Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Adelaide - Steel industry in South Australia; Election; Nuclear Royal Commission

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP

ADELAIDE
FRIDAY, 19 FEBRUARY 2016


 

SUBJECT/S: Steel industry in South Australia; Election; Nuclear Royal Commission; Gary Gray; Asylum seekers

 

NICK CHAMPION, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR MANUFACTURING: Well, it's great to be here with Bill Shorten in Adelaide today and we know this a critical time for South Australia. We've seen, since this Government was elected, an assault on industrial base of this state. It doesn’t matter whether you look at my electorate or Holden, or whether you look at ship building and submarine building, or whether you now look a steel. We need someone in Canberra who's sticking up for South Australians and for blue collar workers and we need a leader who's prepared to do that. And every step of the way Bill Shorten has been that leader. Backing in auto workers in the face of  Government in-action and neglect and nonchalance on their futures, backing in submarine workers and forcing this Government to the table to build the 12 submarines in South Australia and backing in today steel working in Whyalla and iron workers in Whyalla who need the Federal Government's help and need action from the Federal Government. We currently have a Prime Minister who's more interested in excitement and glamour and catching a tram to Toorak and getting a selfie and what we actually need is a leader who backs in blue collar workers, backs in South Australians, backs in Australians and that leader is Bill Shorten. It's great to have him in Adelaide today.

 

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Nick. Good morning everyone. I want to thank my Parliamentary Secretary for Manufacturing, Nick Champion. A son of South Australia and a champion for keeping manufacturing jobs in South Australia. I'm here today because the steel industry in Australia, in particular Whyalla, is at a tipping point. The decisions that the company makes, the South Australian Government make and the Federal Government make will determine whether or not Australia is still a country that makes steel. For 14 years before I went into Parliament, I represented steelworkers and ironworkers in Whyalla, in Wollongong and elsewhere and I have been appalled at the neglect, the dereliction of duty by the current Liberal Government when it comes to manufacturing jobs. Remember that Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott practically goaded the car companies to leave and they've done nothing to help the submarine contract for South Australia. If it wasn't for Labor and others kicking up a stink and fighting for South Australian submarine jobs, there's no doubt in my mind that this Government would have already let the contract and the submarines would have been built overseas. And her here we go again, we've got to stand up for Whyalla steel jobs. I have written to the Prime Minister. I've written to them on a number of occasions but I've written to them yesterday about the direct future of the Whyalla steelworks and operations. There are measures which the Federal Government, Mr Turnbull, working with the South Australian Government and the Arrium company could put in place which will assist a sustainable future for steel manufacturing in this country because right now the steel industry's under attack. What we see is Chinese and Korean steel companies effectively engaging in the trade version of match fixing and we need the rules to back up our jobs and our people. So what I want to see is stronger anti-dumping laws. I want to see all levels of government, local government, state government, national government, prioritising the purchase of Australian steel. And again, I say to Mr Turnbull, that I would support and am open to the option of co-investment in vital infrastructure in Whyalla including the wharf. Now is the time that the Government roll up their sleeves. No more waffle, no more talk, no more inaction, now's the time for action. The Australian steel industry is at a tipping point and I say to Mr Turnbull, don't be the Liberal Prime Minister who waves goodbye to the steel industry in Australia. I will work with you, Mr Turnbull, to save Australian steel, Australian jobs and Australian manufacturing. Happy to take questions. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Unlike the car industry, perhaps you think it's worth investing that money and that time to try and save that industry in Whyalla and that it can remain long term?

 

Yes, absolutely I do. Steel is in a category all on its own. We need a domestic steel manufacturing industry for our economic independence. Once we stop making steel, we will become price takers and we will have no ability to have any control over the price of steel that goes into our projects. Now I do believe, and these are strong words, but now's the time just for straight talk. Our steelworkers and our nation's manufacturing sector deserves more. I believe the Chinese and Korean steel companies are engaging in the trade version of match fixing. Australia needs to stand up for Australian jobs. Now I'm prepared to do that. I'm saying there are measures in place. We spend scarce taxpayer dollars very carefully. But I don't believe that Australian taxpayers object to an expectation that when they're building buildings and vital infrastructure that we include a proportion of Australian made content in these projects. It's what the rest of the world does every day. I do believe that we can support smart procurement backing in Australian jobs. I also believe that we need to toughen up our anti-dumping laws. There's no doubt the rest of the world, the Europeans, the Americans, the Indians, they're all standing up for their own manufacturing sectors. It's time that Australia got its head out of the sand and stopped pretending there's a level playing field out there because there's not and the only people that get damaged by this level playing field philosophy of the Liberals are blue collar workers and their families. I also believe, going specifically to the heart of your question, that what Labor would do and what Government should do is help make markets work efficiently and sometimes that may involve co-investment and vital infrastructure to help give Arrium the breathing space. I'm not saying that we co-invest in the wharf or the port forever. I'm not saying that we couldn't then move it back to the market, but right now, if we let these jobs go, we will see fewer rates being paid, more unemployed. There's no free lunch and Australia needs to back in Aussie jobs.

