments, and was reaffirmed by all Industry Ministers in February last year.

(4) In general engineering standards are determined by the project designer. Government encourages the internationalisation of Australian standards so that Australian firms will be increasingly competitive in global markets.

(5) The Government is aware that the ownership and level of operation of some of the largest Australian fabricators have changed and that these changes reflect commercial decisions. However, latest ABS data indicates that employment in structural steel fabrication has remained relatively constant: 17,327 in 1995-96 to 20 634 in 1998-99.

(6) I understand that one firm has closed and its plant taken over by another company; two other fabrication shops have reduced their staff as a result of a downturn in the Western Australian resources sector but that they are still bidding for new contracts.

(7) See response to question 3.

(8) The newspaper articles reflect the publicity material provided under the AISC/SIA campaign to promote the use of local steel fabrication.

(9) See response to question 1.