Interview on Triple M’s Roo and Ditts for Breakfast
SUBJECT: Arrium Steelworks at Whyalla
Chris Dittmar: Roo I think all of us are concerned, all of us here in South Australia feel for the people of Whyalla and the Arrium situation, I saw Federal Minister Christopher Pyne on The 7.30 Report last night, he had some very, very positive things to say actually about the history of these sorts of things and I want to ask him about it right now, Mr Pyne good morning.
Christopher Pyne: Morning Ditts, how you going?
Chris Dittmar: Good, can you please repeat the couple of examples you gave last night about Port Pirie and also I think it was Port Kembla in New South Wales where both towns, both cities are in a similar situation to Whyalla and actually almost rose from the dead.
Christopher Pyne: Well Ditts obviously the news that Arrium went into voluntary administration yesterday was a glancing blow for the workers of Arrium right around Australia but out of the ashes of the Arrium business, a phoenix could rise that would be a profitable company and there have been plenty of other examples in South Australia alone, there was Pasminco in Port Pirie, 18 months later emerges Nyrstar. It’s still going strong, Balfours, Harris Scarfe both went through exactly the same thing, out of voluntary administration of course the best way for the banks to get their money back and it’s an over $2 billion debt which is an issue all of its own how it got that bad, but the best way for them to get the money back is to trade out of their difficulties and obviously the federal and state governments, the administrators Grant Thornton and of course all the workers of Arrium whether they’re in Whyalla or whether they’re in New South Wales, Queensland, WA and Victoria all want that to happen.
Chris Dittmar: So how can they get there, Christopher, obviously tax support from the Government but do they need to get a lot more efficiency in what they do there, are the wages okay? Have the unions had too much- taken too much of a toll, how much dollar savings per annum do they need to actually be viable?
Christopher Pyne: Well the company has said that they need to find about $60 million a year, that was about six or so weeks ago, I don’t know if it’s changed dramatically since then and I think the workers would do whatever was required to help the business but we shouldn’t put all the burden on the workers…
Chris Dittmar: No absolutely.
Christopher Pyne: What the Federal Government’s done through me and Malcolm Turnbull has been to bring forward $80 million contract for 72,000 tonnes of steel for the Adelaide-Tarcoola rail line. That’s a really practical example of what we can do to help by helping them to win contracts, the other thing I’m doing as the Minister for Industry is using the anti-dumping power that I’ve got to put duties on steel coming from overseas if it has been determined that they are injuring Australian businesses with unfair competition and Tom Koutsantonis has I think been trying to put his best foot forward, he says the South Australian Government will put some cash on the table once they know exactly what is the most useful way to spend South Australian taxpayers money to help the company.
Chris Dittmar: Alright my next question was going to- you might have just answered it but my next question was going to be you have appealed to all state governments, to state premiers to step up and help out here, what sort of things can the states do? Are you talking about any future project, any short term projects that they please use local and perhaps Arrium steel?
Christopher Pyne: Well absolutely and of course this is not just a Whyalla problem there are 1000 Arrium workers in Queensland, 1000 in Victoria, 1500 in New South Wales, 500 in WA, 3000 in South Australia so this is an Australia-wide issue and therefore those government I assume Tom Koutsantonis is talking to all them about what they are going to do but they could also be using Australian steel in their construction and that would make a big difference, rather than just going for the cheapest option from overseas.
Mark Ricciuto: Isn’t it New South Wales, haven’t they got an order in for 6500 tonne of steel from Spain for one particular project, can’t we compete with Spain or China on steel anymore?
Christopher Pyne: Well we can and we are. We produce very good quality steel and obviously I’m very disappointed that the New South Wales Government has awarded that contract overseas, but they are a sovereign government of their own, Roo, I can’t make them do things that they don’t want to do and one of the other pieces…
Mark Ricciuto: You can twist their arm a bit though.
Chris Dittmar: Gee you can pressure them.
Christopher Pyne: Yeah and we are and we’ll pressure all the other states and territories too. The other thing we’re doing of course is by committing to the 12 submarines, the nine future frigates, seven offshore patrol vessels, the Pacific patrol vessels; we’re creating a body of work into the future that will require steel. That’s a more medium to long term than it is immediate and that’s why I bought forward the 72,000 tonnes of steel for the Tarcoola-Adelaide rail line.
Mark Ricciuto: But just on that, I mean all we read about is that we’ve had a Spanish contingent come here, Japanese, I think there’s been Swedish, there’s been German, what if they are awarded the contracts? Will they use local steel?
Christopher Pyne: Well that would be the best option for them, I meanbringing steel from overseas to make big Naval steels when there’s steelmakers just around the corner, it’s obviously going to be easier for them to use the steel that’s here and for the other big projects like the ones in the air warfare destroyer and the other frigates that have been built, Australian steel has been used in those so yeah that is good news for any steelmakers in Australia. I’m seeing the administrators today- Grant Thornton- and the other piece of reasonable news was they haven’t announced any job losses at all, so we shouldn’t be in the business of being panic merchants. They said it’s business as usual, turn up to work and do the things that you’d normally do and they’re going to try and work through the problem.
Mark Ricciuto: Alright let’s hope there is some light at the end of the tunnel here, Christopher Pyne, thank you so much for your time.
Christopher Pyne: It’s a pleasure, thank you.
Chris Dittmar: Thanks, Christopher