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Interview with Jon Faine, ABC Radio 774 Melbourne

19 February 2014

Subject: Alcoa closure, industry assistance, Victorian economy

E&OE

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Premier Dennis Napthine are meeting in Melbourne this morning to talk about the jobs crisis that we face in this State. Joining in the discussions when he’s not busy talking to us is the Industry Minister in the Abbott Government Ian Macfarlane. Mr Macfarlane, good morning.

IAN MACFARLANE: Good morning Jon

JOURNALIST: I’m told this is not a meeting for announcables, so what are you doing, between you all?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well we are working though this issue. I mean there are a lot of things to consider. The immediacy of the Alcoa redundancies is the main issue that we need to focus on. If we look at what’s happening with Toyota, the final outcome of that is three years away, with Holden hopefully the same. Ford will close in the next couple of years, but Alcoa will close this year. So …

JOURNALIST: (Interrupts) What do you do?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well in terms of what we do, that’s why we’re here in Melbourne. The Prime Minister and the Premier are meeting as we speak. I’m meeting with the Mayor of Geelong and Sarah Henderson MP is coming up from Geelong this afternoon. I’ve just met with one of my panel members who is looking at the economic situation. We were down here as you remember about a month ago…

JOURNALIST: (Interrupts) Sarah Henderson is the Member for Corangamite, that’s west of Geelong and mostly rural. What about Mr Marles who represents the voters whose jobs are going?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well I’m happy to talk to Richard. Richard and I have discussed issues like the future of the Shell refinery and if he wishes to contact me or come and see me next week I’m fine with that. Sarah Henderson was on my case first thing yesterday morning as a good local member should be and she’s arranged to bring the Mayor of Geelong up so …

JOURNALIST: (Interrupts) Wouldn’t a bit of bipartisanship be welcome when we have a crisis of these dimensions?

IAN MACFARLANE: Jon as I said, I have had plenty to do with Richard Marles and I’m happy to be bipartisan, it’s part and parcel of what I do. The reality though is that I needed to speak with the Mayor so Sarah had organised to do that. So in terms of bipartisanship I’m always there to talk to people if they want to be constructive. I’ve yet to return a call to Paul Howes who sent a message to me yesterday which unfortunately I didn’t get until about 10:30 last night, but I’ll be talking to everyone. This is not an issue for politics; this is an issue about finding solutions to an enormous challenge particularly for the people of Geelong and surrounding areas.

JOURNALIST: Joe Hockey on AM this morning said we need to make it cheaper to make things in Australia which means labour costs and energy costs must come down. Do you want to reduce labour costs as part of the solution?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well I do want to reduce labour costs but it’s not necessarily reducing wages. If we boost our productivity if we increase the number of units that a person produces then wages can remain stable but we do have to have competitive working conditions and we do have to make sure that some of the things that have happened in industry in Australia in the past are addressed. Now if you saw the front of The Australian newspaper yesterday and I know it’s not widely read in Melbourne against The Age, but if you saw the front page of The Australian you would have seen what the union, to their credit, has done with the Bell Bay smelter, owned by Rio Tinto. The workers basically said to the union, job security is more important than an extra dollar an hour and they’ve gone back and renegotiated their situation. So this is a mirror image of a production plant compared to the Point Henry smelter. Bell Bay is an aluminium smelter that’s facing closure and the workers have agreed to rework their Awards so that they are more productive in terms of their output.

Look, there is going to have to be a realisation that we have got to lift productivity. It’s not about putting more dollars in the pockets of the bosses; it’s about preserving the workers’ jobs. If we can all lift productivity, then job security comes with that. We have got to be internationally competitive. It doesn’t matter whether you’re producing cars, aluminium, biotech or the latest and greatest, you’ve got to be internationally competitive.

JOURNALIST: Alright, thank you very much for your insights this morning and we’ll wait and see where this is going to take us. That was the Industry Minister in the Abbott Government, Ian Macfarlane.

IAN MACFARLANE: Thanks Jon.

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