 

JOURNALIST: If there is a risk, though, that Government could throw money at the problem and it won't change one of the fundamental issues which is low commodity prices?

 

You're quite right. Low commodity prices are part of the pressure that Arrium's feeling and I don't blame the Government for that. But, you know, commodity prices in the long term do move upwards. What I don't want to see is that when eventually prices move up, that we can't take benefit of it because we no longer make those jobs here. You know, our job is not just to be a quarry for the world, it's to value add. It's no good just shipping off our iron ore overseas and not value adding some of that here. And that's what I like about Arrium and the steel making business. It's integrated so that we not only dig up our minerals but we actually convert it into value added product. Australian steel is of excellent quality around the world, the Australian steelworker is a highly productive, multi-skilled operator. I just think what we need now is for the Government to show the sort of leadership - when will the Turnbull Government start doing something about Australian jobs?

 

JOURNALIST: You say the Treasurer talks about it being really difficult to convince other State Treasurers that the cheapest option isn't always the best. Do you agree with that assessment?

 

No, I don't actually. As I said to you, I've worked in the representing the steel industry for a decade and a half and quite often what is the cheapest is not always the best. No, I've seen plenty of projects where the benefit of having locally made steel and being able to amend the contracts, being able to make sure that the work is, you know, job specific, Australians do this pretty well. Also you have to ask yourself what are other countries around the world doing? See, other countries get that having a steel industry is important to national security. Steel is a vital component of our warships, it's a vital component of our infrastructure. We would be mugs if we waved goodbye to the steel industry just because we'd swallowed some right-wing economic textbook which said we should only do certain things in this country. We need a manufacturing industry, we need a steel industry, and if we give that away, then what our country's policymakers are doing is diminishing the chances of Australia being an independent economic nation in the future.

 

JOURNALIST: With the anti-dumping issue, you're calling for this now, shouldn't you have been calling for it years ago and Arrium might not be in this situation now?

 

I was, if you do a Google search of what I've been talking about with anti-dumping you will find from the early 2000s when I was representing steelworkers I've been doing exactly that. I've got a track record in standing up for Australian steel. I'll fight for this. I know we're the Opposition, we're not in charge, Malcolm Turnbull is the one that can make the decisions but I put the Liberal Government on notice. We will hold you accountable if you lose the steel industry, but we're not just making those sort of tough comments. We will work with the Liberal Government. I do see there's opportunities for co-investment. I see there's opportunities for local procurement. I see there's opportunities to strengthen anti-dumping laws and certainly I've been on the record for a decade and a half about our steel jobs because I understand these are good jobs. In the Whyalla community, as in other regional communities in Australia, good manufacturing jobs are what allow you to pay the mortgages, pay the bills, make sure the kids get the best start in life. These jobs have a massive multiplier effect for the future generations of Australians.

 

JOURNALIST: Co-investment, how much money do you think could be put on the table?

 

We'll have more to say about that in coming days. We are actually actively costing what is required. We really need Malcolm Turnbull to come to the party. I mean, this might not be part of his smart and agile innovative, high-tech age but let me just tell him. Steel jobs are as worthwhile as any other jobs in this country. We'll work with him. The South Australian Government's rolled up its sleeves, Tom Koutsantonis has been hitting the phones, determined what he can and of course the Arrium company has got to weigh up what it does. It's got debt, it's got commodity prices, it's got to work through its issues, how does it reduce costs but what the community need to hear, what Arrium and its investors need to hear, what its lenders need to hear is that the Government of Australia is on the side of Australian jobs. I am, time for Mr Turnbull to stand up.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, briefly on another matter, Christopher Pyne this morning has come out and flagged the possibility of the Government potentially using a double dissolution trigger to call an early election. What do you make of that option still being live and on the table?

