Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane hinted a ‘‘very big proposal’’ would make a massive difference to the Illawarra and BlueScope Steel, but revealed nothing about it during a visit to Wollongong on Monday.
Mr Macfarlane joined NSW Industry Minister Anthony Roberts, BlueScope chief executive Paul O’Malley and a plethora of Illawarra politicians, union officials and business leaders for a round-table discussion at the University of Wollongong’s Innovation Campus.
The 30-strong group of Illawarra representatives were given a chance to air their concerns and share solutions about the future of BlueScope Steel at Port Kembla and the region’s long-term economic development. The talks lasted about 90 minutes.
As expected, Mr Macfarlane’s visit yielded nothing in the way of a rescue package announcement or immediate economy-changing measures.
The Minister described the meeting as ‘‘very positive and constructive’’.
‘‘No issue is off the table, but we do need to do things that aren’t sugar-hits and quick-fixes, we need long-term solutions for this region,’’ he said.
Asked when we would see a plan for the region, Mr Macfarlane said elements of an overall ‘‘package’’ would be rolled out over the next month and ‘‘gradually after that’’.
‘‘There is a very big proposal that’s being discussed between [Senator] Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, myself and the NSW government, which we’d prefer not to talk about just yet, but it would make a massive difference to this region,’’ he said.
‘‘The solution isn’t just one thing and it isn’t just one package; the Illawarra is very much in the focus of the NSW and federal governments and we will work to build on the natural strengths.’’
Mr Macfarlane then spoke of the region’s beautiful landscape and seascape, before being asked to elaborate on the proposal.
‘‘I’d prefer not to because, as I say, there needs to be a package; Anthony Roberts and I have had a discussion this morning [Monday], we’ve agreed on a couple of things,’’ he said.
‘‘We have to get the sign-off from his Premier and my Prime Minister, but the region can be confident that we are going to make sure that we assist both the immediate issues in terms of the potential job losses at BlueScope but also put in place programs that’ll last.’’
Mr Macfarlane said the proposal included ‘‘a range of things’’ and wouldn’t necessarily just involve infrastructure building. ‘‘I’m not going to be specific,’’ he said.
Asked if he was aware how frustrating the comment would be for the hundreds of people whose jobs hang in the balance, the Minister said workers should take solace from the range of people involved in the round table.
‘‘Everyone is in agreement and there is no political point-scoring; that would say to me, if I was a worker, that the people they elect to get this thing fixed are working on fixing it and I’d be confident about that,’’ he said.
One of the region’s sitting MPs, and Parliamentary Secretary for the Illawarra, Gareth Ward said the discussions had broken a few boundaries.
‘‘We’re not talking about local versus state versus federal, industry versus public, what we’re actually talking about is the future of this region and what we can all do to play our part,’’ he said.
‘‘There was a true spirit of bipartisanship, people committed to the tough questions but also the solutions that can take the region forward into what will be a very bright future.’’