BlueScope could be in line for a big steel order from the federal government to help build its ships.
Industry Minister Greg Hunt was in the Illawarra on Wednesday and visited the steelmaker’s Spring Hill plant.
It was the first visit from a federal industry minister in more than a year.
Ian MacFarlane visited the region at the start of September 2015 touting a plan to save the steel industry – of which little was heard after he was dumped.
His replacement Christopher Pyne never publicly visited the steelworks, despite numerous calls to do so.
When asked about the lack of visits from industry ministers during the steel crisis, Mr Hunt pointed out this was his third visit to a steel plant since he landed in the job eight weeks ago.
“It’s not the visit, though, that’s the key thing,” Mr Hunt said.
“It’s the message of genuine support and optimism for the Australian steel industry.
“The only way in a competitive world our businesses can thrive and be successful is if they innovate and they’re world-class competitive in their own right.”
He said if the Australian steel industry continued to be competitive he was “deeply optimistic” about its long-term future.
During the visit Mr Hunt raised the possibility that BlueScope was in the mix when it came to an upcoming ship-building contract.
“The contracts are still to be struck but we have made the commitment that 19 Pacific patrol boats that will be built in Western Australia will be done with Australian steel,” Mr Hunt said.
“There will be a competitive process but my belief, my expectation is that the Australian steel industry will be a big winner and will be underpinned in a very big way by the naval building process.
“Our expectation is that these boats will be built with overwhelmingly Australian steel.”
Mark Vassella, CEO of Bluescope’s Australian operations said the company was keen to be involved.
“Any domestic order I can take that helps the plate mill or the hot strip mill I’d be delighted to take,” Mr Vassella said.
“Ship building is good for us, as are submarines, they’re good projects for local manufacturing.
“We’re the only [Australian] steelmaker who makes flat products, so from that perspective we’d like to think we’re right in the sweet spot for those sort of projects.”
As well as the tour through BlueScope, Mr Hunt also spoke with union representatives and held a round-table meeting with civic leaders to discuss issues affecting the Illawarra region.