Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to address Australia’s struggling steel industry while in China.
Mr Shorten — who this morning unveiled his own plan for the industry — said Mr Turnbull had an obligation to “speak up” for Australian steel while holding talks with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing.
He said many countries, like Australia, were suffering from the oversupply in production from China.
“What we need is the Prime Minister in Australia when they visit China to speak up on behalf of steel jobs, not just to simply ignore the issue,” he said.
“This issue of what Mr Turnbull says to the Chinese Government is a test of his leadership.”
Mr Shorten’s comments were made while unveiling a plan to address the issues within the industry.
The Labor proposal would see companies forced to submit an Australian Industry Participation Plan if the project is worth $250 million or more, down from the current $500 million.
The Australian Industry Participation Plans ensure local companies must be given an opportunity to bid for work in the project.
The proposal stopped short of mandating the use of local steel in government projects, but Mr Shorten said the plan would maximise the use of Australian metals.
“We can make sure that Australian steel producers stay on their feet so that we can benefit from a better time in the future when global circumstances are more optimistic,” he said.
The proposal also included the creation of a national Steel Supplier Advocate.
Shorten developing policy on the run: Pyne
But Industry Minister Christopher Pyne dismissed the idea, saying he already acted as the advocate and the Labor proposal would “downgrade” the role.
Mr Pyne said Mr Shorten was developing policy on the run.
“The sensible, calm, methodical way of dealing with this is the way I’m dealing with it, which is to bring forward large construction projects like the Adelaide to Tarcoola rail line,” he said.
“We’re using our powers under the anti-dumping laws to protect Australian businesses from being injured by unfair competition from overseas.”
Mr Pyne said the Coalition’s policies, such as bringing forward major infrastructure projects, would provide long-term security for the sector.
“I want to encourage as much Australian participation in large construction projects as possible, and that is why we have an industry participation policy as part of government procurement in Australia, and have had — by the way — for many years,” he said.
The announcement follows South Australian steelmaker Arrium’s move into voluntary administration earlier this month.
Administrators assumed control of day-to-day operations of the company, which has about 6,700 employees — 1,600 in South Australia, 2,800 in New South Wales, 930 in Victoria, 900 in Queensland, 350 in Western Australia, 60 in Tasmania, 40 in the Northern Territory and 30 in the ACT.
It also has an additional 1,400 contractors in South Australia.
BlueScope has also recently shed hundreds of jobs.