Doorstop – Sydney – Friday, 9 March 2018

FRIDAY, 9 MARCH 2018                       

SUBJECTS: Labor’s plans to toughen anti-dumping protections; RET; US steel tariffs; National Redress Scheme.

EMMA HUSAR, MEMBER FOR LINDSAY: G’day everybody, thanks very much for being here, I just want to say I’d like to acknowledge that we’re meeting on traditional lands and pay my respects to elders past and present, and in doing so recommit myself to ending the scourge that is Aboriginal disadvantage. We do have the highest number of Aboriginal people out here in Western Sydney, in a metropolitan setting and that’s really important out here.

I’d like to welcome Bill Shorten back to Lindsay, it’s great to have him back here in Penrith to talk to workers today about things that really matter. We’re joined today by Kim Carr and also Jason Clare. Capral here that sits inside Lindsay employs local people and it’s our job to make sure that we’re standing up for those people, so I’m going to invite Bill to talk about our decision and our announcement today. 

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much Emma, and it’s great to be here with Jason Clare my Trade Spokesperson and Senator Kim Carr, my Industry Spokesperson and Emma Husar, the local Member for Lindsay. I’d like to thank Capral for inviting us to attend and make our announcement about strengthening protections against imported aluminium and steel being dumped in Australia, and I’d like to acknowledge the workforce in attendance here at this press conference. The management and workforce at Capral have done everything that’s been expected of them. They’ve tried to improve productivity, they’ve backed in the investment of new technology and robots. This is a company and a workforce who have been up for change so they can keep these valuable, important and worthwhile blue collar and engineering manufacturing jobs in Western Sydney and right throughout Australia.

But there is no doubt that there is a cloud over the job security of tens of thousands of our fellow Australians who work in steel and aluminium. The reason why there’s a cloud over their job security is that President Trump and the United States have decided to put on new tariffs or taxes, on steel and aluminium products that are imported into the United States from wherever in the world they are made. So the first challenge is for Australia to have an exemption; for President Trump to agree to say that anything that’s made in Australia comes into America without these new additional taxes being put on the Australian products.

Now this may surprise people but on this, we are absolutely at one with the Government. I am pleased and heartened at signs emerging out of the White House that they do recognise that Australia is one of America’s longest and oldest and most reliable allies. if not the most reliable ally. So I am pleased if the Government is successful in gaining an exemption on steel and aluminium products. But the big problem will not be the getting of exemptions and making sure that Australia’s steel and aluminium can be imported into America. The big problem is that throughout the world, be it China or India or Vietnam or other jurisdictions, they make a lot of steel and aluminium products and if it cannot be imported into the United States, this steel and aluminium will find a home elsewhere. It will find a home elsewhere at very low prices. I don’t want to see Australian companies finding it impossible to compete with the rest of the world because we face a new wave of steel and aluminium and metal products being dumped on Australian shores. 

So today Labor wants to propose sensible measures. We will do what I’m about to announce if we form a government, but I ask the Government to take up the advice of Labor, the advice for BlueScope, the advice of Capral, the advice of manufacturers throughout Australia and seriously consider the following ideas. 

One, we want to provide greater resources to the Anti-Dumping Commission. The Anti-Dumping Commission is the cop on the beat to make sure that Australians are not being treated as some sort of mugs when dumped product, product sent into Australia at artificially low prices to wipe out Australian manufacturing . So extra resources for the Anti-Dumping Commission. Two, we want to increase the penalties when we catch trade cheats trying to undermine Australian jobs and Australian laws by bringing in products that have got their prices artificially reduced, we need to increase the penalties. At the moment in the United States when a dumped product is discovered, they pay massive penalties, 200 per cent to 300 per cent more than the actual price of the product. But in Australia, unfortunately our penalty regime is just not strong enough. The penalties are much smaller and they often take too long to prosecute so the damage is already done to Australian jobs. 

The third reform we want the Government to do, and we will do if we form a government is that we don’t want to have multiple government departments protecting us against anti-dumping. We are saying that there should be one authority, one cop on the beat to guard against dumped products from China and Vietnam and elsewhere and that should be the Anti-Dumping Commission. 

What we say to the Government is this: don’t wait until it’s too late. There is a clear danger to Australia arising out of President Trump putting on new taxes on imported steel and aluminium to America. Australia has a great tradition of producing aluminium and steel products. Our metal industry is strong, and it has been in a tough place but it has come through the doldrums pretty well. The last thing we need to see is dumped material coming from China, Vietnam, India and other places to Australia because we are a soft touch. What we are proposing to the Government is don’t wait until it is too late, the danger is now. We say to Mr Turnbull and the Government, be prepared and we will work with you.

I’d now like to invite a Director of Capral, Phil Jobe to talk further from the company’s view about the challenge of President Trump’s decision and what it means to Australian industry.

