RICHARD MARLES MP | SENATOR DON FARRELL
SUBJECTS: Whyalla steelworks; Australian manufacturing.
SENATOR DON FARRELL, LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Thank you very much and thank you for Richard Marles, our Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party coming to Whyalla and we’re here with Shane and his delegates from that great Trade Union, the Australian Workers Union, and we’ve just had a little visit to the Steelworks here. It’s a good day to be here, because of course, the announcement last night that the Steelworks will continue to have funding. That’s very good news for the workers at the steel mill, but also, all of the people who live in Whyalla. The workers at the Mill have done a terrific job over the last couple of years in ensuring that this is a profitable operation. But not only is it good for the workers, but also for the country. We need to be a country that makes steel, we need to be a country that makes things. We need to continue to do the great work that all of the people in Whyalla currently do. I’d like to now hand over to Richard Marles, our Deputy Leader, who’s come from Melbourne today to look over the site and to give us some insights about what Labor will do in terms of the steel industry. Thank you.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Firstly, can I thank Don Farrell for bringing me here and for the contribution that he makes in the Federal Parliament. It’s great to be here with Shane and delegates from the Australian Workers Union, delegates at the Whyalla Steelworks. And it’s fantastic to be here on such a significant day, given the announcement that was made around the refinancing of the Steelworks, which has really given a shot in the arm for this community, for these workers, and for this business. And what this is, is a vote of confidence in Australian manufacturing. It shows that we can make things in this country in a way which is high tech, and which produces products of the highest quality, in this case steel making. As Don said, it is profoundly important that we have steel making in this country for our national sovereign industrial capability. We’ve seen too much of that lost over the last eight years. This is an achievement first and foremost of the workers at the steelworks. It’s their efforts in continuous improvement, it’s what they’ve done years ago, taking a 10 per cent pay increase when administration – 10 per cent pay cut I should say – when there was administration. It’s the sacrifices that they have made, which have put the company in a position where they are today that there is now the financing available in relation to the future of the steelworks here. This has happened because of the workforce, because of the management, because of the owners who have a vision for steelmaking in this country. But this has happened, despite the federal government. The federal government has overseen the biggest deindustrialisation in our country’s history in the last eight years. Where is Scott Morrison today? Scott Morrison and his government have no commitment to Australian manufacturing and to Australian steel making. It was under this Liberal government that we saw the loss of the car industry from our country. It’s under this Liberal government that we’re seeing refining being placed under enormous pressure. It’s under this Liberal government that this steelworks has had an incredible anxiety over the last few years about its future. And what we’ve seen is a government that has been in drift over the last eight years and has been completely missing in action in terms of providing the basis on which we can continue to make steel in this country. What we now need to see is leadership from the federal government to give Australian steel a go, to make sure that this steelworks and its product is able to tender for government work. It’s really important that we maintain the steel industry in this country, it is a fundamental part of our national sovereign industrial capability. Labor is completely committed to steelmaking in this country and to the future of manufacturing in Australia and we see it is absolutely essential to reconstructing out of COVID in a way which puts Australia going forward rather than simply going back to an economy which really wasn’t travelling that well before COVID hit. It is fantastic to be here today. It really is a wonderful announcement. As I say, it’s a credit to the workers, a credit to the Union, a credit to the local management. Really, we are enormously pleased for them and their future and today’s a day where everyone in this town will be celebrating.
JOURNALIST: Are you happy to take some questions?
JOURNALIST: So, I guess what was your initial reaction to the news yesterday?
MARLES: Well, I just know how much this steelworks means to Whyalla and how important a large employer, a large manufacturer like this is, not just to those who work here, but to the small businesses of Whyalla, to the community organisations in Whyalla to the sporting clubs in Whyalla, to life in Whyalla. This is not going to be a decision which is simply celebrated by those who work at the steelworks. It’s going to be celebrated throughout this town and so you couldn’t help but feel the sense of joy. And, you know, coming from Geelong, I’ve seen the other side of this, you know, we lost car manufacturing in my hometown, we lost an aluminium smelter, I know what it looks like, when you turn the lights off. You don’t turn them back on. And so, it’s really important that the steelworks continues and I can really understand the joy that we’ve experienced today and speaking with the workforce about the way they’ve received the news yesterday.
JOURNALIST: What’s your understanding about the refinancing deal?
MARLES: Well, as we understand it, this is a – provides a sustainable footing now for the company going forward. As I said, it is a vote of confidence in the capacity of this plant to make steel at a profit, and to have a quality product, which is able to be sold into the Australian market. And I think one of the things that we have learned from COVID is how important it is that we maintain an industrial sovereign capability in this country. What’s clear in speaking with the management is that you know, the order, the forward order book for steel coming out of the plant has grown during the COVID crisis. And this refinancing is a vote of confidence in that and I think can give people a sense that this is a place which absolutely has a future.
JOURNALIST: And how confident are you that the future of jobs at the steelworks is now secure?
MARLES: Well, I think it’s secure. But, I make this point, you know, governments need to support manufacturing in this country. And it’s really important that we have a federal government, which sees the importance of this. But it is a great announcement, and these jobs are secure. But we can never take this for granted and sadly, too often over the last eight years, we’ve had a federal government in drift, which has taken Australian manufacturing for granted. And as a result, we have seen 1000s upon 1000s of jobs lost, communities being hollowed out, and our industrial capability diminished. And that’s what must not happen in terms of the future and I can tell you, a future Labor Government absolutely understands the importance of manufacturing and we’ll back manufacturing and steelmaking in this country.
JOURNALIST: Just on that then, with the upcoming election next year, what is Labor proposing to do to help secure the future of the steelworks?
MARLES: Well, we are going to fight for every manufacturing job in this country. We’ve announced the National Reconstruction Fund, which is a significant amount of capital, which is there to make sure that we maintain and build and grow manufacturing capability in Australia. We need to be doing much better at turning science into jobs and that is an example of science being turned into jobs right there. This is high tech manufacturing. Now when we lose manufacturing like this, we actually lose complexity in our economy, we lose capability. And so Labor is completely committed to that and we’ll have more to say in the lead up to the next election about that. But you can be sure that Labor is on the side of Australian manufacturing and Labor understands how absolutely important it is in terms of building a diverse economy, but not just that, making sure that you have these kinds of facilities which generate secure, permanent full-time employment.
JOURNALIST: What roles can both state and federal governments do now to secure the future of the steelworks?
MARLES: Well, I think it’s really important that government gives Australian steel a go, it’s really important that on government work, there is at least the opportunity for Australian steel, for this company to tender and actually that’s all they’re asking for. That is a really important step forward. But I think it’s also important that there is just a fundamental commitment to Australian manufacturing, that understanding the significance of being able to make steel in terms of our national interests in terms of our national security is something which exists within government, which is ultimately backed by the government.
JOURNALIST: And I guess do you have confidence that Sanjeev Gupta will continue to deliver for Whyalla now?
MARLES: Well, I think he has clearly has a vision for the future of steelmaking here. I think we have to look at this on face value. I mean, the announcement that he made yesterday is his vote of confidence in the future of this steelworks and his belief that this can be a profitable, ongoing concern and that’s a great thing.