Working together to save our steel industry

steel-mill-616526_1280.jpgIt's a joy to be out and about with my Senate colleagues on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula. The diversity of scenery, industry and enterprise makes this one of my favourite parts of my home state.

Whilst agriculture is still one of the most important contributors to the local economy, there are other established and emerging businesses that give great optimism for the future.

In Port Augusta, world-leading technology is enabling Sundrop Farms to be one of the most efficient truss tomato growers in the world.

Port Augusta is also the site of new solar thermal power technology investment running into the billions of dollars, offering power and jobs to thousands.

Port Lincoln is best known as Australia’s pre-eminent Southern Bluefin Tuna fishery but the innovation extends way beyond tuna farming. The fishing industry here has pioneered all sorts of aquaculture and is now exporting products and expertise across the world; they are value adding to abalone, kingfish and mussels.

Coffin Bay oysters are a brand name unto themselves and have an unrivalled reputation for being clean, green and delicious.

They are just some of the towns and a few of the great success stories in this part of the world.

However, it's not all sweetness and light on the EP. The city of Whyalla, comprising almost 23,000 people, is undergoing one of the most difficult economic times in its history.

Whyalla is the birthplace of the Australian steel industry and Arrium (and its associated companies) employ around 30 per cent of the town’s workers. They supply around 70 per cent of Australia's domestic steel needs and generate billions of dollars for our economy.

They are also in administration and that casts a massive cloud over the future of Whyalla. People are worried about their jobs, their families and their houses. The stress of uncertainty is contributing to unhealthy outcomes and increasing demand for financial and health counselling. And that's with the steel plant still operating.

If the administrators are unable to find a buyer for the plant and decide to shut it down, the consequences for Whyalla would be catastrophic.

There would also be big impacts for the state and federal governments.

That's why the South Australian Liberal Senate team have met with the administrators, the local council, industry and community groups to find the best way forward.

It's clear to me that it is in our national interest to see a viable domestic steel industry continue. We simply cannot afford, strategically or economically, to rely purely on imported steel for our national needs.

That's why I am wholeheartedly backing a plan to keep Arrium operating and viable for decades to come. The costs of not doing so are simply too great - not just for the people of Whyalla, but for all Australians.

It is heartening to see industry and workers, administrators and government, pull together for the common good. Unfortunately, this level of cooperation is all too rare and it has taken a near catastrophe to make it happen.

There is still a way to go in providing a positive outcome for the people of Whyalla and Australia's domestic steel industry, but based on what I have seen and heard in the past few days, I am optimistic we can get a great result.

And that will be good news for all of us.