Where was Gareth Ward?
It was the question the Illawarra’s Labor MPs wanted answered as the Steel Industry Protection Bill 2016 hit the floor of the NSW Legislative Assembly on Thursday.
The bill, which states a minimum 90 per cent of steel used in government infrastructure projects must be Australian-made, was tabled by Labor’s Illawarra spokesman, Ryan Park, at 10.55am.
Despite the Illawarra-led push behind the bill, the government’s response was delivered by Ku-ring-gai MP Alister Henskens – not Mr Ward, the region’s parliamentary secretary.
Mr Ward wasn’t in the chamber – he was meeting with the region’s nurses and the health minister (about the public-private partnership at Shellharbour Hospital) at the time.
Earlier, Mr Park told Parliament the proposed steel legislation was a “community bill” and highlighted the important role the steel industry played in the Illawarra.
“The Illawarra has a proud history of steelmaking … and our economy is in transition, but not everyone can work in this new economy straight away,” he said.
“As [steel campaigner] Wayne Phillips said ‘not everyone can pour coffee’ and the reality is men and women in the steelworks need a future.”
Mr Park said: “Not having a steel industry is not like losing a corner shop”.
“Not having a steel industry means thousands of men and women in the area that we call home don’t pay mortgages,” he said.
Mr Henskens said the government supported the state’s steel industry, but opposed the steel bill because it was “not in the best interests of NSW”.
“This bill would be completely unworkable in practice,” he said.
The debate was adjourned until next week.