‘Carnage’ predicted if BlueScope site closes

Widespread concern: Steelworkers and members of the community at a Save Our Steelworks public meeting last week. Picture: GREG TOTMANNSW government ‘committed’ to local industryCall to lift mandatory minimums on steelTheclosure of the Port Kembla steelworks would blow a multibillion-dollar hole in the Illawarra’s economy and see unemployment skyrocket to about 17 per cent, according to a recently released report.

The study on the effects of the closure of the steelworks was commissioned by the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) Port Kembla branch and it was carried out by a team of economic modellers from the University of Wollongong.

It makes for some very grim reading, with one of the modellers, Dr Scott Burrows, saying it could be as bad, if not worse, than the effects of the 1982 mass job losses at the steelworks.

It states that, if the steelworks were to close its gates, it would create a $3.3 billion hole in the region’s economy and would represent the loss of 21 per cent of the Illawarra’s gross regional product.

About 10,000 directly dependent jobs would disappear and the adult unemployment rate would almost double from its current 8.3 per cent.

The effects on employment for older workers and young people would be worse still.

“It’s a hell of a lot worse than we thought,” said AWU Port Kembla secretary Wayne Phillips.

“If the steelworks shuts, there are thousands of people in this area who will be directly affected and we know that there will also be thousands indirectly affected.

“Our members, not only at the steelworks but at contracting companies as well, will be out of work.

“House prices will collapse in this area and Wollongong will see one of the biggest recessions it’s ever seen.

“We just cannot allow our generation and the next two or three or four generations of people coming through this district to live in poverty for the next umpteen years.”

South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris said that it would be “carnage” for the Illawarra.

“You can’t take $3 billion out of the region’s total economic output every year and expect the region to carry on as normal,” Mr Rorris said.

“This is not business as usual, that’s 21 per cent of the gross regional product of the region. Twenty-one per cent with one industry, that’s not an adjustment, that’s carnage.

“And that is what we’re likely to see in this region if we don’t do something and do it quickly to save this industry.”

The union movement is calling on state and federal governments to legislate for a minimum of 50 per cent Australian steel to be used in taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects.

This week, a delegation will meet Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane and shadow minister Kim Carr in Canberra.

But Mr Phillips admitted time was running out to save Port Kembla.

BlueScope will announce its full-year results on August 24 and, while Mr Phillips doesn’t expect an announcement of closure to be made then, the clock is ticking on the steelworks’ future.

“If we don’t make some progress fairly quickly – I think before the end of 2015 – things will be extremely grim,” he said.

“My view is we’ve got a couple of months up our sleeve and that’s about it.”

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