Press conference to open the ResTech building at the University of Newcastle
SHARON CLAYDON, MEMBER FOR NEWCASTLE: Thank you so much for being here. I'm so delighted to have Ed Husic, Minister for Science and Industry, visiting the University of Newcastle again today and to be joined by my colleague, Pat Conroy, Minister for Defence Industry, and, of course, wonderful neighbour. We've just had a remarkable tour of ResTech with the Minister launching the new Living Lab premises and seeing some of the extraordinary work. I know that the work that we saw from students today, I'm going to really look forward to following their stellar careers because they are going to be part of our solutions into the future. And I'm so thrilled to have so many local grown smarts that are working to help shape the future, our industrial base going into the future, and solving the problems that face us not just in our region, although we do have a lot of skin in the game here, but they are problems that face, or challenges, I should say, that face our nation. On that note, I want to hand across to Minister Ed Husic. Thank you.
ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: Thanks, Sharon. It is very good to be here today with both Sharon and Pat because the three of us, the areas where we represent, we know manufacturing is a big deal but it's also big for the country. Countries that make things make great jobs and that takes a lot of work. It needs a lot of know-how also applied and being here for the official opening of ResTech’s facilities and their Living Lab where they're bringing R&D know-how in with industry, the Uni and industry working together are extremely important, not just to do things now but also think ahead about what needs to happen. We are very focused as a Federal Government, the Albanese Government, in bringing up the National Reconstruction Fund, $15 billion of growth capital, really important to support the revitalisation of manufacturing capabilities, our industry growth program which will open soon, also revitalising the national science and research priorities, getting our act together on robotics, which will be important to give us a national advanced manufacturing edge. All these things are huge. But you need to be able to get people working in different parts of the country that we don't just see it in our major capital cities, we see our regions and the manufacturing effort evolve. We've seen in Hunter, through various times, you've been under pressure, but you've also evolved, and you've also been able to see new industry or new activity emerge, working alongside existing ways as well, really important. Where we can work together to make that happen is incredibly important. Also just wanted to quickly touch on something else that has happened here in the last few days and that is the Uni of Newcastle sending a very strong statement of support, recommending that people vote yes in the upcoming referendum, to give a voice to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in our Parliament as a big part of the Hunter community, this is a significant development. I just want to commend them on that.
Having said that, you can contrast the very clear stand taken by the university, and we commend them for that. In other parts of the country, not necessarily so. We have to actually undertake a national search for logic looking at what the Coalition is doing on this issue. They say on one hand, Peter Dutton, that he opposes the referendum to set up a voice. He then says he will do his own referendum on recognition. He then walks away from those statements saying he's only talking about reconciliation and then when pressed again says no, he wants to do a second referendum. I think the logic for the rest of the country is compelling. We've got an opportunity, maybe we take and seize this moment where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have said yes, we'd like to be recognised in the Constitution, but we would also like to have a body of voice that when you're doing or making policy about us, you do that with us. That you listen and that, in the course of doing that, you achieve better results. It makes clear sense, there is a logic around that, as opposed to what we're seeing out of the Coalition. And we don't need political games where some of their own people have suggested that seeing the Voice go down is in their political interest. It's a terrible position out of the Coalition. We think it's important that the country come together as one, be united on this issue, make this historic change, see better results come out of setting up a voice to Parliament that can advise governments on how to do things better. We think that's the way to go as opposed to a very confused approach we've seen from Peter Dutton and his Coalition. I might just hand over quickly to Pat because, obviously, not only in the region but within his portfolio, Australian industry and particularly Australian defence, really important areas.
PAT CONROY, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY: Thanks, Ed and Sharon. And, Ed, thank you for your continued leadership in advancing the industrial strategy, the industrial ambition of the Albanese Labor Government. I'm proud to be at Newcastle Uni today. This is a university of firsts. First in the country in terms of engineering excellence, first in the country in terms of collaboration with industry. At one centre here, there are more industry-funded PhDs than anywhere else in the country and that demonstrates that what is done here is actually a value of industry. What is done here generates jobs, generates futures, for Hunter families and that's what we should be so proud of. So, today's opening of this new building or the new centre by Ed and Sharon is further manifestation of the great linkages between University of Newcastle and great industrial titans of our region including Ampcontrol here today. So it's great news for our region and the Hunter Labor team, Sharon, myself, Dan, and Meryl, will continue to fight for our region, to fight that we get our fair share and fight to remain the powerhouse of our country. Thank you very much.
ED HUSIC: Any questions?
SPEAKER: Minister, Molycop this morning has announced it will cease steel making at its Waratah plant potentially affecting between 250 and 540 workers. What's your response to that? How will the government support those workers?
