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Interview with ABC Radio Canberra

26 August 2015

Subject: BlueScope Steel and the future of Illawarra's industry and economy


JOURNALIST: Minister there are reports that you’re quite open to industry assistance given the situation with BlueScope in the Illawarra. Is that correct?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well we want to see what sort of economic plan can be laid down for the Illawarra to assist it in the transition that it will have to go through just as many other areas are already going through in Australia. What we are seeing in Australian industry is a transition to newer, higher value add, high technology and high value jobs industries and we’ve seen this transition begin particularly with the demise of the car industry and with the pressure on the steel industry, it is an excellent time to sit down with the State Government, the local council, the University, basically all interest groups in the Illawarra area to see what we can do to set out a plan to assist the workers in the region as the steel industry in the Illawarra transitions.

JOURNALIST: And if that plan that’s formulated at that meeting stacks up in that the Federal Government’s point of view, financial assistance is a possibility?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well look let’s have the meeting first and see where we go with that. We do have plans operating in Victoria and South Australia. The Growth Fund and also funds that are regional in terms of North Melbourne and Geelong in response to the closure of Ford prior to the announcements of Holden and Toyota. So there needs to be a combined approach to this. State Government has a role to play in this; there are issues in relation to licence fees and payroll tax. Local government have a role to play in terms of the way they impose taxes on industries in a region. So it has to be a complete and holistic approach but the Commonwealth is prepared to sit down and listen and see what we can do to assist the region to transition.

JOURNALIST: And it would be a transition programme like the car scheme, is that correct?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well look we’re prepared to look at it. I mean the Commonwealth Government under Tony Abbott has removed the carbon tax, removed the requirement of energy intensive industries to pay the Renewable Energy Target (RET) cost, we’ve removed red and green tape already, but look there may be more we need to do. That’s the point of calling the meeting; it is in direct response to BlueScope’s announcement that it will be shedding 500 jobs out of its 5000 job workforce. We want to make sure that whilst we understand that it’s a very difficult time for the region, that they transition as quickly as they can to long term, high value jobs.

JOURNALIST: And just lastly, I suppose, given that the Government sees its transition as important, I suppose the flip side to that is how committed is the Government to the steelworks remaining open or is it more a case of transition being the predominant thing you’re placing importance on here?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well we think it is very important that the steelworks stay open, but it has to be on the basis that it is competitive and it has to be on the basis that it has a long term future. Just propping an industry up for two or three years and then having it close, is not what we as a Government want to do and quite frankly is unfair to the workers there. So we’ll be doing everything we can to remove the cost imposts on BlueScope, to as I say continue to remove taxes as we have with the removal of the carbon tax and the requirement of BlueScope to pay the RET. But the company, the region and everyone else needs to get involved to ensure that they are cost competitive in the long term.