12 March 2018
Transcript - #2018022, 2018

Joint doorstop interview, Port Kembla

Joint doorstop interview with
The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP
Prime Minister and
Ann Sudmalis MP
Federal Member for Gilmore

SUBJECTS: Steel; TPP; South China Sea; North Korea; infrastructure

PRIME MINISTER:

Well good morning. Mark thank you, Mark Vassella, Chief Executive of BlueScope has welcomed us here this morning. You’ve seen some of that great Australian steel being made here, some of which of course, is heading over to the United States. I’m here with Ann Sudmalis the Member for Gilmore, many of your constituents work here, don’t they?

ANN SUMALIS - MEMBER FOR GILMORE:

They do, they do indeed.

PRIME MINISTER:

We’ve been protecting their jobs as we relentlessly advocate for Australian exports and Australian jobs with Scott Morrison, the Treasurer. He is constantly working on more jobs and better jobs for Australians, keeping the Budget in good shape and a lot of your constituents come down here.

THE HON. SCOTT MORRISON MP - TREASURER:

Yep, just to the north.

PRIME MINISTER:

So, that’s great. Look, what we have achieved is a commitment – as you know – from the President, that the tariffs that he has announced on steel and aluminium, will not apply to exports from Australia.

This is very important for the thousands of people who work for BlueScope, not just in Australia but also in the United States.

This is a win-win decision.

The steel that is being made behind us, goes over to the United States and then more BlueScope employees work on that. They finish it and produce colourbond and steel alum and all of those coated metal products that are used in the building business.

So this a real example of a win-win. We’ve got jobs in Australia and jobs in the United States, the tariff would simply have put jobs on both sides of the Pacific at risk.

So, it’s a very important outcome. I have to tell you, you have got to be relentless when you’re supporting Australian jobs. Whether you're working hard to deliver the Enterprise Tax Cuts that we’ve done, that are supporting the investment that’s delivered 403,000 jobs in the last year. Whether you’re standing up for Australian exports in terms of the negotiations we’ve had with the US and the discussions that I’ve had with the President over a long time, going back to the middle of last year in fact.

What about the TPP? Exports means jobs. You see that when exports are threatened, jobs in Australia are put at risk. We’ve secured the signing of the Trans Pacific Partnership, the TPP-11, in Chile a few days ago. That creates more opportunities in the Pacific region for Australian exports.

That means more jobs.

So at every stage, relentlessly, our focus is on delivering more jobs and better jobs for Australians. That’s what it is all about. Ann, do you want to say something about what this means for your community?

ANN SUDMALIS:

Sure, for the Gilmore community and at large, Illawarra and Shoalhaven, this is an amazing change. With such a huge amount of this steel going overseas, if that had have had a massive tariff put on it, it probably would have meant large job losses and that has a domino impact all the way down through our communities.

So I am stoked, Prime Minister. I really am, really thrilled that you managed to pull this off.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good on you, Ann.

ANN SUDMALIS:

We were glued to the television on Friday, waiting, waiting, waiting and we’re excited, we really are excited.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well done and Scott, tell us about what this means for the economy?

TREASURER:

Australia makes things. This is where we make them and we make them all over the country.

Australia needs to keep making things and to do that, we need to have market access all around the world. What the Prime Minister has been able to achieve, together with Steve Ciobo as the Trade Minister and Julie Bishop and the whole team, because the Prime Minister’s whole team is focused on protecting, securing and creating more jobs.

403,100 jobs last year, more than 1,100 jobs a day. It doesn’t happen by accident, it happens through the hard work and investment of Australian businesses like we see behind us. It also happens because having the right settings to drive investment, secures that market access. If you don't secure that market access everyday and go out there and earn it every day, then those jobs become at risk.

What the Prime Minister has done here, is he fought for Australian jobs right here in the Illawarra, in Ann's electorate, in my electorate to the north, right across southern Sydney and in the south coast of New South Wales.

To see the smiles on those workers faces today because of what the PM delivered, well, it’s a good day to be at work.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good. Now Mark, you’re our host, tell us about how you feel about this and what this means and about the great export business that you have your BlueScope?

