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Thursday, 17 September 2015
Page: 7162

Steel Industry

Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (14:31): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Industry and Science, Senator Ronaldson. Australian steelmakers and fabricators operate in an ethical environment. This means that their product quality has to be of a high level and quality documentation must be accurate. Compliance with environmental, workplace and other requirements must be thorough. Many overseas steelmakers and fabricators have no such boundaries, so their costs will always be cheaper. Many are owned by unelected governments and can freely dump low-cost steel on the world market.

Australia will lose its steelmaking industry if the government's current open-door policy remains in place for much longer. What does the Australian government plan to do to safeguard the Australian steelmaking industry and Australian jobs?

Senator RONALDSON (VictoriaMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC and Special Minister of State) (14:32): I thank Senator Madigan for his question and acknowledge his longstanding interest in this matter, and I thank him for providing me with some notice about the question. The Australian government is aware of the pressures on the Australian steel industry, particularly given the tougher economic conditions in China and the resulting oversupply in the global market. The government is working closely with the steel industry to deal with these issues, with a focus on the long-term future for Australian manufacturing and jobs. However, successive governments have found that restoring high tariffs is not a sustainable option for the development of Australian industry, as high tariffs impose additional costs upon both producers and end consumers, slowing productivity growth. Raising barriers to trade could result in retaliation from our trading partners and jeopardise our export industries as well as undermine Australia's treaty obligations to trading partners.

The Minister for Industry and Science, Ian Macfarlane, recently held a meeting of key stakeholders in Wollongong, including the New South Wales government, local federal MPs, BlueScope Steel, workers, unions, the local council, the business community and the university, to develop a long-term economic strategy for the steel industry and for the Illawarra. The government looks forward to continuing to work with the steel industry and the Illawarra community in a bipartisan manner.

I understand that industry can request a safeguards investigation by the Productivity Commission, but that is up to those involved in the industry, and that at the instigation of industry the minister can refer a safeguards request to the Productivity Commission for investigation. The industry would have to provide prima facie evidence that the industry is facing material damage and this damage is directly resulting from an increase of imports of steel. It actually has nothing to do with anti-dumping.

Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (14:34): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. There are numerous examples of imported fabricated steel arriving in Australia containing major defects. This steel is being purchased by both private enterprise and government. It is obvious that state government and private enterprise cannot control the quality of imported steel. What does the federal government plan to do to protect the citizens of Australia from collapses or other unintended consequences of poor-quality imported steel?

Senator RONALDSON (VictoriaMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC and Special Minister of State) (14:34): Again I thank Senator Madigan. The government shares your concern in relation to non-conforming building products. At the building ministers forum in Melbourne—I think it was in July, from recollection—ministers agreed on a range of significant outcomes that will benefit the Australian building and construction industry and the wider community. One of the key themes of the building ministers forum was addressing non-conforming building products, and during the meeting the Commonwealth put on the table options for better information sharing with Customs and Border Protection that would assist state and territory regulators to better manage and respond to non-conforming products coming into the country.

The Commonwealth and state and territory ministers also agreed to establish a working group of senior officers that will report back within six months on the issue of non-conforming building products. I am pleased to say this working group has been established and will be meeting in the coming months to work through the forward plan. The key task will be to work up strategies to minimise the risk to consumers, businesses and the community. (Time expired)

Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (14:36): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. With the current oversupply of steel on the world market, dumping into Australia is rife. It is a lot easier for an importer to dump overseas steel than it is for an Australian steelmaker to mount a dumping case and prove dumping. Why has the government allowed a situation to develop where the playing field is skewed more in favour of foreign steel dumpers than Australian steelmakers, and what does the government plan to do about it?

Senator RONALDSON (VictoriaMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC and Special Minister of State) (14:36): Again I thank Senator Madigan. The claim that our anti-dumping system is set in favour of importers is totally incorrect. Our regime is seen as one of the strongest and most robust in the world. As Senator Madigan knows, earlier this year the government introduced a suite of reforms to the anti-dumping system, and some of these include: placing a greater onus on overseas businesses to cooperate with investigations, more stringent deadlines for the submissions, tracking down uncooperative exporters, better assistance for Australian businesses, addressing circumvention of anti-dumping duties, reducing red tape, improving certainty and improving the anti-dumping merits review. I think it is fair to say that we are absolutely committed to ensuring that our anti-dumping regime is a strong one and that it does comply. We are a government that has done something about this. The interjections from Senator Carr before only confirm that they did absolutely nothing at all about this. (Time expired)