ED HUSIC: Can I just say, politicians in these positions when straightforward question, you know, is asked like that will probably point to a whole host of international factors and, as they describe, it was a perfect storm. You can talk about all the stuff we're doing on manufacturing, we can talk about the revitalisation of the Hunter after BHP. But to be completely frank with you, I'm not even thinking of that and it doesn't mean much for the 250 potential employees that are affected and I feel very much for them because I'm the son of a metalworker myself. Our family has been through periods where redundancies kick in. I know this will be a tough day and a tough few months as well. I feel for the workers' families, particularly young kids who are wondering why their parents are so anxious, because they're thinking clearly, how do they pay the bills, put food on the table, make sure the mortgage is met? So, I'm thinking a lot about that from the perspective of those workers that are affected and Molycop has advised of their obviously about 250 people that might be affected at the facility, that they're offering voluntary redundancies and they will provide some support. I dealt with Molycop over many months and have been working with them on different issues, particularly on steel industry policy, because we do want to, and it's why we push so hard to revitalise manufacturing. Steel has got a big part to play in Australia's future, particularly as we make the transition to net zero, and there are about 100,000 steelworkers in this country. We want that to grow, and we want to be able to find ways to ensure that people can be put to greater work longer term. So we're very keen to work with the company in any way that they think is productive and helpful because I've got huge respect for what Molycop does in this region, as I do for the broader Australian steel industry, and I just want to say I'm very much thinking about all those workers and their families on what is a no doubt very tough day for them.
SPEAKER: The Prime Minister was here yesterday talking about the National Reconstruction Fund. When did the Government become aware of Molycop was going to make this announcement?
ED HUSIC: They just let us know before the announcement.
SPEAKER: This morning?
ED HUSIC: No, in the last - just overnight.
SPEAKER: So the Prime Minister didn't know when he was here yesterday?
ED HUSIC: No, I don't believe so.
SPEAKER: Okay. And have you got any immediate thoughts about how the Government can support these workers?
ED HUSIC: Again, we want to be able to work in a way that's productive with Molycop. They've got a set of things that they said they will be looking to do. If there is more work that can be done, I'm certainly very keen to do that and I want to work in with local MPs in particular, that will be affected by that. Sharon's told me about the deep industrial heritage at Waratah. There's been generations of people that have worked there over many, many decades and so I understand the significance for the region, but if there is anything that we can do to help in this process during these times, I'm very keen to work with Molycop and provide any meaningful assistance that can be put to use for them.
SPEAKER: You'd be aware of their previous concerns about the lack of tariffs on Chinese steel and how that they've previously said that that may impact on the steel making operations in Australia, which it has. Do you believe that that has been a factor?
ED HUSIC: Well, Molycop has said they've been affected by a perfect storm and left it at that. They haven't really offered much further than what you've seen in the press statement, and they've talked about, you know, making decisions around investment, around the furnace, etc, and the times at which they're at. They're focussing, as I said, as a result of their restructure on certain activities but it might be best to direct to them, if you don't mind.
SPEAKER: Do you know whether or not their research project with the University of NSW on green steel will be affected by this announcement?
ED HUSIC: Again, I think you might need to direct that to them, if you don't mind, because it's probably a private arrangement. But on green steel, I think this is going to be a very important thing for us long term, something I'm very interested in. Looking at working - and I've been talking with different players in the steel industry about how we start to line up our act on that. We need a lot of steel. A lot of green metals to help us in the transition, a lot of things that are being built as part of the transition to net zero are going to be built off a platform of steel, aluminium, and other metals. Being able to produce that steel sustainably without increasing the carbon footprint, that's a big challenge, but it's not one other countries have shied away from. They get, for example, that they need to lean in and work on that and I'm actively thinking, working through those issues within the context of the development of an industrial decarbonisation plan which my colleague, our colleague, Chris Bowen, as the Climate Change and Energy Minister, has said we need to work on. So this will be some of the things - this will be part of that work. It will involve the consideration of a number of things, for example, not just in the technology side but the resource side, what we do with scrap metal which we export a lot out of the country, can we use more of that to help us in terms of green steel production. These are some of the things that we are working through as issues at the moment and it is good that Molycop has worked with the Uni of NSW and I'm sure there will be other unis that will want to step up and help us in finding ways to best do that type of work, manufacturing, making green steel.
SPEAKER: If you were to come back here in 10 years' time, how would you like to think that a project like ResTech could have evolved?
ED HUSIC: I think seeing them, and they're already flagging, ResTech, that they will potentially need more space because of the work that they know is coming up. So that is a signal of potential. So seeing that firm grow, seeing the work that it is doing, you can see behind us one of the vehicles that have been developed, to be able to have batteries that can work safely, creating an electric vehicle that can create safely underground and be able to perform, in many respects way quieter, very efficiently, being able to provide support for our mining sector. Hugely important but it's not just in terms of mining. You can see a lot of other different sectors and also different applications. So with that, we want to see them grow. We want - I often say I want to see some of our SMEs grow into big Australian names. We want to make things here, ship them everywhere, and if ResTech can be part of that process, and being able to also open up export markets, too, be very keen to see that. So, you know, down the track, if I'm with my walking cane and considerably greyer, I'd be happy to come back and say I was here at this moment. But there's a lot of prospects which is great. It's great to see the potential that exists and is coming out of a collaboration with the uni.