NICK RHEINBERGER: Yesterday there was a press conference called just up the road from us in Victoria Street in Wollongong, at the Australian Workers’ Union. It was all about steel and the visit of the Parliamentary Secretary for Manufacturing, Nick Champion.
And of course it turned into something a little bit more interesting, considering that Malcolm Turnbull had started the process of pulling the trigger on the next election. As part of that, I’ll play you that interview with Nick Champion later on in the program. But for now here’s the interview with Stephen Jones the Member of Throsby, soon to be standing for the seat of Whitlam, on steel and on the prospects for the next election.
MEMBER FOR THROSBY STEPHEN JONES: Well, we were out at Bisalloy this morning. Now Bisalloy produces value-added, high quality, tempered steel – really hard stuff – great for mining industry purposes, but also for defence industry purposes. It is the steel in the Bushmaster army vehicle. It is actually rated as the preferred steel for use by US military manufacturers. Now, we’ve got to ask ourselves why the US government prefers to use the Australia Bisalloy steel, when we don’t have the same arrangement here in Australia? I think we should.
RHEINBERGER: Wouldn’t American steel manufactures be asking the same question of the American defence force: well, why aren’t you using American steel? Doesn’t this argument feel a bit circular?
JONES: It’s the technology and the techniques that Bisalloy bring to bear, and their steel. There’s actually two counties in the world, it’s Sweden and Australia, who are producing this high quality, very hardened steel. Bisalloy’s the best at it, we’ve got that market advantage. We should actually be leveraging off that to ensure we ensure we grow the business here and grow the technologies here in Australia. We’re better than the Americans at it at the moment; we want it to stay that way.
RHEINBERGER: Okay. All right, again, good luck to them if they can manufacture and they can use their technology and they can compete against the world. And if we can’t make raw steel of good quality for the right price why should the Government prop that up?
JONES: Yeah look, I agree with you Nick, we have to be making our steel at a competitive price here in Australia and that’s what Paul O’Malley’s been saying about BlueScope. If we can’t produce a slab of steel for the same price we can land it, I’m not going to be able to convince my banks and my shareholders to keep the place going. That has to be the objective and once we’re doing that we need to look at how we can continue to value-add. The Colorbond product is a world leader, like Bisalloy’s hardened steel -
NICK RHEINBERGER: We know that. Well, that’s making profit, but making the hot-rolled coil is not making a profit yet. What policies would you bring to the table to enable them to stand on their own two feet?
JONES: Well O’Malley reckons he can do it, and I think we should back him and their ability to do it. And the things that the Government can do is ensure that we have a level playing field. That is to say that the excess production from other countries isn’t being dumped into our market, as it is at the moment. Tough anti-dumping laws are the answer to that and ensuring that we don’t have these hooks and bumps that we have in the market at the moment. You can’t run a profitable steel industry off the back of government tendering, but it can help. It can help if you’re getting a fair shake at the $1.4 trillion worth of defence building that’s going to go on over the next two decades and probably triple that in infrastructure spending. So there are some things that the Government can do. Most of the work has to be done by the business, and the workers themselves, but there’s some things the Government can do.
RHEINBERGER: Specifically, what policy would a Labor Government bring, possibly with an election in only a few months’ time, to enable that to happen?
JONES: Okay, a couple of things Nick. We will increase and improve the anti-dumping provisions, that needs to be done. And secondly, we’ve got to look at all of our procurement arrangements to ensure that Australian businesses are getting the best opportunities to win that business. They are two concrete things that we can be doing, and I’ve particularly mentioned leveraging off both the infrastructure investment and the defence industry investment. They’re two very concrete practical things that we can do. Apart from that, ensuring that our dollar is closer to 70 cents than it is to the dollar, in parity with the US. They’re three things that make a huge difference.
RHEINBERGER: Okay. You mentioned during a press conference that this potential election that’s been called is a distraction, that the Government is in chaos. Can the Labor party run on that line: Government in chaos? Considering the chopping and changing of Prime Minister’s that the Labor party’s had over the last six or seven years?
JONES: If you’d have asked me twelve months ago whether we’re in with a show I’d have said outside chance. But when Malcolm Turnbull rolled Tony Abbot he did it for a reason. He said that there’s no clear economic agenda coming from the Coalition Government. Six months later, still no clear economic agenda, but Labor has one. So if this election’s going to be fought around ideas. Ideas for the region, ideas for the country, then Labor’s well ahead. We might not yet be ahead in the polls, but we’re certainly ahead in the race for ideas. We’ve got a tax policy out there; we’ll be releasing industry policy. We’ve got a plan for healthcare, which doesn’t involve privatising Medicare, and we’ve got a plan for higher education and school education as well. All of these things are great but you’ve got to have a way to finance them. That’s why we’re cutting down on the multinational tax avoidance, removing the loopholes in superannuation and putting in place some sensible reforms to negative gearing and capital gains in the real-estate market. These are the plans for financing those great social engineering projects.
RHEINBERGER: We’re standing here in the foyer of the Australian Workers Union which has had a lot of questions asked of it in the Royal Commission. If this election is fought on industrial relations issues, can Labor fight on those terms?
JONES: We will absolutely fight the election on the right for every Australian worker to have a fair and safe workplace. To be able to have access to penalty rates when they work unsociable hours, or on the weekend, and to ensure that they have a means of resolving their disputes in the workplace if they can’t resolve them themselves or resolve them collectively. If there is corruption going on with bosses or workers or unions anywhere, absolutely we should be coming down on it like a tonne of bricks. But that should not be used as an excuse for removing the rights people have fought for over decades that make Australia a fairer country.
NRHEINBERGER: Okay, in the same way that you support peoples’ rights to join a union, would you support the right of an adult to make the choice to not join a union and to make their own arrangements with an employer? To not be pressured by a union, whether it’s a building site or any other kind of workplace?
JONES: I’ve always supported the freedom of an individual to join or not join a union. I’ve put to that always the capacity for somebody to have a sensible conversation with them about the benefits of them joining a union in their workplace, but it always has to be the individual’s choice.
RHEINBERGER: That’s Stephen Jones talking to me in the foyer of the Australian Workers’ Union yesterday.