While the federal government did little to save the Port Kembla steelworks, it has gifted South Australia’s steelmaker an $80 million contract to replace rail lines.
Some may view this as a snub for the Illawarra but one steel campaigner said it could be game-changer when it came to steel procurement.
This week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made an announcement that Whyalla steelmaker Arrium would be given a no-bid contract to replace up to 1200 kilometres of rail line overseen by federal agency Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC).
“The Prime Minister’s visit to Whyalla was part of a broader tour of South Australia,” a spokesman for Mr Turnbull said.
“The visit to South Australia also included an announcement regarding the new Centre for Defence Industry Capability which will be headquartered in Adelaide.”
Local federal MPs Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones issued a joint statement welcoming the decision.
“Everything possible must be done to protect Australian steelmaking jobs,” the statement said.
“However, Malcolm Turnbull and his Industry Minister Christopher Pyne appear to have forgotten about the Illawarra where 500 jobs have already been lost from BlueScope last year.”
South Coast Labour Council secretary and steel campaigner Arthur Rorris said the Whyalla move showed the government was “finally worried about the electoral impact of its hands-off policy in the steel industry”.
“The jobs politicians are most keen to protect are their own and we can see that in the reaction to the Whyalla crisis,” Mr Rorris said.
He added the Prime Minister’s decison had shown that the campaigners’ push to use Australian-made steel on government infrastructure projects is possible.
“Our challenge to the Prime Minister is this - you’ve just mandated the use of Australian-made steel in one project, there is nothing stopping you from mandating it in all projects - you’ve just showed us how its done,” Mr Rorris said.