Transcript of doorstop interview, Wollongong
TUE 30 AUGUST 2011
Subject(s): BlueScope; News Ltd; Industrial relations; Health Services Union; Manufacturing
PM: [AUDIO BREAK] and I’m very pleased to be here with local representatives Sharon Bird and with Stephen Jones.
Last week when I announced the package of assistance for the workers at BlueScope and the assistance for this region I said we would be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of the Illawarra during this time. I’m pleased that I’ve been able to be here today; having a look through BlueScope; having a talk to the workers there; meeting with union representatives and delegates and then meeting with a broad range of community representatives to talk about the future of the Illawarra.
It’s all about jobs. Nothing is more important to me as Prime Minister than protecting and supporting Australian jobs. We’ve got a proud track record of doing so, we did so during the global financial crisis, the country pulled together and we saved Australian jobs, we saved Australian apprenticeships as well.
Now, in this phase of our economic development, we are seeing an economy that’s got strong fundamentals, we’re seeing a mining industry that is going ahead by leaps and bounds, but we’re also seeing pressure on manufacturing, pressure on industries like tourism and that is showing in some parts of the country, and it’s showing particularly here in the Illawarra.
Now, we have been strongly engaged with manufacturing since our first day as a Government. We’ve always believed that manufacturing was going to be part of Australia’s economic future. We’ve worked strongly with manufacturing on developing skills, on providing the infrastructure that manufacturing needs, on working on research and development and innovation, on advocating buying Australians at home and abroad, at using our purchasing power as a Government to make sure that Australian industry got a fair go through Australian industry participation plans. We have moved to appoint a steel advocate and a resources advocate to help Australian companies get a fair go as sections of our economy like the mining industry expand.
So, every day we’ve been in office we’ve been focused on jobs and focused on manufacturing. I want us to be a country in the future that has a strong manufacturing sector. I want us to be a nation that makes steel.
That means that during this period of economic change we will stay strongly working with manufacturing, we will continue to step up to these challenges as they present, and we will certainly be here locally in the Illawarra working with this community as it designs its economic future. Steelmaking will be a part of that, coal mining will be a part of that, but there will be a diversity in this economy as well and we will be working with the local community towards that diversity.
These are tough days for a number of working people who are contemplating their futures and what to do next for them and their family. We are making available $10 million to provide specialist support services to those workers as they make those choices. I do want to be very clear that the specialised support services that are available through that $10 million package, those specialised support services are there for the direct employees of BlueScope. It’s also there for the employees of suppliers who are reducing employment because of their reliance on BlueScope and because of the change that BlueScope has announced, and that package is also there for contractors who are making employees redundant because of BlueScope’s decision. I wanted to be clear about that so people can rely on those specialised services.
We will continue to work with BlueScope as it continues to make steel to support the ongoing jobs there, and we are of course providing, with the collaboration of the State Government and the collaboration of BlueScope, a $30 million package to work with the local community to diversify the economy here.
Don Russell, the head of Minister Carr’s Department, has already come to the Illawarra and started liaising with people about that new future. Today I’m in a position to announce that Professor Gerard Sutton, the Vice-Chancellor of this great university where we have met today, will work as an advocate alongside Don Russell for this region and we will be working with the local community through regional engagement and a regional advisory group.
The future of the Illawarra will be written by the people of the Illawarra, but we will be here every day to support the people of the Illawarra as they write that future. I will be relying on our local Members, on Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones. They are great advocates of this local community. We will be staying in close touch with them, in close touch with people in this region to design this new future for the Illawarra.
These are difficult days but I am optimistic that we will see a bright future here and we will see a strong future for steel making and manufacturing around Australia.
I’m very happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister are you seriously considering, can you just clear this up, whether you will look at an inquiry into the manufacturing sector?
PM: I can certainly clear this up for you. I met with representatives with manufacturing yesterday including employer representatives and union representatives. It’s possible for people to take some different takes out of a conversation.