 

SHORTEN: Labor's not afraid of an election but the Liberals are afraid of the Budget. They need to tell us what their economic plans are. I think it's the height of arrogance that the Liberals, they're like magicians, they're always trying to get you to look somewhere other than where the trick is taking place. You know, this Government for the last five and a half - six months has had the GST 15 per cent on the table. Because of Labor, because of our campaign it's taken that off the table. But now, what do they actually stand for? They're all waffle and no action. It doesn't matter if it's steel jobs, what they're going to do on negative gearing, what they're going to do on the funding of schools, what they're going to do on tackling climate change, what are they going to do about properly funding our hospitals in South Australia and elsewhere, what are they going to do to stand up for Australian jobs? This is a Government with no clear plan other than cut, cut, cut. They need to tell us what's in the Budget. They need to stop threatening the Australian people with the threat of early elections, just to cover up their lack of action on the economy of Australia.

 

JOURNALIST: Are you prepared to fight that election, though, around issues of union corruption?

 

SHORTEN: I'm prepared to fight this election around these following five issues - a fair taxation system, standing up for Australian jobs, a properly funded Medicare system where it's your Medicare card, not your credit card that determines the level of your healthcare, we'll fight it around schools, TAFE and universities where working class and middle class kids, every child gets every opportunity in every school, and we'll fight it on making sure we've got fair dinkum policies on renewable energy. And let me just go to the specific you said - Labor is anticorruption, Mr Turnbull's just antiunion.

 

JOURNALIST: When do you think we will see a clearer policy from you about the possible idea of nuclear in South Australia? We talked to you on Tuesday, you said you were still considering it, when will that crystallise?

 

SHORTEN: I appreciate your enthusiasm for us to come to a landing, it's now Thursday. What we've said is that we'll have careful look at the Royal Commission. What we've said is identical to what's been said in South Australia by people from the environmental movement across to the energy sector. We've said that we want to make sure that the economic benefits actually really stack up. We will also guard jealously our environment. We're very much a jobs, jobs, jobs political party in Labor but we also want to protect our environment and there has to be that vital ingredient community support. Now we've made it very clear that for low-level nuclear waste from the nuclear medicine industry, for example, we should have safe storage in this country. Certainly the Royal Commission's made it clear something which I've always personally believed a full-on nuclear industry in this country is not economically viable. Then there's this debate about do we take waste from other countries. We're not going to rush answer that question at the federal level and we want to make sure that the economic benefits are really spelt out versus costs, that the environmental impact is fully understood and of course there is community support. So this won't be a 48-hour decision. It's a longer process.

 

JOURNALIST: Do you believe that on the election, do you believe that Gary Gray is just being a pessimist when he says Labor can't win the next election?

 

SHORTEN: Labor's the underdog at the next election but we've frequently been the underdog and we've frequently surprised. Gary Gray has served Australia in distinction in various roles for many decades. I understand he wants to rack his cue and that's fine. I just want to promise Labor voters and indeed all Australians, that I and Labor do not intend just to run a happy second. What we will do is between now and the election every day, we will try our hardest not only to be a strong Opposition, but to be a strong alternative government. I can promise Australians that if you care about Australian jobs, properly funded Medicare, properly funded schools, TAFE, universities and early years learning, if you care about real action on the environment and renewable energy and if you want to make sure that we have a fair taxation system, well then, you know, with action against multinationals not paying their fair share, well then Labor's the party you need to consider at the next election.

 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] would you welcome New Zealand taking asylum seeker children?

 

SHORTEN:  Yes, and Labor's done this in the past with John Key. Julia Gillard came to arrangements with New Zealand. Of course, we just want to see the children out of detention but we don't want to see the people smugglers back in business. It is terrible some of the reports that we hear from Manus and Nauru and I, like most Australians, find it very distressing and these people are in our care and they do deserve, in my opinion, a better standard of care than they've been receiving. So I really hope that something can be worked and it shouldn't have come to this. Waiting times for people in these detention facilities has doubled under Mr Turnbull and his Liberals and if there's belated attention going to talking to the New Zealand Government I welcome that because these issues should be above politics. Thanks everyone.

 

ENDS

 

MEDIA CONTACT: LEADER’S OFFICE MEDIA UNIT – 02 6277 4053