5AA – WITH LEON BYNER
FRIDAY, 8 APRIL 2016
LEON BYNER, HOST: Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten - I know you have just got off a plane -
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: No worries, Leon. It's an important issue.
BYNER: Absolutely. Tell us where you stand?
SHORTEN: Labor believes that Australian Governments should seek to maximise the use of Australian steel. The Australian Government, if we were elected, would be enforcing our anti-dumping laws which is designed to prevent steal being dumped in Australia at below-cost prices. And by the way, I noticed that the hard heads in the Liberal Government are saying that these sort of comments are going to put us in trouble with the World Trade Organisation. The approach I just outlined in those last few sentences is entirely consistent with Australia's international trade obligations. And more importantly to that, the Turnbull Government should stop looking for excuses to do nothing and work with Labor to protect and support Australian jobs and to support Australian steel.
BYNER: What do you think the Fed and the State Government should do now?
SHORTEN: Well, with Arrium, I think they should do some of the following steps; one is they need to get serious about working with industry, so we need a national steel plan. I said in February and I've said this to Mr Turnbull in writing; the Government should lead by example, work with Australian steel producers and their supply chains to maximise the use of Australian steel in Government funded infrastructure projects across local, State and Federal Government.
BYNER: What happened recently of course was the New South Wales Government did a big infrastructure contract for which they used steel from Spain. Minister Pyne says he is going to write to Mike Baird and express his disappointment. What do you think the Feds should do?
SHORTEN: I think you need a Labor Government to be honest. I mean, it's not very good that Christopher Pyne is writing to Mike Baird to say he is unhappy. The trick is to have a Government in charge who actually means what it says. For instance, when you look at Arrium and the future there for those thousands of jobs, and not just in Whyalla might I add, but right across Australia, we need to have the tougher anti-dumping laws, we need to make sure that we are maximising Australian content in infrastructure projects. We also need to make sure that the standards which we set for use of steel in our construction, that's steel from wherever it's sourced meets the appropriate standard.
BYNER: That's another point I want to raise you on, because now we've had a situation where we've had alu clad out of China that the CSIRO started to test and they stopped it because it was so flammable and we've got firies, and you know this story, in at least two states who say 'we don't even know... if we believe that a building has been using this material, whether if god forbid there's a fire, we'll be safely able to attend'. Now it's clear Mr Shorten, that we're not enforcing Australian standards, what would you do?
SHORTEN: We have to strengthen our enforcement capacity of Australian standards. The Senate's been doing an inquiry and some of the evidence there is quite startling and it goes to exactly the point you're making, about making sure that material which is imported meets our standards. Now I notice this morning the Turnbull Government, rather than sort of support Arrium, has just jumped all over me for being so provocative as to say we should actually maximise Australian content. What they've got to do is stop worrying about attacking us and start putting forward a positive plan for our steel industry. The stakes are too high, regardless of who's in power. So I just want the Turnbull Government to work with us, not throw rocks at us, I mean I get that the situation that Arrium is in, is driven by commodity prices, it's also driven by the debt situation in the company, but that doesn't therefore mean that we just throw Arrium to the wolves and just shake our, wash our hands of it and say there's nothing that can be done.
Steel is not just another product in an economy, I think it is important that we have our capacity to make our own steel.
BYNER: Are you adamant that having smart procurement or saying that in infrastructure projects funded by the tax payer we will use Australian steel? Are you adamant that there is nothing in that, that transcends any free trade agreements?
SHORTEN: I believe that if a government has a policy which says that we will seek to maximise the use of Australian steel that is not going to set us off in some sort of trade war with the rest of the world. Now, that doesn’t mean that you'll never use imported steel, that doesn’t mean that you don't look to all of our trade and treaty obligations of course. But I can't buy the argument that doing nothing is the only way that we keep treaties - free trade obligations satisfied. I just don't buy this argument that people get into power and then they do nothing with that responsibility they have to the Australian people.
BYNER: The Government would already argue, the Federal Government, they've just put in place a stricter anti-dumping regiments.
SHORTEN: Improvements have been made, but the problem is they're too slow, they've been in power now for 900 days. Secondly when you've got an immediate crisis, which we do have, then it's not enough to say ‘well we've done whatever we can’ and wash our hands of it. There are families of steel workers across Australia, who are asking mum or dad, who may work in the steel company or for a small business who supplies them, what does this all mean? Now, the responsibility doesn’t just fall on Government, there is an argument going on it would appear between the banks, who are owed a lot of money, and the board of directors and I think the banks feel that they haven’t been given due notice of some of the board decisions or enough notice. So I'm not laying all the responsibility of the Arrium problems at the feet of the Government. But what I do know is that we can do more. And that's what I'm offering, a positive plan to do more.
BYNER: Okay Bill, thanks for joining us.