My focus is on what we need to do. We have been acting every day as a Government to support jobs and to support manufacturing. We are working now on what else we need to do during these days of economic change to work with manufacturing. To give examples of that, we made some important announcements last week about Peter Beattie being involved in advocating to mining companies and to the resources sector working with Australian manufacturers-
JOURNALIST: -Will this include an inquiry?
PM: Well my focus is on action. I don’t want to be held back from acting by an inquiry which would inevitably take some time. Now, that doesn’t mean that we won’t take the best of expert advice along the way, but I don’t want to be held up from acting by an enquiry.
JOURNALIST: Paul Howes and Dave Oliver were surprised by these comments this morning. They had an indication from you yesterday that you were looking at or moving towards putting an inquiry in place?
PM: Look, people can get different impressions from a conversation - that’s human, that’s natural. What I said yesterday is I wasn’t looking at a free-ranging, freewheeling inquiry into manufacturing; that my focus was on the actions that we needed to take, and can I just say of the actions that we have taken so far, we have been advocating very strongly the merits of Australian manufacturing. We’re advocating strongly buying Australian at home and abroad. We are seeing spectacular growth in our mining industry, and I think it is fair for our mining industry to be working out how they can best work with Australian manufacturers so they get a fair go during this process of expansion in Australian mining.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) says it’s economically irresponsible and politically dumb not to have an inquiry. Are you unhappy he’s made these comments?
PM: Look, people will make their own comments.
I’m sure Doug would also agree with the proposition that we don’t want to be held up by having an enquiry, that there are things we need to do now, there are things we need to do in the Illawarra.
We have many policies and plans that have been announced and are out there now to support manufacturing. We need to keep delivering that policies and plans and of course as I said in the meeting yesterday, and I’ve been making the point here in the Illawarra today, we will have an open door for manufacturing during these days of change to be strongly engaged with people about support for manufacturing. There’s a lot happening: a lot happening in Government procurement; a lot happening in industry participation plans; a lot happening with buying Australian with home and abroad. We took steps forward last week with the appointment of the steel advocate and the appointment of Peter Beattie. We will keep working with manufacturing as we have been working with them and of course engage with them to understand their perspectives and their needs during these days of economic change.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) Cameron says he’ll take it to the next Caucus meeting, and if there’s enough support there he’ll put pressure on the issue in Caucus.
PM: Well, look, I’ve just announced the Government’s view.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, will the Government commit to a regional stimulus package should the Government’s working party and Gerard Sutton tell you that that’s what’s needed, that the support that’s been announced last week isn’t enough?
PM: Well, I think we’ve got to go through this in the appropriate order.
We made the announcement we made last Monday because it was the right thing to respond immediately. We understood there’d be many people in this area devastated by the news and feeling a real sense of pressure for themselves and their families, so we wanted them to know that we’d be there with assistance, personalised support, working with them.
We also wanted to people of the Illawarra to know more broadly that we would be working with this region for its economic future. Now we are bringing local identities together, including of course Professor Sutton to help design that future. I very frankly said to people today the future of the Illawarra will not be written by me sitting at my desk in Canberra typing it into a computer. It will be written here in the Illawarra, people working locally.
There’s $30 million on the table. That is on top of everything we’ve done so far to invest in this region.
We’re in the university now. It’s seen the best part of $100 million of capital injection from the Government, to take just one example. Let’s bring people together locally, work on that vision for the future and the best use of the $30 million before we get to other questions about what else may need to be done.
But let’s be clear too - this is $30 million on top of all the things that Government routinely does to engage with the Illawarra.
JOURNALIST: You’re right, it is $30 million, but Stephen Jones has told Parliament he expects the hit to region’s economy will be in the order of $1 billion, so do you believe that that assistance would really cover that gap?
PM: I think that’s an apples to oranges comparison.
