As campaigners and industry representatives gathered to talk steel at the University of Wollongong’s Innovation Campus on Monday, many would have felt a sense of déjà vu.
Eighteen months ago, just a stone’s throw from where Monday’s NSW government steel forum was held, very similar talks took place.
On September 7, 2015 – a time when the future of BlueScope’s Port Kembla steelworks hung in the balance – the then federal Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane, hosted a steel meeting (also at the Innovation Campus).
At the time, Mr Macfarlane hinted at a “very big proposal” that would help the Illawarra and BlueScope Steel.
Three different federal industry ministers later and we’ve heard nothing about it.
So, what was different at Monday’s state government-led discussions?
“It was the most productive discussion on steel I’ve ever been a part of,” said parliamentary secretary for the Illawarra Gareth Ward.
As a result, NSW Minister for Finance, Services and Property Victor Dominello has given a directive to the government’s procurement department; he wants a report within 28 days.
“We come out of today’s meeting with a timeline,” Mr Ward said. “I will be holding the minister to account and I will be making sure that work is done and is delivered.”
Mr Ward has called on his government to do more to support Australian steelmakers and has asked for steel standards in all contracts.
No government decisions were made in that regard at Monday’s forum, angering Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge.
Mr Shoebridge wasn’t at the meeting, but said he had spoken with participants who described it as “just a talkfest”.
“Their [the government’s] only commitment was that they may produce something within 28 days,” he said.
“They’ve had years to come up with a viable policy and that’s a deeply disappointing outcome.”
Mr Ward said he was “not going to be lectured by Labor and the Greens” and again rejected claims the forum was a talkfest.
“If we’d walked away without an outcome, I think that people could justify that allegation,” he said.
HOW THE INDUSTRY FIGHT HAS UNFOLDED
- AUGUST 24, 2015: BlueScope flags the Port Kembla steelworks could shut if company can’t find $200 million in savings.
- SEPTEMBER 7, 2015: Steel industry roundtable, with then federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane, in Wollongong.
- OCTOBER 8, 2015: Workers vote to keep the Port Kembla steelworks open, sacrifice pay/conditions
- OCTOBER 26, 2015: NSW government announces $60 million payroll tax relief for BlueScope.
- OCTOBER 26, 2015: Then federal Industry Minister Christopher Pyne talks with steel stakeholders at meeting in Sydney.
- MARCH 17, 2016: Steel Industry Protection Bill (SIPB) introduced into the NSW upper house.
- AUGUST 25, 2016: SIPB passes the upper house, with support from all minor political parties.
- SEPTEMBER 13, 2016: SIPB introduced into the Legislative Assembly (LA).
- MARCH 9, 2017: SIPB fails to reach a vote in LA; bill lapses.
- MARCH 20, 2017: NSW government-led steel procurement forum.