Interview with Melinda James - ABC Radio Illawarra

Melinda James
Interview discusses fuel prices, BlueScope announcement

MELINDA JAMES: Big announcement due at BlueScope Steel at Port Kembla later on this morning. Federal Government funding for a new advanced steel manufacturing plant. It will make things like wind turbines, it will be involved in large scale solar production, perhaps, armoured steel for military vehicles, patrol boats, those sorts of things. Joining me now is the Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor. Good morning to you. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good morning, Melinda. Thanks for having me. 

MELINDA JAMES: Look, can I just very quickly ask you about what we were talking about just then? I'm hoping that you heard the tail end of what Nick McIntosh from the TWU was saying. Truckies, trucking companies, owner drivers are facing enormous imposts with the rising cost of fuel. What are your views on cutting the fuel excise, even if it was to be in a targeted way to, for example, transport drivers? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Melinda, look, we're very conscious of the pain people are feeling at the bowser, whether it's truckies or commuters who travel significant distances to get to work. These are high prices. They're being driven by international prices, which is something we can't directly control. But we're very conscious of the pain that's being felt. I'm not going to speculate on Budget measures at this point, with a couple of weeks away from the Budget. But as I say, we are conscious of the pain. We can take action alongside other countries   we can't do it alone   to put some downward pressure on prices through releasing supplies, and we've committed to doing that alongside the United States, in particular. In fact, I wrote to the United States Energy Secretary some months back proposing that there be a global collective action to get more supply onto the marketplace. That has now been adopted, a couple of weeks ago. And we'll be working with others to do that. But, look, I'll leave speculation on the Budget to others. The Treasurer will be making the Budget announcements in due time. 

MELINDA JAMES: Alright. Let's move on to today's announcement, which is for this investment of $55.4 million into BlueScope's advanced steel manufacturing precinct at Port Kembla. What are you expecting that money to go towards? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: It's focused on an upgrade to the plate mill, as well as steel and tube manufacturing to, in combination, create this advanced steel manufacturing precinct, in collaboration with the University of Wollongong, Bisalloy, and others. And it's focused on creating a grade of steel that can be used, or grades of steel that can be used in armoured vehicles and patrol boats but also wind turbines and large scale solar installations. So, you know, these are critical manufacturing requirements for Australia. We've become much more conscious in the last couple of years of having control over our own destiny, having manufacturing in Australia, where we really need it. Defence, of course, is one of those areas where we've got to have access to the highest quality steel to be able to produce the capability we need. And so this is a fantastic addition to Australia's manufacturing capability, but it's also a fantastic investment for the Illawarra region. Over a thousand jobs, both at Port Kembla and associated businesses and service providers who will be involved in this collaboration. It's a vote of confidence in the Australian steel industry. The Australian steel industry has gone through some very tough times, Melinda. I don't have to tell anyone in the Illawarra that. But it's in good shape now and we're seeing a real resurgence of manufacturing right across the country, and steel is one of those areas where we see enormous opportunity. 

MELINDA JAMES: From the plans that you've seen at the precinct, from the discussions you've had and what your money   as the Federal Government   will be going towards, how big will the component that will create wind turbine towers and large scale solar installations be? A lot of Australians find it extraordinary that we don't create our own wind turbines here, for example, and have had to import them all this time. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we do actually build our own wind turbines down in Victoria. There's a manufacturer doing that now. This, though, is providing the steel that will enable them to do that and others and so, you know, it strengthens that entire supply chain and that's a very good thing. We're obviously one of the biggest iron ore producers in the world. We haven't always processed that iron ore and we'd like to do more of it, and that's exactly what this project is doing. It's strengthening and creating a long term platform for Port Kembla as a steel manufacturing centre. We've seen periods where many thought that Port Kembla would not survive as a steel manufacturing centre. Well, it's in fantastic position now and only strengthening, and this is just a good example of how we can help get into new markets, create new markets for our steel, and in the process create jobs in the region. 

MELINDA JAMES: So, are you expecting this to mean that Australia no longer has to import the steel for wind turbines? And will it eventually get so large so that we export this steel too? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: I'm not going to make a prediction about that, but it will enable us to do a lot more of our own manufacturing for that purpose, and other purposes. I mean, large scale solar installations use an enormous amount of tube, steel tube. And, of course, our defence facilities   armoured vehicles, patrol boats - they require high quality plate. The plate mill has been an institution there at Port Kembla for a long, long time, and that plate mill will now have a capacity to produce very high quality plate for defending Australia and securing our future. These are all parts of markets that we want to participate in and we want to control our own destiny over these sorts of products. 

MELINDA JAMES: Angus Taylor, thanks so much for your time. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks, Melinda.