What we’re talking about is investing in this region to diversify its economic future. People will still make steel, people will still go coalmining. What I also want to see is people having other employment opportunities so that they’ve got jobs, so that they’re earning a wage, so that they’re spending that wage in the local shops. That is what will replace the economic activity taken away by the loss of the jobs at BlueScope.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister you say in the release that there’s 2,500 jobs have been created in areas like Adelaide and Geelong, where plants have shut down. What kinds of areas can Wollongong see, where have these jobs, be specific, where have these jobs been created? Is it tourism? I mean, what can we look forward to?
PM: Look, I’ll turn to Minister Carr for some direct commentary on this, but let me just say the following.
I’ve had the benefit of a meeting today where people have talked about manufacturing in this region and future for manufacturing in this region, including Sharon was giving me an example of a manufacturer that’s making parts for wind turbines, part of a clean energy future, manufacturing right here.
People have talked upstairs, when we’ve had the meeting, about the things that can come with the National Broadband Network and obviously the advocacy for this region in getting the National Broadband Network and the difference that will make to the local economy.
Already working in this region there is a group that’s come together, a network that’s come together on innovative industries, and so much of the work of this university is now focussed on that innovative industry approach, including manufacturing. I’ve heard reports of the group that works locally, an ICT cluster, to talk about the difference that that can make, and of course you know this regions got other tremendous advantages - its spectacular beauty which rightly brings tourists and people who enjoy the features of this region. There’s a lot of cutting edge creative work here too. So, this is a region with a lot of strengths on the table.
What we found when we’ve had major changes in other parts of the nation, if I can use the Adelaide example and then get Kim Carr to add to it.
I grew up in Adelaide. I grew up in Unley. I grew up knowing people whose dads worked the Chrysler factory as it then was before it became Mitsubishi - maybe showing my age a little bit here - but that was a long-term employer in that part of Adelaide, working from the same factory, a long-term employer there, and then it shut down. Now that was a major change for Adelaide and a major shock for a part of Adelaide.
We worked with them on a future. There’s been manufacturing replace some of that. There’s been new industries replace some of that. People have taken their skills and gone to new jobs. People have retrained and added to their skills. People have designed a new economic future, but what’s happened with those Mitsubishi workers should give people some cause for optimism that we can manage our way through these sorts of economic circumstances.
And to give you of course that national example, during the global financial crisis we pulled together as a nation. We supported Australian jobs. The Government did what it needed to do to support Australian jobs and we were met with goodwill from Australian employers and Australian unions who wanted to support and protect Australian jobs, too.
That happened right around the nation and it worked. Now we’re going to see, I think, that same sort of coming together and goodwill here in the Illawarra, but I’ll turn to Minister Carr for some more details.
MINISTER CARR: Can I just indicate that these programs, these innovation funds, have been a pride and true across the country. This is a way of turning adversity to advantage.
What we’ve seen with the use of these funds is that a government, often in connection with the state government, will invest a dollar and attract two or three dollars from the private sector. So, we’ve seen over 5,400 jobs created through these funds across Australia.
Now, it could be that they are in direct manufacturing, predominately they will be in manufacturing, but they’d also be in manufacturing services, they’ll also be for instance in electrical, they’ll be in a whole range of areas but they’re predominantly blue-collar jobs. These are high-quality jobs, these are long-term jobs, these are secure jobs, these are quality jobs and the program is aimed at providing that stimulus to the region so that businesses invest in themselves and we see the regions make great opportunities in what is very great periods of difficulty.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what pressure has your office been putting on News Limited to pull a story about allegations about your links?
PM: What a completely absurd question. The only issue here yesterday was one I dealt with personally and that is that News Limited – actually, The Australian newspaper, let’s be clear - The Australian newspaper had published a false report in breach of all known standards of journalism. They’d made no approach to me to seek a comment or to check what was asserted. They clearly realised they had done the wrong thing and published a retraction as a result, so the only question here really is how is it that a false allegation about the Prime Minister is published in The Australian newspaper without anyone from The Australian contacting me or my office for a comment?
