Last week it was announced that BlueScope, its employees and the unions had reached a memorandum of understanding for the reform of the Port Kembla steelworks.
Regrettably, it means that 500 jobs are set to go from the Port Kembla steelworks, but hope remains for the future of that important factory. Even with these job losses, there will be 4,500 remaining people who rely on the steelworks for their livelihood. They can breathe slightly more easily, but much more needs to be done to save the future of steel in Australia.
The Member for Cunningham and I welcomed the announcement. It was a decision that took real guts. I want to pay tribute to the South Coast Branch Secretary of the Australian Workers' Union, Wayne Phillips, who has done a great job through a tough series of negotiations — probably the toughest in his life — leading the workers to a position which will save the majority of the workers their jobs. These are not easy arrangements to reach.
What it shows is that the BlueScope workforce, their union and the Illawarra community are willing and able to work constructively with the company and with governments in the interests of the region and employment more generally. The unions have shown true leadership in negotiating the best deal possible for their members while keeping their eye on the main prize — that is, ensuring that the factory stays open. The ball is now in the court of the New South Wales Baird Government and here, federally, the Turnbull Government.
The situation remains critical; action is needed from the Coalition, both here in Canberra as well as in New South Wales. For the last few months they have been focused on their own jobs, but it is now important for us to focus on the future of those four and a half thousand people, and the broader Illawarra community, who rely on the Illawarra steelworks. This includes over nine and a half thousand people in the Illawarra who are today already looking for work. That number will jump to 10,000 when the 500 people walk through the gates for the last time. Labor is committed to the steel industry and will work constructively with all levels of government and all parties to ensure that we can keep the industry strong.
Only a few weeks ago, the member for Cunningham and I wrote to the Prime Minister, setting out a clear plan. I am delighted to see that the Industry Minister, Christopher Pyne, has agreed to have a meeting with all the stakeholders. It should be in Wollongong, but I will not cavil with the fact that the meeting is in Sydney. It is important that we get all the players around the table. At the federal level, we have a job to do. We must put in place anti-dumping provisions to ensure that subsidised steel is not being dumped on the Australian market, plunging the jobs and the livelihood of the steelworkers into real risk. The Anti-Dumping Commission needs to be beefed up and properly funded so that it can do the job that it was set it up to do by the Labor government.
We also need to ensure that Australians and Australian products are at the front of the queue, particularly when it comes to government procurement. We think much more can be done, and I am looking forward to statements being made by both the federal Government and the New South Wales Government on this particularly important issue. We know there is a ramp-up in infrastructure spending around the country and we would like to see more Australian steel going into those critical infrastructure projects.
I have talked about the nine and a half thousand people who are already looking for work in the Illawarra. It is essential that we put in place labour market programs to assist these workers find their way into training and new jobs within the region. It is disappointing that the government has not yet agreed to the re-establishment of the local employment coordinator, a position set up in 20 high-unemployment regions around the nation—including in the Illawarra—during the height of the Global Financial Crisis. They have played a critical role in putting in place a rapid response team for downturns and crises such as the BlueScope lay-offs. They have been very successful, for a minimum injection of Commonwealth funds, and the member for Cunningham and I again call on the government to reinstate this important position, together with other labour market programs that are essential for putting people back to work.
We also call on the government to place an entrepreneur program adviser within the Illawarra. We are told there is one in Sydney; it is an hour and a half up the road and nobody knows the local region better than somebody who is working in the region — a position that I am sure the member for Herbert, representing a regional area, would agree with me on.
The A-plan means the loss of 500 jobs. The B-plan meant the closure of the production of steel in the Illawarra. It is a tough nut to bite, but it is a welcome decision.