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Speech: Steel Transformation Plan Bill

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 8 Nov 2011

Steel Transformation Plan Bill 2011, Tuesday 8 November 2011

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (16:45): The Australian Greens are strongly committed to ensuring that workers' jobs are secure and industry moves onto a greener footing. The Steel Transformation Plan Bill we have before us tonight is far from perfect. The Greens have looked at it closely. We have weighed up the legislation and it certainly deserves our support. I and my colleagues Senator Bob Brown, Senator Christine Milne and Mr Adam Bandt have paid a great deal of attention to this issue. My own opinion on the need for this legislation has been informed by my many visits to the Illawarra area. In the Illawarra, unemployment is often double the national average. We have seen the downturn in the manufacturing industry impact on this area particularly heavily. Across the nation, 30,000 jobs have gone in the last three months, and the Illawarra is where many of those jobs have disappeared from. The essence of this bill is about a package of $300 million going to the steel industry. One hundred and eighty million dollars of that money will go to BlueScope Steel in the Illawarra. I know that this package will make a difference in terms of the confidence and security that many workers and their families and local businesses will feel and receive.

The Greens will be moving a second reading amendment to this piece of legislation. That amendment would add, at the end of the motion:

and that the Government, in allocating funds under the Steel Transformation Plan, pay particular demand to the Green Jobs Illawarra Action Plan and any other similar plans in other affected regions.

This plan is something that I strongly recommend that members acquaint themselves with. It provides a model that could be used in many other regional areas. At the request of the South Coast Labour Council, Senator Bob Brown and I visited and talked with a number of people on the South Coast about this plan in the context of this legislation. This plan has been developed by the South Coast Labour Council, the University of Wollongong, Illawarra TAFE, the Illawarra Business Chamber and the Australian Industry Group. It is a plan that impressed Senator Brown and me so much that we believed that this second reading amendment needed to be moved. The plan sets out in a great deal of detail the jobs that can come with a shift to a greener economy and greener communities. I very much congratulate all those who participated in devising the Green Jobs Illawarra Action Plan.

A discussion of this plan really has to make reference to the role that the coalition have played since it was first reported that there was consideration that this package needed to be brought forward. You would have to describe their tactics as extreme scaremongering in the steel towns, particularly in the Illawarra and Whyalla, with that extraordinary statement where the Leader of the Opposition tried to make out that he was a friend of the workers while at the same time saying that the opposition would not support this package. Clearly these people from the coalition have no intention of helping workers—no interest in that—while at the same time they are trying to use crude tactics through the media to make out that they are workers' friends.

I was very interested to see how this played out in the Illawarra at a 'no carbon tax' rally, where obviously there was hope by the coalition that they would be able to grandstand in front of the locals. Well, the locals of the Illawarra saw them coming and are well experienced with coalition people who try and con their way into pretending that they have interest in the working people of this area. In this case, it was Senator Barnaby Joyce and Senator Concetta Fierra—Fierravant—

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Learn to say my name properly if you're going to do it.

Senator RHIANNON: I do apologise, Senator Fierravanti-Wells. They attended this meeting in the Illawarra. Probably the reason for that interjection is that this is a sensitive issue. That meeting was a disaster. They left because their position was just so out of touch with the needs of the local people, in terms of both the carbon tax and the Steel Transformation Plan.

The Greens recognise that strong climate action is directly linked to the long-term future of the steel industry in Australia. The rolling out of renewable energy and new electricity grid infrastructure will mean tremendous amounts of steel are needed. There is an important link here. Strong climate action will give the steel industry a huge domestic market. If we get it right, effectively what we can be doing here is protecting jobs in many regional areas, linking the steel industry to the transition plans that clearly will kick in now we have successfully passed the climate package legislation.

Another part of this interesting story is the role of the leader of the Australian Workers Union, Paul Howes. He has called on the Labor government, I understand, not to support this second reading amendment. It is quite a simple amendment. It is an amendment that in no way threatens the legislation. The Greens have been clear that we will support the legislation, but why not improve on it by highlighting the benefits that this jobs action plan could bring?

But here we have had Paul Howes saying that this amendment should not be supported. That is an extraordinary position considering a number of his members were involved, through the South Coast Labour Council, in actually coming up with this plan. So you really have to ask this question about the head of the Australian Workers Union and occasional visitor to Wollongong, Paul Howes: is he putting his personal dislike of the Greens ahead of the interests of his own members and the promotion of job projects in the Illawarra? I again emphasise that the jobs plan goes into a level of detail and that if governments will get behind it—as industry has, business has and the local education institutions have—it will really make a difference and it can be a model for other areas. As I have said, the Greens have made it clear that we will support this package irrespective of what the government does with our amendment. I again urge members of the Senate to give it their support.

The Green Jobs Illawarra Action Plan is an excellent road map. I would like to provide a little bit of detail to senators in terms of how it can help diversify the Illawarra economy in quite concrete ways that will promote long-term jobs growth in sustainable industry. Some of the aspects of the plan include the Green Street Project, retrofitting iconic public buildings, and clean energy systems. The detail is set out there, and the jobs that would be provided are quite clear. So this is something that is a winner and I really do challenge the government: why would you not support a plan that has all the components that we so often hear from Prime Minister Gillard down, where you want the workforce coming together with local business to promote the needs of their community? This is a plan that gives practicality to the important legislation that went through today. There is also a challenge here for the leader of the Australian Workers Union, Mr Howes: if he continues to oppose an amendment that backs a job creation plan, he risks being seen as putting his sectional Labor interests before those of his members, workers and their families in steel towns.

Today is a great day for Australia. We have a climate plan that has been passed into law. Now this Steel Transformation Plan is about to go through and that provides an opportunity to highlight practical measures to implement a green economy if we add this amendment to it. It is simple, there is no obligation and it means we can highlight something that can be a model to many regional areas that we are know are doing it tough and could well be facing greater hardship depending on how the current economic crisis goes.

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