And it does raise in me the question, I’m the Prime Minister of the country, I can get up on Monday morning and get the mobile numbers for people like the editor of The Australian newspaper and make a call to get something like that clarified. I do really wonder what happens to an Australian, perhaps someone who lives in the Illawarra or one of the suburbs of our great cities who for whatever reason is caught up in a news story and has a false allegation made about them and no one’s bothered to contact them about it either. How do they actually get it fixed given they’re not in the same position as me to make calls to the editor of The Australian newspaper?
So this is a question of ethics and standards for The Australian, so your questions would be best directed to the editor of The Australian.
JOURNALIST: So do you think it goes far beyond that one story?
PM: Well I just think there’s a question of ethics and standards here. I mean, you’re a journalist. You understand, I would have said, as a basic ethical premise of the trade you ply, that if you are going to make an allegation or assertion about someone that you’ve got to give them the opportunity to comment on it. If you didn’t do that I think you’d be disappointed with yourself at the end of the day. Basic standards - they should be adhered to.
JOURNALIST: Just on your meeting this morning with steelworkers, how many did you meet? Did you meet anyone that was in the firing line, and why weren’t cameras allowed into this meeting?
PM: Well, jobs are at stake here, jobs are at stake, so I’m out there talking to workers. I’m not worrying or wondering whether cameras-
JOURNALIST: -But you have met in other areas with workers whose jobs were at stake, and we were allowed into those meetings.
PM: Look, jobs are at stake here and the thing that’s important to me is talking to the workers involved, not whether or not cameras are taking pictures of me while I do it. So, I had an opportunity to talk to the workers involved.
Because of the process that is being gone through with BlueScope here, this is a decision-making period where people will put forward expressions of interest about whether or not they want to be the subject of a voluntary redundancy, so it’s at that stage, so it’s not a question at the moment for BlueScope workers of them knowing that Kim Carr’s name is on the list.
What is happening here is that people are thinking ‘should I put my hand up? If I put my hand up what would it mean for me and my family? What would I do next? What job would I do next? Would I stay in the Illawarra, if I stayed in the Illawarra where would I go, what would I do, how would I access the retraining and re-skilling?’ That’s what the $10 million is about.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister (inaudible) would be a great stimulus for this area, any chance of a building decision on that?
PM: You’re not the first person who’s said that to me today, so look, I understand that there are many local views about what could assist during this period.
Today I was here to listen. Today I was here to say to people we’ll have a whole of Government response and we will be working with the people of this region. We will bring people together and I’m sure they will give us the best of their expertise and ideas.
JOURNALIST: Paul Howes said this morning there’s going to be a mass meeting of union workers at WIN Stadium on Thursday. It’s not clear whether they’re legally entitled to that, do you support a mass meeting of workers to discuss all these issues?
PM: I support people staying within the industrial relations law, I’m not going to make an assumption standing here about the legal status of a meeting on Thursday, I’d need a lot more details.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe BlueScope should be offering redundancy packages similar to what was offered to Newcastle in the late ‘90s, so a far more generous package that what they’re offering at the moment?
PM: Look I understand that this is a question of discussion between the union and workers it represents and BlueScope. It’s not appropriate for me to intervene in that discussion.
What I can say more generally of course is my motivation in public life and as Prime Minister has been to see working people treated fairly and decently. That’s why we got rid of Work Choices and replaced it with the Fair Work Act-
JOURNALIST: -Do you think they are being treated fairly (inaudible)
PM: You’re not going to draw me on a question of a discussion between BlueScope and the relevant unions.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, a meeting of union delegates last Thursday, which was pretty heated, they said that BlueScope has been planning what they did over six months and they went in at 6am when a whole bunch of workers finished night shift and said ‘800 of you (inaudible) lose your jobs.’ Is there any way the government can stop companies on the future from, you know, this kind of action?
Newcastle was told two years before the steel works shut down that everything was going to change – these guys found out when they finished night shift one morning, after a whole lot of speculation. Is there anything you can do as a government to prevent companies doing this in the future?
PM: I think we’ve just got to pull back a little bit here and work out what it is we do as a government.
