Support for the Australian Jobs Bill 2013

Stephen_Jones-738.jpgI am pleased to be speaking on a bill about Australian jobs. The Labor government supports the Australian Jobs Bill 2013. It is good Labor legislation. I follow the member for Hughes who opposes the bill, because that is what the coalition does—they say no. In his 15-minute dissertation on all things except the matter before the House, we never heard one skerrick on policy about what the coalition would do if they were to sit on this side of the House and deal with the challenges that are currently confronting the manufacturing industry in this country. There is a very simple reason for that: they do not have a policy except to say no.

I am pleased to speak about this bill today because it demonstrates the importance that Labor attaches to the manufacturing industry.    As members of parliament—and I see the member for Cunningham in the chamber as well—the member for Cunningham and I represent the areas of Illawarra, and in my case the Southern Highlands as well, and the manufacturing industry is very important. Still over one in 10 jobs in our electorates comes from manufacturing. Manufacturing is critically important. From anywhere in the Illawarra you can see the Port Kembla steelworks, an iconic part of the Illawarra landscape. The blast furnace and smoke stacks are an ever-present part on our horizon. Manufacturing is critical as an employer but also critical in terms of generating wealth and economic opportunities within the region.

The distortion to Australia's economy that is being driven by not only the mining boom but also the historically high Australian dollar is creating inequality and not just between industry sectors. It is also exacerbating inequality even within states and between regions and their capital cities. What might be a boon to one part of the economy is a burden in another, because their export-exposed industries are labouring under the pressures created by the high Australian dollar. All bubbles burst, and when the mining bubble bursts it could leave behind a very altered landscape. If we do nothing we will sacrifice the manufacturing capabilities of this country, which have been built up over many generations.

I believe, and I know the member for Cunningham believes, that manufacturing matters. Manufacturing is critical not only to our economy but also to the sort of country that we want live in. This is because, quite simply, a country that makes stuff knows stuff. The engineering know-how that accompanies a manufacturing industry creates a culture and knowledge within a town and within a society which I believe is critical to the future of this country. It is not only critical to our economy but it is critical to the sort of country we want to live in.

Manufacturing and the engineering trades create the ecosystems of knowledge that are critical to being a clever country. The skills and know-how involved take generations to develop. This can only be done by being involved in all elements of the production process. I want to ensure that through legislation and policies such as this we have a manufacturing industry, manufacturing and engineering know-how and skills in this country for many decades to come. Manufacturing invests in the equipment and technology. It drives innovations and capabilities which we need to maintain our productivity and our economic capacity. While manufacturing makes up only about 8.3 people cent of all employment across the nation and about 8.6 per cent of gross domestic product, it contributes to more than 25 per cent of all business investment in research and development. Put simply, the manufacturing sector is boxing well above its weight when it comes to investing in our future know-how and our technological capacity.

Australia's mining boom of the past decade should be a bonanza for Australian manufacturing and for steel production in particular, but it has not been. When coupled with the high Australian dollar we are seeing less work going into the fabrication shops and the manufactured product that is being used in these mining developments. The Australian Steel Institute has estimated that Australian steel is only getting around 10 to 12 per cent of the share of the local business being done in our major resource projects, despite steel fabrication factories having capacity to at least double their current output.

We know there are a number of reasons behind this, including as I have said the high Australian dollar but also because we are not a part of established global supply chains and because of tendering arrangements for large projects. This is something that the member for Hughes in his 15-minute tirade failed to focus upon. He fails to understand how work is done in large mining developments, these large resource projects and other large developments around the country. These businesses are often multinational companies who come to this country. We welcome their investment but they bring with them established global supply chains, the same contractors and suppliers they use when they do a development in Indonesia or Brazil or in China or in India. They use the same established supply chains, often derived from the same designs and the same specifications that they use in each of those different countries.

That is why the centrepiece for A Plan for Australian Jobs is a detailed and fully funded policy which contains long-term reforms to ensure Australian industry gets a slice of the pie. The policy will ensure that Australians continue to have high-skilled, well-paid jobs in competitive industries that will be the backbone of the modern broad based economy. Today's legislation will bring in new laws which will help Australian businesses gain access to major investment projects. By being required to complete Australian Industry Participation Plans, every large investment project worth $500 million or more must show that they will provide opportunities to local businesses, ensuring that Australian industry is able to grow and generate jobs through these projects.

Industry Participation Plans require projects to open up their supply chains so that Australian industry has a fair go at gaining work. Industry Participation Plans will mean that projects cannot simply import supply chains from overseas or lock local suppliers out by using exotic standards. In my own electorate I have heard examples of how fabricators have been invited to a tender for large projects that could have made the difference between them staying open or closing the doors. They receive an invitation to tender on the Friday which closes on the Monday. Quite clearly that is not a bona fide invitation to tender. It is quite clearly just a ruse, if you like, to be able to demonstrate to somebody that they are attempting to give local industry a go at winning the tenders. This is not good enough. These are not the sort of arrangements that we want to see in place to create a level playing field. Projects need to get to know Australian industry and provide every opportunity to Australian businesses to gain the work.

