Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Government's responsibility to protect steel jobs and cut emissions


Wednesday March 23, 2011 - Local candidates for the Socialist Alliance have condemned the attitude of the two major parties towards action on climate change. They have also renewed calls for BlueScope Steel to build the cogeneration plant. Tony Abbott's visit to the steelworks and Ross Garnaut's comments that BlueScope should receive "assistance" for "90 per cent of their obligation" to reduce pollution have put the issue back in the spotlight.

Paola Harvey, Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Keira, said: "Tony Abbott doesn't even acknowledge the scientific consensus on climate change, he claims that carbon dioxide isn't a villain. How can we trust his comments on local industry when he displays no understanding of climate science?

"The truth is, the framework for a price on carbon, giving way to an emissions trading scheme, is a step in the wrong direction. Ross Garnaut's comments that BlueScope should only have to pay for 10% of its pollution shows how ineffective this sheme could end up being. If the big polluters can easily absorb the cost without changing their practices, then what's the point?

"BlueScope have known about the need to seriously reduce emissions for many years. They recently reneged on their greenhouse gas reduction deal with the state government by putting off building the cogeneration plant. The plant would reduce carbon emissions by 900,000 tonnes a year, but the steelworks have used excuse after excuse for the delays in construction.

"There is already too much carbon in the atmosphere; we need to reduce emissions across the board including in the steel industry. The state government should require the steelworks to start construction on the cogen plant now. If BlueScope can't afford to take this action they should be required to open their books to workers and the community. If they refuse they should be placed under public ownership, not given more handouts. Why should BlueScope's profits be placed ahead of a safe climate future?

Wollongong-based Legislative Council candidate for the Socialist Alliance, Patrick Harrison, argued: "The standard corporate response to any loss in profitability is to pass the cost onto workers. We've seen this with the steelworks during the recession of the 1980s, and if our state government does nothing, we could see it again in response to this carbon tax. But a publicly owned steel industry would mean the government could guarantee jobs and take action to make the industry cleaner.

"We need state and federal governments to be taking bold action in the face of the greatest threat our species has ever faced. Instead, Abbott is using Labor's carbon tax as another excuse to whip up fear and xenophobia, claiming that China and Indonesia will take our jobs.

"Mr Abbott's comments assume that this is an inevitable move - but the truth is, governments have a responsibility to protect jobs and the economy in a regional area like the Illawarra. Corporate hand-outs aren't going to stop companies moving offshore to cut costs - we saw that with Pacific Brands, which received millions of dollars of government assistance before moving offshore. Instead, we need a government that's willing to stand up to big business and stop them from moving our industry offshore.

"Neither the Coalition nor Labor is willing to do this. If the people of the Illawarra wish to protect their local industry and jobs, then they should vote 1 Socialist Alliance on March 26', Harrison concluded.

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