A MOTION demanding a report on the damage caused by dumped sub-cost steel, and other emergency measures, has passed the Senate.
Greens senator Lee Rhiannon’s call to save the steel industry - and BlueScope Steel’s Port Kembla steelworks - was supported by Independent senators John Madigan and Nick Xenophon, along with Labor senator Kim Carr.
The motion noted ‘‘urgent action’’ was needed to ensure Australia doesn't lose its steelmaking capacity.
Additional words were added just prior to Thursday’s sitting, including the need to ‘‘immediately refer matters related to dumped sub-cost steel into Australia to the Anti-Dumping Commission for a preliminary report within three weeks’’.
The Abbott Government has also been asked to include an assessment of the possible harm to country’s steel industry in the report, along with options for action including duties and World Trade Organization emergency safeguards.
Additional points relate to ensuring the ADC is adequately resourced and minimising the impact of the ‘‘worldwide oversupply of steel’’ on jobs and living standards, particularly at Port Kembla.
The latter would be achieved through the development of a ‘‘Steel Industry Plan’’, which includes policies for improved Australian industry participation, and public procurement frameworks that include ‘‘whole of life cost methods’’ for assessing and determining contracts.
The motion also stressed the need to reinstate a Local Employment Coordinator, a push driven by the Illawarra’s federal Labor politicians, to assist steelworkers losing their jobs to retrain and gain alternative employment.
Senator Rhiannon said the Abbott government failed in their attempt to defeat the motion, which passed with the combined support of the Greens, Labor and crossbenchers.
“This motion sends a strong message to the Abbott government that urgent action is needed to save the steel industry and avert an unemployment crisis in the Illawarra," she said.
“Australia is on the verge of losing its steel industry and the Illawarra community would be decimated with the massive job losses."
Opposing the motion, Manager of Government Business in the Senate, Senator Mitch Fifield said the steel industry needed a clear plan developed with all affected stakeholders, not ‘‘knee-jerk reactions’’.
‘‘Safeguard provisions and the anti-dumping regime are two separate systems and should not be confused,’’ he said.
‘‘The industry has access to both the anti-dumping regime ... and has the ability to initiate a safeguards investigation, which is has not done, if it believes that a very sudden and major influx of product has occurred.’’
Senator Fifield said the safeguard investigation couldn't be initiated in response to an ongoing market trend, such as the change in the steel market and global commodity prices.
‘‘The industry needs a clear plan developed with all affected stakeholders and not knee-jerk reactions," he said.
The motion was put to a division and passed 34 to 28.
South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris described the victory as another big step forward in their steelworks-saving campaign, being run in conjunction with the Australian Workers Union.
‘‘We have said from the start that we can’t afford to wait year’s for reports ... we need action now,’’ Mr Rorris said.
‘‘This [motion] increases the pressure on government to act and not simply to watch on the sidelines. The Senate has called for this course of action, we urge the government to heed that call.’’
To move—That the Senate —
(a) notes that:
● urgent action is needed to ensure that Australia does not lose its steelmaking capacity, in the wake of the global steel industry crisis, and
● steel producing nations are responding to the oversupply and dumping of sub-cost steel with a range of strategies that include increasing public procurement, restructuring and emergency safeguards in the form of temporary targeted tariffs; and
(b) calls on the Abbott Government to:
● immediately refer matters related to dumped sub-cost steel into Australia to the Anti-Dumping Commission for a preliminary report within three weeks to include an assessment of the possible harm to local industry, and options for action including duties and World Trade Organization emergency safeguards,
● ensure the Anti-Dumping Commission is suitably resourced to pursue ongoing improvements to Australia's anti-dumping system and reduce harm to local industry resulting from dumped imports;
● work with the steel industry, unions, businesses and communities to minimise the impact on local jobs and living standards, particularly at the Port Kembla site in the Illawarra, from the world wide over supply of steel by developing:
- a constructive Steel Industry Plan, including comprehensive policies for improvements in Australian Industry Participation, and
- public procurement frameworks that include whole of life cost methods for assessing and determining procurement contracts,
● prioritise structural adjustment and jobactive assistance to the Illawarra to minimise the impact on local jobs and living standards,
● reinstate the Local Employment Coordinator to assist steelworkers losing their jobs retrain and gain alternative employment, and
● continue the work of the International Trade Remedies Forum to address the need for ongoing improvements to Australia's anti-dumping system, and any outstanding matters from the previous Government's suite of reforms to streamline Australia's anti-dumping system.