It has been dubbed the most comprehensive state government response to the country’s steel crisis.
The NSW Opposition put its steel deal on the table on Monday, announcing it would implement procurement policy changes and review the state’s infrastructure plan – should it win government in 2019.
In the meantime, the party has called on the Baird government to match its steel assistance package, which would require the 90 per cent use of Australian-made steel in infrastructure projects.
“This is the most comprehensive announcement and response by a state government in relation to what we have at the moment – a steel crisis,” Labor spokesman for the Illawarra Ryan Park said.
Mr Park was joined by Labor’s industry spokesman, Adam Searle, for the announcement at BlueScope’s Port Kembla steelworks.
“This is a great shot in the arm for the Illawarra, it will help secure the steel industry for this state and for the wider country,” Mr Searle said.
“The challenge is now for the government to come to the party.”
Among the procurement policy changes included in the Secure and Sustainable Steel Jobs package is a “whole of life” assessment of steel use in major government projects. The approach takes into account the initial price isn’t the total cost of steel in a project.
“That’s not been done in the past, it’s a fundamental shift of focus,” Mr Searle said.
The plan also includes the appointment of an Illawarra-based Steel Industry Advocate.
Asked why 90 per cent was chosen for the mandate, Mr Park said it would provide “the maximum benefit”.
“Ninety per cent is a very strong signal,” he said.
“It sends a strong signal to employees, it sends a strong signal to BlueScope ... that we are fair dinkum about making sure NSW government projects ... are also being used to make sure that we support jobs.”
Minister for Finance, Services and Property Dominic Perrottet said Labor’s plan to mandate Australian steel use would increase costs and breach the terms of the country’s trade agreements.
“While the policy may support Labor’s vested interests in the short term, it is not in the best interests of the people of NSW, and will not meet the challenges the Australian steel industry faces now and into the future,” Mr Perrottet said.
The $60 payroll support package for BlueScope Steel, announced in October, was “instrumental in enabling the company to maintain its steelmaking capability”, the minister said.
“This was just one of a range of measures we have implemented to assist the local steel industry as it faces global challenges,” he said
“We have increased local involvement in infrastructure by requiring bidders on projects valued at more than $10 million to show how they will support local industry.
“We already require NSW Government agencies to use independent testing and certification to ensure the quality of construction materials, and our policy already applies Australian and international steel standards to NSW infrastructure projects to ensure local suppliers aren’t facing unfair competition from lower quality steel sourced overseas.”
Mr Perrottet said the NSW government was one of the largest buyers of steel in Australia.
Steelworker gets morale boost
Sime Jovanovski has worked at the Port Kembla steelworks for 26 years. He would “like to keep it that way”.
Mr Jovanovski, from Cordeaux Heights, was given a confidence boost when Labor announced its industry support plan on Monday.
“I haven’t seen any ... party come here to make this statement,” the 47-year-old, who works in the Basic Oxygen Steelmaking (BOS) department, said.
“This is about commitment. We’ve committed ourselves to the steel industry here and now that the Labor Party has come on board, it’s great news.
“We [steelworkers] all pay our taxes and we deserve to be represented a lot better than what the Liberal Party’s doing. They’ve shown zero interest to this region.
“It’s sad – how can you vote for somebody that’s not interested and doesn’t know where the place is?”
Good news worth the wait: unions
“This has taken a bit of time but, I tell you what, I’d gladly wait that bit of time to get news like this.”
They were the words South Coast Labour Council secretary, and staunch steel campaigner, Arthur Rorris used to sum up NSW Labor’s industry support package.
Australian Workers’ Union Port Kembla branch secretary Wayne Phillips agreed, describing the unions’ fight as “a long, hard battle”.
“It’s something that we’ve been fighting for for a long time now. The people who work in the mills behind us can feel exceptionally grateful for what’s happened,” Mr Phillips said during Monday’s announcement at the Port Kembla steelworks.
“As we’ve said all along, to do what they [Labor] have done today [Monday] secures, as far as I’m concerned, our industry.”
Mr Rorris said the Labor plan, which included a pledge to mandate 90 per cent Australian-made steel use in taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects, was a big step in the right direction.
“We have a very firm proposal here and a way forward to secure our steel industry; we do not have that from the NSW government,” he said.
“Unless, and until, the Baird government can come up with a better plan, as far as we’re concerned this is it. It’s the only offer on the table at the moment that is consistent, that is thought out and has a capacity to do its stated purpose of saving this industry.”
Despite the fact Labor are currently in opposition, Mr Rorris said he was heartened to hear there would no be “a very serious discussion with the government and all the parties in NSW to ensure this becomes policy”.
Mr Phillips turned his attention, and hopes, to other levels of government.
“NSW is leading the way across this country and all Labor governments, whether they be state or federal, need to pick up and learn from the announcement today [Monday],” he said.
“It’s absolutely bloody fantastic news.”
‘Government steel procurement surest path to securing steel industry future’
The Greens have backed a NSW Labor announcement requiring 90 per cent steel Australian-made steel being used in every taxpayer-funded infrastructure project across the state.
The Opposition’s announcement on Monday came just days before the Greens’ Steel Industry Protection Bill 2016 (SIPB) is expected to be debated in the NSW Parliament.
The Greens’ bill would require all state government-funded infrastructure projects utilising more than two tonnes of steel to use only Australian-manufactured steel.
The SIPB excludes products that can’t be reasonably made in Australia or from our steel from the mandate, which Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge said would be equivalent to Labor’s 90 per cent target.
“From Whyalla to Port Kembla, mandatory steel procurement by government agencies is the surest path to securing the future of the Australian steel industry and the thousands of jobs it supports,” Mr Shoebridge said.
“This week, the NSW Legislative Council has the opportunity to make history by passing a bill that would require all state government projects use Australian-made steel.
“The Greens alone can’t get steel procurement through the NSW Parliament. We want to work with Labor and the cross-benchers to get this bill through the Legislative Council so we can put real pressure on the Liberal-National government in the Lower House.”
Asked if Labor was getting in ahead of this week’s SIPB debate by making its announcement on Monday, the party’s spokesman for the Illawarra Ryan Park said the issue was “above party politics”.
“We have worked in cooperation with the Greens, they know what we are doing,” Mr Park said.
“We will now have some formal discussions with them about the way in which we can make sure our policy is incorporated into any legislation.”
Mr Shoebridge said if Australia lost its steel manufacturing, it would be gone for good.
“There are no second chances,” he said.
“With just two sitting weeks left before the NSW Parliament rises for the winter break, securing the future of steelmaking in the Illawarra and across the country is a matter of urgency.
“It is a testament to the late Greens NSW MP John Kaye that he was able to gain such broad political support for steel procurement policy in this state and across the country.”