Only two weeks ago the member for Cunningham and I wrote to the Prime Minister with some urgency.
The BlueScope steelworks, in Port Kembla, in our electorate, is facing its toughest trading conditions since the early 1980s. On the best-case scenario 500 workers look like they are going to lose their jobs. That is the best-case scenario—the withdrawal of over $200 million from the local economy. These are hard times indeed.
We decided to take a bipartisan approach, working together with the Liberal Party members of parliament in the Illawarra and Labor Party members of parliament in the Illawarra, working across all tiers of government. We wrote to the Prime Minister setting out five clear things that he could do, because we not only have the threat of 500 jobs being lost but also there are 10,000 people today out looking for work.
Against that background, when there is a bipartisan approach of members of parliament to write to their Prime Minister and say, 'We need your urgent attention,' you would expect a response. It has been over two weeks and we have not had a response. Today we discover the reason we have not had a response is that the Prime Minister has been too focused on his own job to care about the jobs of 10,000 people who are looking for work in the Illawarra today and the 500 people who face the threat of being unemployed as a result of job losses in the Illawarra.
It was a modest plan that we put to the government. There are five clear things that are very doable. The first is to put in place tough antidumping provisions to ensure that if goods are being imported, steel is being imported, into the Australian economy it is not being subsidised and dumped and throwing Australian steelworkers out of jobs. We asked that they beef up the Anti-Dumping Commission. I have enjoyed some support on this call by some members on the other side of politics, but there has been no response from this Prime Minister.
The second was to ask for government procurement. It will not save the steelworks but it can be an anchor client. It is important that if this Prime Minister wants to be known as the infrastructure Prime Minister he start by ensuring that as much infrastructure as possible uses Australian-made goods and creates Australian jobs.
We asked that the Prime Minister put Australian jobs first and Australian business first. I do not care where the business is— whether it is from China, the United States, Japan, Korea or anywhere else—if they are investing money in Australian projects then Australian workers should be at the front of the queue. If there is an Australian worker who is ready, willing and able to do that job then they should get it. That was the third of our demands.
The fourth was that we put in place labour-market programs for the Illawarra. These would be specific programs to assist workers looking for work, to reinstate the position of the local-employment coordinator that was dismissed 12 months ago—so that they can work with businesses and workers to find their way into other jobs—and to invest some money to ensure that we smooth the transition. This would look after jobs but also protect the way for jobs into the future.
It strikes us as strange that we are employing thousands of workers in New South Wales to rollout the National Broadband Network—and there is a lot of NBN being laid in the Illawarra, thanks to the great advocacy from the member for Cunningham and me—and we are bringing in workers from other regions to do the job when there are literally hundreds workers in the Illawarra who are capable of doing that work. When you are suffering from unemployment levels as high as 8½ per cent, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to bring workers in from other regions to do jobs that should be filled by locals.
There are five clear points, but there has not been a response from the Prime Minister and, frankly, we would expect better. We were told not six months ago that good government was going to start in this country. That would have been a welcome relief to many of us, because the economic conditions that have been brought about by this government cannot be tolerated for a day longer.
While members of the government are huddled in rooms all around this building focusing on their own jobs and focusing on the job of the Prime Minister, we would like them to be focusing on the jobs of those 800,000 people who are looking for work today. We have unemployment, which has gone from 5.7 per cent to 6.3 per cent. It is at the highest level in over 13 years under this government. While they have been focusing on their own jobs, they have taken their eyes off the jobs that matter. Of the 800,000 Australians who are out of work today, over 10,000 are in my electorate.
We have had the budget with the budget deficit doubling over the last 12 months alone. This is a government that was elected on a platform of dealing with debt and getting rid of the budget deficit. In two years they have doubled the budget deficit. God only knows what they would do if they were given another 12 months! In another 12 months, what would they do? Would they double it again? Australians deserve better.
We know that this government was elected on a fraud. They went to the last election saying they could deliver lower taxes, a lower budget deficit and maintain all the existing spending and everything would be hunky-dory. They said they could deliver all of these things while most of us knew that it was a fancy, a fiction, a canard, and that they could not deliver it. But that is what they promised the Australian people, and it is all unravelling.
The point at which it started unravelling was the 2014 budget where we saw the lies start to unfold: $100,000 university degrees; a GP tax that they specifically promised would not occur; and over $55 billion worth of cuts to hospitals and school funding. And this is the good government they promised? No, not at all. They snuck this one in.
We saw earlier today—just a few moments ago in fact—the man who would be the next Prime Minister of Australia, the member for Wentworth, Malcolm Turnbull, stand up and attempt to distance himself from all of the decisions that have been made over the last two years. He had some pretty harsh things to say about the Prime Minister and the government that he is a member. He said about the Prime Minister that he is not capable of providing the economic confidence that business needs. We know that, because consumer sentiment is 10 per cent below where it was before the 2013 election. With the litany of broken promises and the incompetence of government ministers from the most junior to the most senior, is it any wonder that consumer sentiment and business sentiment is so low?
At some stage over the next 24 hours, when a puff of smoke arises from the coalition party room and we know who the next Prime Minister of Australia is going to be, if it is the member for Wentworth, he will attempt to distance himself from all of those decisions that have been made over the last two years.
But there is one statement that he will not be able to distance himself from, and that is the words that came out of his own mouth on 5 June 2014. It was a statement that he made after that disastrous 2014 budget, when the untruths and the deceptions were rolled out before all of the Australian people and when members of the coalition were afraid to go back to their electorates and defend the budget that their Treasurer and Prime Minister had just delivered because they knew what the political consequences would be. Here is the statement that the member for Wentworth will not be able to distance himself from. On 5 June, he had this to say:
I support unreservedly and wholeheartedly every element in the Budget.
The man who would be the next Prime Minister of Australia has a lot of explaining to do.
He might be able to distance himself from Tony Abbott. He might be able to distance himself from the existing Prime Minister of Australia but he will not be able to distance himself from that cabinet, of which he was a senior member. He will not be able to distance himself from the statements he made when the ink was not even dry on the 2014 budget. He will not be able to distance himself from the fact that for well over 12 months he has been supporting unreservedly and wholeheartedly every element of this government's first budget, from the GP tax, to the $100,000 degrees to 800,000 people out of work. My electorate and the people of Australia deserve better.