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Interview with ABC Melbourne

20 January 2017

Interviewer: 
Jon Faine

Subject: Turnbull Government support to secure jobs in Portland community; automotive sector

E&OE

JON FAINE:

Greg Hunt, good morning to you.

GREG HUNT:         

Good morning, Jon. I'm actually calling from the Alcoa plant in Portland, and we're just about to do a tour of what are called the potlines, so the actual lines where the aluminium is made.

And then obviously the Prime Minister and the Premier will be making an announcement that I'm very sure will be very good news to literally thousands of people in Portland and South West Victoria.

JON FAINE:

The details are not being announced until later in the morning, but there is speculation in many of the newspapers, particularly the financial pages, this morning that as much as $200 million is being handed over, which by my arithmetic, 2000 jobs secured for only four years, $200 million, that comes out at $25,000 per job per year.

GREG HUNT:         

So look, I won't speak about the Victorian contribution, but the Commonwealth is helping to restart the plant, and the reason we're doing that is because there was an outage in the electricity system, and so there is some responsibility to deal with that.

It's Victoria's largest exporter, I believe about $800 million a year. It's actually a fundamental underpinning of our electricity grid, and that's a very important part of the stability and the way in which the electricity grid works, and what it does do, it provides a long-term basis for literally thousands of jobs, and then to look deep into the next decade, into 2030 and beyond.

So this has been an important negotiation. We've worked very well with Alcoa, with AGL, and the Victorian Government, and it's been tough and arduous.

I know that on my phone I think I had about 120 calls between Friday and the end of Sunday over the last weekend, and we were just deeply engaged and working with the Victorian Government, and sometimes you see examples of how government in Australia should work on a cooperative basis, and this is one.

JON FAINE:

What did you say to them over in the States when you were there as Industry Minister?

GREG HUNT:         

So what I said to Alcoa, and I went with Wade Noonan the Victorian Minister, is that this is a fundamentally important plant. It operates extremely well.

The honest answer is its biggest issue is power costs, particularly with the looming closure of Hazelwood, which will have an impact on power prices, as we always warned, but that the quality of the workforce is incredibly high.

And the global head of Alcoa, Roy Harvey, said they regard this as one of, if not their best workforce and their most efficient plant.

Their issue is power prices. We're paying for the restart, which is a modest to moderate cost in the circumstances. I understand you might be speaking with the Victorians later on, and they can talk about that.

JON FAINE:

Indeed, the Treasurer will join us, yes.

GREG HUNT:         

We'll publish all the details of our offer once it's been announced by the Prime Minister.

But it's been a four-way negotiation, and it's about doing the right thing by workers and manufacturers and rural and regional communities, but it affects all of Victoria in the best way, with an $800 million a year export capacity.

JON FAINE:

It's one of the last duties you'll perform as Industry Minister, then, I presume Greg Hunt, because then after the weekend you become the Health Minister. So in the short time you've been in the portfolio, I guess this is one of the few things you've managed to actually complete.

GREG HUNT:         

Look, it's one of the most satisfying. We've been deeply involved in the $450 million investment of Ford into research and development in Melbourne's northern suburbs, as well as more broadly.

Only just before Christmas we announced with the global head of Ford that they would be investing just next year $450 million.

We've also put the CSIRO on a long-term footing. We're making real progress on the Whyalla Steelworks in South Australia, so automotive, steel, and in particular, aluminium.

And then we've laid out a framework for a second and a third wave of job creation in the small and emerging sector through what's called the Innovation and Science Agenda.

One of the absolute privileges of this job is to be able to work with the science community.

And all of the work in medical technology which I've looked at and in the vision from, you know, over the next two decades of Australia becoming one of the global centres for what you might call precision medicine has come from science.

JON FAINE:

Sure.

GREG HUNT:         

And that's where you tailor the medicine to individual needs and that's …

JON FAINE:

And that's the future, understood, but …

GREG HUNT:

The perfect background for the next job.

JON FAINE:

Turning your words back at yourself, Greg Hunt, everything you just said about the importance of maintaining Alcoa's aluminium smelter for exports, everything you said there could apply to the car industry, so was it a mistake for the Abbott Government and Joe Hockey to let the car industry go?

Look at where the dollar is now, it's completely sustainable, a car industry, exporting with a dollar in the mid 70 cents mark.

GREG HUNT:         

It's quite an interesting thing. There was no change in terms of support.

I think $7 billion was made available and many people will think that that was the wrong thing to do but $7 billion was made available from 2000 to the current time and all of the car firms, and these decisions were made three and four years ago, decided that Australia was too small a market with too high a cost per unit of production. So that's the history…

JON FAINE:

No the car industry did not decide, the Government, Joe Hockey taunted them and Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey pulled the pin on the car industry, don't rewrite the history please.

GREG HUNT:         

No with great respect, many of these decisions, two of the four made the decisions immediately prior to us coming to government and …

JON FAINE:

Toyota wanted to stay. Mike Devereux was on this program, from General Motors Holden saying he wanted to stay. Ford had some problems but the industry was told by Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott that the support they wanted was not to be forthcoming.

GREG HUNT:         

No, I met with the global leaders of these firms and what they've said to me is we were never going to stay long term.

There was lots of Australian money but at the end of the day we've got to have units of production at a cost that they can do it.

What they do see for Australia is Australia as a global centre for R&D, for design, for this development work and for engineering.

That's why Ford's investing $450 million not long after we met with them to talk about this vision just for next year alone and then they have designated Melbourne as one of three global R&D centres.

So we have a very significant car industry future in component manufacturing, in aftermarket work but in particular, 2000 jobs largely based in Victoria in this R&D, in design…

JON FAINE:

In the design side of things. Look we may get to speak about health policy when you're sworn in early next week.

I do have to get a wriggle on. I'm grateful to you for your contribution to our understanding of what's going on at Alcoa this morning. I better let you get on to the tour with the PM.

GREG HUNT:         

That's alright, can I do one last thing?

That's just to acknowledge the workers and the fact that, it's an interesting thing where we've had incredible support from Dan Tehan, who's the local member, but also we've worked very well with the union, the AWU and sometimes you know, this is how government should be. I wish we could do more of it and we'll really try to do more of it.

JON FAINE:

Thank you for your time, Greg Hunt, the Industry Minister until next week, when he becomes Health Minister in the Turnbull Federal Government.