What we do as a government is we make sure that we’ve got fair working conditions through the Fair Work Act, and of the many reasons I wanted to get rid of Work Choices - stripping penalty rates away, hurting working people - of the many reasons I wanted to get rid of Work Choices it meant that a worker could be given an Australian Workplace Agreement, one of Tony Abbott’s hated workplace agreements, could be given one of them, which stripped away their entitlement to redundancy without a cent of compensation. So, people can end up in the circumstance where maybe they worked for a business for 20, 30 years, they were out the door without a redundancy package.
Now, we fixed that, but what we fix is the creation of standards right around the workforce, so minimum standards that apply to everyone and then employers and employees bargain on top of that to create other standards.
The conversation you’re going to is a conversation about one workplace, so as Prime Minister I don’t walk around defining working conditions for one workplace, but like the question I answered here, I’m obviously strongly motivated by seeing working people treated decently and with respect. That’s why we went to hell and back to get rid of Work Choices and that’s why we resist every day the reintroduction of Work Choices as is advocated by Tony Abbott and the Liberal Opposition.
JOURNALIST: Do you think there was an expectation that you would come here today with cash rather than just a morning of words, because I think that was the public’s expectation, that you would come here, help (inaudible).
PM: I think the public’s expectation would rightly be that when a region has an economic shock like this, that the government responds. I did that last Monday. I did that on the same day that it was public that workers were losing their job at BlueScope. That was the right day to do it.
JOURNALIST: So, that’s the extent of the financial-
PM: -Just let me finish my sentence.
That was the right day to do it. I didn’t want people hearing that news and then going to bed that night and the night after and the night after not knowing what it is that the Australian Government was going to do to work alongside them. So, we announced it on the same date.
We’re here today, I’m here, in part to say to people by my very physical presence that we will be working with the people of the Illawarra during this period and we will do that by being strongly engaged with the local community. I’ve started some of that engagement today and of course we will have appropriate structures for that ongoing engagement and that will work through how the $30 million, for example, best gets used.
JOURNALIST: How will that apply to contractors, the $30 million? A lot of them are left out of the picture, not being full-time workers employed by BlueScope, so how will they be able to get access to some of those funds?
PM: Right, we’ve just got to be clear about sources of funds here.
We have provided a facility of up to $100 million for BlueScope. That is because we want to see the continuation of steel making in this region and we want to see as many jobs as possible continuing at BlueScope. So, that’s number one.
Number two, we have provided $10 million to provide extra employment services. They are employment services above and beyond what any Australian worker would normally be entitled to. So, we have an employment services system, people have entitlements under that system, we are adding to that system $10 million to give specialised support. That is available to direct employees of BlueScope who are no longer employed by BlueScope as a result of all of this; employees of suppliers who don’t have their jobs because the supplier doesn’t have the business any longer because of this change at BlueScope; employees of contractors who provide services to BlueScope and those services are no longer required, or required at a lesser rate, because of this change at BlueScope. That’s the $10 million.
Then there’s the $30 million: the $30 million is about the economy of the region and working with the local community on that, as we have – South Australia was the example given, as we did with Mitsubishi.
JOURNALIST: Just on another matter, Prime Minister. I just wanted to ask you, do you think that the Health Service Union has a case to answer from reports that they received rent concessions during your re-election campaign last year and I’m wondering if you see an end point of the Health Services Union being in all this hot water?
PM: Look, declarations to the Australian Electoral Commission should of course be properly made. On the other matters you raised there’s a Fair Work Australia investigation underway.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned there about support for the steel making industry and how you’d like the public expectations for you to work with BlueScope Steel to make sure they’re continuing in that industry. If that’s the case, why can’t we see more local use in Australia?
PM: Why can we see?
JOURNALIST: Why can’t we see more local steel used in Australia?
PM: Look, I’ll take that as the last question and it’s a good question and we are, through our various policies and plans, advocating for the steel industry in this country, and I do want to say very clearly to the mining industry, which is undergoing a huge expansion, I believe the mining industry should be working out what else it can do to work with Australian manufacturers.
Thanks very much.