I have given lots of examples in the House before where this has not occurred, where specifications and designs within the plans for a project have almost mandated that overseas products or overseas companies win that work because they are designed in a way which excludes local businesses from properly tendering. This is the sort of thing that we are focused on. It is too late once the designs are done. It is too late once the specifications are put in place. It is also too late once the invitations to tender are gone. We want to be there on the ground at the very get-go to ensure that we are not locked out, that we develop those relationships and are integrated into those supply chains.

Analysis conducted by the government indicates that as a result of broadening industry participation requirements under the jobs bill Australian industry could see an additional $1.6 billion to $6.4 billion worth of extra work. This could be keeping fabrication shops around my electorate and right around the country busy with work. It would lead to the employment of new apprentices and the retention of existing staff. That is why manufacturing matters to the government and it is why the Gillard government is investing billions of dollars to support and grow new jobs. In the current budget environment a billion dollars is a major investment but A Plan for Australian Jobs has three core strategies: backing Australian firms to win more work at home, supporting Australian industry to increase exports and win businesses abroad, and helping Australian small and medium businesses grow and create new jobs. Put simply, we are looking after the jobs of today while planning and investing in the jobs of the future.

The package builds on the support we have already delivered since coming into office, including measures such as the $300 million Steel Transformation Plan. I never heard the member for Hughes mention the Steel Transformation Plan. I can tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, and the minister at the table, the member for Cunningham, can tell you—she and I worked very hard on pulling together the Steel Transformation Plan—it delivered much-needed relief to the steelmakers, including Arrium and BlueScope, both of whom have businesses in our electorates. The Steel Transformation Plan is the difference between BlueScope being open today and it being closed before Christmas last year. It is as simple as that.

Ms Bird: Did he support it?

Mr STEPHEN JONES: And the member for Cunningham reminds me: probably the reason why the member for Hughes, who has employees within his electorate who work at BlueScope, never mentioned it in a debate around the future of manufacturing and the future of Australian jobs is because when he had the opportunity to come into this House and cast a vote in support of local manufacturing jobs, he voted against it. He had the opportunity to put his hand in the air, to stand with those on the government side of the House and say, 'We vote for BlueScope, we vote for the Steel Transformation Plan, we vote for keeping the steelworks open in the Illawarra,' but he declined to do so. He voted against it, and that should be known. It is a matter to his eternal shame in this place.

It is not just that plan. The $5.4 billion New Car Plan is providing the automotive manufacturing sector the certainty it needs to attract long-term investment to 2020. I never heard mention of that in any of the earlier speeches either, which is a tragedy because we have seen in recent days the difficulties that that sector is going through in Australia. Of particular importance is the announcement by Ford that it intends to close down its domestic production facilities in Victoria by 2016. Well, that story will be repeated in two other car production plants—in both Toyota and in Holden—if the coalition wins at the September election because their policy is to halve the amount of assistance and co-investment that the government puts into the car industry right from the get-go.

It is something the Leader of the Opposition does not tell the manufacturing industry workers when he dons a hardhat and a yellow vest and does doorstops in manufacturing shops around the country. He keeps it secret from them, the fact they voted against the steel industry transformation plan. He keeps it secret from them that the coalition wants to rip millions of dollars' worth of assistance for research and development out of the car industry. And there is no secret there are no other policies in the coalition policy drawer when it comes to manufacturing.

The $1.2 billion Clean Technology Program is critical to helping businesses transform the way they do their work, ensuring they can invest in clean energy processes, reduce their electricity bills and reduce their power usage as well. It is $1.2 billion for a co-investment program—also on the chop if the coalition wins. There are businesses around the country that are developing new programs, that are putting in bids for grants right now that must be wondering about the uncertainty that will be visited upon them if there is a change of policy following a change of government.

There is a lot in the package. It is not, as previous speakers have attempted to characterise this—laughable in their simplicity—a means of just placing somebody inside a mining company. And if that was the only thing that was contained in the policy, what a difference that would make. What a difference that would make to ensure that local manufacturers and local businesses got a fair shake when it came to tendering for these projects, multi-billion dollar projects. Local businesses get a feed out of some this work that is going on; it will keep those businesses open. If that was all it was, that would be good enough. But we are going far beyond that in this far-reaching project.

I would ask those on the other side of the House to rethink their plan to say no, to rethink their plan to reject this bill. There is a lot in it for workers in my electorate. There is a lot in it for businesses around the country. And there is a lot in it for manufacturing around the country. For those reasons, I commend the bill to the House.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.