PHIL JOBE, DIRECTOR, CAPRAL: Thank you, Bill. Well, times are changing and there’s no doubt that the moves by President Trump in the USA can possibly have a large impact on our company, not because of exports to them but because of imports trying to find a home here in Australia. We have in recent years, thanks to both sides of parliament, increased the anti-dumping regime. but we do stand here today at risk, serious risk that companies like this unless further steps are taken. We need further reinforcing, we need further measures, and we do really appreciate Bill Shorten coming here today. We support the announcements that have been made. We think they’re timely and we think they will make a difference. We do say that, that is not the end game, there is more to be done as well, but it is a good start. We thank him for his interest in this business, and we just hope that going forward we see some concrete proposals that really deliver what is needed in this situation. So thanks for all you have done in the past , your Ministers and Jason and others. We really do appreciate you coming and the announcement today. Thank you very much.

SHORTEN: Good on you. Thanks very much. Are there questions on this or other issues?

JOURNALIST: Are the Prime Minister and Julie Bishop doing enough to make sure we do get an exemption?

SHORTEN: I think they probably are doing everything they can. I don’t blame the Australian Government for the decisions of President Trump, and I think they thought they probably had a deal and now they’re trying make sure that is on it. I want to make it very clear that we hope that the Government is successful in this. We think they are doing what they can to achieve it. I think that at the end of the day, President Trump will remember that Australia has, if not the longest and most reliable, certainly amongst the most reliable allies.

The real challenge for us, and we hope to get the exemptions and I’m pretty confident that will happen. But, it’s echoing the statements we’ve just heard. There is a whole lot of steel and aluminium produced around the world. If it can’t access the American market, it is going to look for other markets. My concern is that a lot of our steel and aluminium which gets imported is potentially dumped. In other words, other countries make a decision to import steel into Australia at prices lower than they sell it in their own country, or indeed, possibly lower than it even costs to produce because they want to get the market share and wipe out the local industry. 

What matters to me is a fair go for Australia. What matters to me is a fair go for these Capral workers, the small businesses, the people in the metal manufacturing industry. In order to have a fair go for Australia, we need to strengthen  the teeth of the anti-dumping watch dog. Labor has put forward sensible proposals which industry support. We say to Mr Turnbull, don’t wait until it is too late. I don’t want to be here seeing these fellas lose their jobs. They do good work and we want to make sure they keep their jobs. It’s now time for Canberra to step up and deal with the big problem which is a whole lot of imported steel and aluminium coming to Australia and make sure that it is not dumped.

JOURNALIST: My understanding is that in countries like China for example, their steel is heavily subsidies by the Government. How big are the penalties going to have to be to compensate for that?

SHORTEN: We want to triple the penalties, and I’m going to get Senator Carr and Jason to subsidise this answer, but let’s be really clear. If people are trying to destroy the jobs of Australian workers right now, they should pay big penalties if they’re cheating the system. I’ve got no time for trade cheats. I will fight for the jobs here and the jobs of manufacturing workers right around Australia. I don’t want us to have a naive set of policies. We believe in a level playing field in Australia, but if no one else is playing by the rules we’ve got to make sure that there are the penalties in place so that everyone dealing with Australia plays by the rules. I might ask Jason and Kim to supplement. 

SENATOR KIM CARR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY: Well thank you Bill. This approach that we are taking today is all about a fair go. A fair go for Australia; a fair go for Australian companies; a fair go for Australian workers. What we have with the situation at the moment is that the Anti-Dumping Commission is already finding that we have a very serious problem in this country, up to 70 percent of their work is currently in steel. With the situation emerging from the United States, that situation is only going to get worse. So we need to strengthen their hand, we need to be able to strengthen the resources that they have available. We’ve seen that the United States, they have penalties of up to 250 per cent to 260 per cent. In Australia, we rarely get above 20 per cent for penalties where it is demonstrated, demonstrated that there have been dumping of product into this country. And that’s after a really lengthy process, a really difficult process for companies who have to pay up to half a million dollars to put a case, up to half a million dollars each time. And then you have companies that when they are found to breach the rules, go to extraordinary lengths to corrupt the system. So we have a real problem in this country at the moment and it’s a bit like tax avoidance, you just can’t set and forget these rules you’ve got to constantly improve them and you’ve got to have a government that’s committed to working with companies to ensure that we get a fair go for Australia. 

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INVESTMENT: Well just to add to what Bill has said, we should get an exemption from Trump’s tariffs and some of the things the President has said about Australia today should give us cause for optimism. We should get an exemption and we wish the Government well on that front. That will be good for the Australian companies that export steel and aluminium to the United States but most of the companies in Australia in the steel and aluminium business don’t export to the US. There’s about 12,000 companies big and small, right across the country in the steel and aluminium business and they employ over 100,000 people, people like the workers that we are meeting here today at Capral in Western Sydney. 

And if that steel that’s supposed to go to the US, some of that gets dumped here then it’s a threat to the jobs of the workers here, and that’s why the real challenge for us is to make sure that we take action now so that steel doesn’t get dumped here and cost these workers their job. It’s not just us saying that, the Anti-Dumping Commissioner last week at Senate Estimates said, if the US Government puts tariffs up on steel and aluminium, then some of that steel is going to head our way. So we’ve got to be on high alert for that. That means making sure the Dumping Commission has got extra resources, and has got extra powers and tougher penalties to make sure that this steel and aluminium that’s supposed to go to the US doesn’t come here, under-priced, cutting the legs off businesses like Capral and Blue Scope. We’ve spoken to Capral, spoken to BlueScope, spoken to Manufacturing Australia, they’re all telling us the same thing. This is the sort of thing we need to do and we need to do it right now. 

