A rescue package for the Whyalla steelworks in South Australia’s north is an urgent matter with a decision about its future due in April, Premier Jay Weatherill has told Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
The Premier and Prime Minister had a private meeting in Adelaide on Tuesday night with the state’s struggling economy at the centre of their discussions — and the Whyalla steelworks, operated by Arrium, was the first order of business.
“This is a very urgent proposition,” Mr Weatherill said.
“We’re told that in early April key decisions will be taken about the future of the Whyalla steelworks in relation to Arrium so it’s crucial that we have the capacity to respond.”
He said at their meeting the Prime Minister was open to a state and federal assistance package.
“[He was] certainly very prepared to make a Commonwealth contribution,” Mr Weatherill said.
“What form that will take is of course a matter for discussion, but there are things the Commonwealth could do which could make a very big difference to the future viability of Arrium.”
Mr Turnbull paid a visit to Whyalla on Wednesday.
Arrium cut about 600 staff from its South Australian operations last year and hundreds more jobs were at risk if it was forced to mothball the Whyalla steelworks because of poor commodity prices.
Mr Weatherill acknowledged there was a “tight timeline” to finalise any assistance for Arrium before it settled on a final decision about the steelworks.
“I think it’s a very short timeline to deal with the amount of work that we’re going to have to do in a relatively short period of time,” he said.
“We’re talking about very substantial contributions from both the Commonwealth and the SA taxpayers and we first have to be satisfied that they are intelligent uses of taxpayers money.”
Mr Weatherill said he also raised with Mr Turnbull the issue of downgrading of works at the Australian Submarine Corporation as the Air Warfare Destroyer construction project wound down.