Last Saturday I visited Wollongong with Senator Bob Brown to meet with the South Coast Labour Council Executive about the federal government’s Steel Transformation Plan – the government’s plan for the steel industry in the wake of the Clean Energy Future Package.
The Steel Transformation Plan and the government’s plans for gaseous coal mines sit outside the Clean Energy Future Package and will be negotiated separately.
Greens Senators Bob Brown and Christine Milne have explained that the Greens will not support the generous handouts to the owners of coalmines that produce significant amounts of greenhouse gases.
Bob has said the Greens have an open mind on the steel industry package. The opposition leader Tony Abbott has ruled out supporting the Gillard Government's steel package when it comes to parliament later this year, so the vote of the Greens MPs will be crucial.
The Wollongong meeting came about on the invitation of Arthur Rorris, Secretary of the Labor Council. I had said to Arthur that Bob and I were keen to hear from the workers, management and unions at the Port Kembla steelworks about their response to the government’s steel plan.
This is a link to Bob’s statement on our talks.
We found the meeting useful and we hope to return to the Illawarra in coming weeks to continue these talks. While all the union officials at the meeting urged the Greens to back the steel plan some strongly suggested that the steel industry should be given obligations along with the $300 million handout. They did not want Bluescope Steel to get a free handout.
The rapidity with which Abbott knocked back the assistance package without talking to Port Kembla steel workers is far more revealing than his daily television interviews decked out in a fluoro jacket. This is another example where the opposition leader replaces reasoned public debate with attack and ridicule.
The closest the Coalition MPs have come to dealing with the future of the steel industry was when Coalition Senators Barnaby Joyce and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells turned up in Wollongong and tried to organise an anti carbon tax rally.
The unionists we met with on Saturday detailed what a colourful event it was with the Coalition Senators learning first hand that there is strong support in the Illawarra for the carbon tax and the whole Clean Energy Future Plan.
Not surprisingly neither of the Senators took up the challenge from South Coast Labour Council Secretary Arthur Rorris to face steelworkers at Port Kembla and tell them why they won’t back the $300million steel industry assistance plan.
The Illawarra Mercury has reported that the Australian Workers Union Illawarra branch secretary Mr Andy Gillespie boycotted our meeting with the Labour Council. Mr Gillespie was quoted as saying, “I'm not going to meet with Bob Brown. Sorry, but I've got no time for the Greens and I've got no time for Bob Brown.”.
These comments sound like they are straight out of the song sheet of AWU National Secretary Paul Howes. This issue is not about who you like and who you dislike. It should be about jobs for steel workers and the future of the Illawarra economy.
The Greens vote in the federal parliament is needed for the Steel Transformation Plan to be passed into law and enacted. Surely AWU officials would want to represent their member’s interests on this critical issue and put the case to those MPs who will vote on the package.
When we return to the Illawarra we hope to meet members of the Australian Workers Union which covers most of the steel workers in Port Kembla.
This Illawarra Mercury article carries more information about the Steel Transformation Plan and Senator Christine Milne’s comments.