Just to reinforce the point that Bill made a minute ago, let’s not wait for an election for this to happen. This will only be successful if we do it now before steel and aluminium turns around and heads our way. We’ve encouraged the Government not just to argue for the exemption which is important, but also take steps now to boost the budget of the Dumping Commission and increase the penalties on companies that decide to dump steel and aluminium here in Australia. 

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten the Government has been saying this morning there’s no evidence that the Anti-Dumping Commission as it is, is not going to be up to the task. What evidence do you have that it won’t be?

SHORTEN: Oh my goodness I really hope the Government doesn’t adopt some sort of naive, Pollyanna view that the world’s not a tough place out there. The idea that jurisdictions where they’re currently making steel and aluminium, the idea that if they can’t ship it into American they’ll just sit at home and do nothing. That is a negligent attitude and it’s not the way the world works. Speak to anyone who has worked in aluminium or steel or manufacturing more generally, dumping occurs right now in Australia. When I say dumping, what I mean is that you see countries subsidise their own industries. You see companies within those countries deliberately as a strategy, sell their product into Australia because we have got very open markets. They sell it at below the cost that they sell it in their own countries or they sell it even at below the cost of production. And the reason why they do that, is that if they can wipe out the local competition through dumping, then at some point in the future, they can lift the prices. Now we are not saying to Mr Turnbull to retaliate and put on tariffs or copy Donald Trump, not at all. We have got a set of rules, but rules aren’t worth the paper they’re written on unless you enforce them. The policy which we are putting forward today just recognises the way the world is since President Trump has said that he is going to put new taxes and charges on steel and aluminium going to America. We would be truly dumb to pretend that we shouldn’t do anything, we should just close our eyes, put our fingers in our ears and pretend that nothing is going to happen. I would just say to the Government, don’t get political on this issue and attack the Labor Party or attack the manufactures or attack the unions. Defend the jobs, Malcolm, defend the jobs. There are trade cheats, we want to stand up to them. We have got sensible policies; tougher penalties, more resources to catch them and having one person in charge of the efforts to protect our jobs in Australia from dumping.

JOURNALIST: How would you describe President Trump’s approach to the tariffs?

SHORTEN: Oh, I think it is a dangerous decision for Australia. I do – and again, I know everyone just says Labor and Liberal are always fighting each other, I wish the Liberals well to try and talk to Donald Trump, to say hey, we’re Australia, we’re your allies. Whatever we think of your policies for other countries, we deserve to be treated better. Now, I am optimistic that will happen. So I am optimistic about that and we’re with the Government on this. But the big decision is we’re not going to stop Donald Trump from putting tariffs and extra taxes on all steel and all aluminium that comes to America from around the world, so we have just got to be a bit clear-eyed about this. It is a dangerous decision for Australia because the big problem is that if that imported steel and aluminium which used to go to America, can’t go to America, then some of it will come here and jeopardise Aussie jobs and we just want a fair go for Australian jobs.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that Alex Turnbull’s remarks have damaged our relationship with Malaysia? 

SHORTEN: I have made a decision that I am not going to comment about Mr Turnbull’s family. I don’t know what has gone on there, I am certainly going to respect the fact that it’s Malcolm’s family and I am not going to get involved in that.

JOURNALIST: It is well known though that the Government has been working on that relationship for a long time. Are you concerned as to any repercussions?

SHORTEN: I think you’re better off asking Mr Turnbull. Let me just state, as I have done in my whole time as Opposition Leader. I regard families as off limit, so I am not about to break that rule.

JOURNALIST: People in Western Sydney are already struggling with cost of living and job security, so if this tariff doesn’t- if it goes through and we’re not exempt, how will people in Western Sydney and Lindsay in particular, be affected? 

SHORTEN: I think it is a disaster if we don’t get the exemption but I think we will, I am not going to scare people needlessly, I think we will. But what I just say to the Government is President Trump’s decision to make it more expensive to bring in steel or aluminium from China or other nations means that those other nations will look for countries to import their steel and aluminium into, that’s Australia. So we need to get smart now, we cannot wait until it is too late. The fact is we’ve lost the car industry, we’ve lost a lot of manufacturing. I want to stop losing manufacturing jobs. All we need to do here is give our watch dog more teeth, more power, more resources, more penalties just to stand up for Australian jobs.

JOURNALIST: New South Wales and Victoria have both signed on for the national child abuse redress scheme. Does that make you think more states will sign on?

SHORTEN: Yes, Labor supported a national redress scheme. I am pleased that Victoria and New South Wales have signed on. I think for the survivors, what they have gone through, some redress is very long overdue and important so I am pleased by that news, absolutely.

JOURNALIST: And the model that the Government has put forward, are you happy with that?

SHORTEN: We wanted an overarching Commonwealth scheme but if there’s progress, I am not going to complain about it. Alright, thanks everybody.