Australia needs to be a country that continues to make stuff.
As one of the world's largest exporters of iron ore and metallurgical coal, I say that Australia needs to be a country that continues to make steel.
In my region, the Illawarra, steel has been an integral part of our economy since 1928. It has shaped the region, it has shaped our infrastructure and it has shaped our landscape but it has also shaped our workforce. It has been one of the largest employers and one of the largest capital contributors to the region.
At its height, it employed close to 30,000 people. Of course, we have been through many challenges since 1928. I remember, very vividly, the impact on the region when, in 1982-83, the steelworks went from 23,000 employees down to 13,000 employees in a very short period of time. It changed the region; it changed the aspirations and hopes of everyone who thought their future careers might be within the steelworks.
I have grave concerns that we may go through a similar process again, unless we are able to put in place a plan which saves our steel industry and ensures our steel industry continues to be a profitable industry and a good employer for years to come. The problem is this - since the global financial crisis, the Australian steel industry has faced very difficult trading conditions, from the high Australian dollar to high input costs and many other factors.
The heart of the problem we face today is the fact that China has gone from a rapid growth phase into a more moderate growth phase. Over the last decade it has gone from a country that is a net importer of steel to that of a net exporter of steel, much of which is subsidised. With that rapid slowdown, 800 million tonnes per annum are about to hit the world market.
Many countries around the world are responding by putting in place strong antidumping measures and local content requirements for domestic infrastructure and spending projects. These are policies that Australia must consider.
Today I will be meeting with representatives of BlueScope, the unions, and the Leader of the Opposition. I know there are many other meetings that are going on within the House as well. Labor is committed to ensuring that at the next election we have a steel industry policy, which ensures we continue to make steel in this country.
Of course, we do not have to wait until the next election. When we were in government, we put in place tough antidumping rules to ensure that subsidised steel did not flood our local markets.
The problem we have is this Government has stripped resources from the Anti-Dumping Commission. We can act now by increasing the resources.
We also put in place the Australian Jobs Act to ensure that local businesses and government contracts offered the work to local companies. The government is not serious about it. They can act now and ensure the Australian Jobs Act is enforced.