MARK VASSELLA – CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICE, BLUSECOPE STEEL:

Look from our perspective, from BlueScope's perspective, we are just very thankful. I know how much  work has gone into this. As Scott pointed out, a team effort from yourself, Minister Ciobo, certainly the Ambassador in Washington, DFAT, Joe Hockey has done an amazing job for us over there, as well as our local members and representatives in North America.

So a fantastic outcome, a great outcome for Port Kembla. We’re a large employer in the US, 3,000 jobs, $3 billion worth of assets on the ground in North America. So we’re a large employer and this allows us to continue to add value to our products that we make here, as we ship them to the West Coast of the US.

PRIME MINISTER:

And Mark, the products that you sell in California, in terms of the cost of that, about half the value is created here and about half over there?

MARK VASSELLA:

That’s correct. We about double the value of the product as we ship it to North America, we zinc-coat it and paint it and turn it into a colourbond equivalent. So we’re more than doubling the value of the product that we ship to North America and we do that on the ground in America, with American workers.

PRIME MINISTER:

So when we say we’re supporting this decision of the President’s to exempt the exports from Australia, from this tariff, it’s good for jobs here and it’s good for jobs in California.

MARK VASSELLA:

A win on both sides of the Pacific, correct.

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s what it is all about. Good for jobs in Australia, good for jobs in the US. Great, thanks Mark. Do we have some questions?

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, do you see a contradiction in championing free trade on the world stage, while imposing tariffs on steel imported from similar other countries, back home?

PRIME MINISTER:

What are you talking about? Are you talking about Australia?

JOURNALIST:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, if you’re talking about anti-dumping, what anti-dumping means, is measures that countries take and we take them, to prevent products been sold – “dumped” – in Australia at unfair prices. That’s typically prices that are less than what they’re sold for in the exporting country. There are 77 anti-dumping measures in place, 51 of them relate to steel and seven relate to aluminium. So you can see we’re very vigilant in ensuring there’s a level playing field.

So we are committed, passionately committed to free trade, but it’s got to be fair. That’s the key.

JOURNALIST:

Does the security arrangement mentioned by President Trump have anything to do with a request for freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, not at all. The reference in his tweet is simply shorthand for completing the legal documentation, the proclamation, that has to be done in accordance with the executive order.

JOURNALIST:

So that’s what he means by security arrangements?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well listen, I had the conversation with him. I know exactly what was discussed and there is no request for any change or addition to our security arrangements.

You know, the US and Australia have a Free Trade Agreement. The US imports into Australia, have zero tariffs. It can not get any better. That is as level a playing field as you could imagine and the US has a big trade surplus with us, we’re not complaining about that. In terms of our security and military arrangements and intelligence arrangements, they’re close as they possibly could be. As you know, we work side-by-side, hand-in-glove, with our allies in the US all the time, right around the world.

JOURNALIST:

What is the difference between anti-dumping and tariffs you were talking about before? 

PRIME MINISTER:

Well anti-dumping is obviously, measures to stop people dumping goods at, I suppose, you could call them at loss, well, it’s worse than loss leaders. It’s basically when somebody takes an export and sells it at less than their cost, or less than what they’re selling it for in their home market. Literally, dumping it in another country and that of course, is not fair. That’s obvious and every nation has an anti-dumping regime.

We have beefed ours up. We’ve given our Anti-Dumping Commission stronger powers. We have given them more money to ensure that they are able to protect Australian industry from unfair practices.

So this is not about protectionism, this is not about putting up trade barriers. This is simply ensuring that the trade is fair. That is very, very consistent with everything we do internationally. We believe in free trade, but it has to be fair. There should be a level playing field.

JOURNALIST:

Do you back other countries in support of the principle of free trade?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are strong advocates for free trade all around the world and obviously, we took the lead on the Trans Pacific Partnership when the United States pulled out, as it was always going to when President Trump was elected. He made a campaign pledge not to go ahead with the TPP.

We didn’t want to see that agreement fail and fall by the wayside, because it offers great opportunities for Australian exporters in our region. In ten other countries in the region, including Vietnam, Japan, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Canada, it’s a long list, so a lot of opportunities there. So we stuck with that.

A lot of people said I was wasting my time. Bill Shorten said I was on a “vanity project”, I was “deluded”, I was “wasting my time”.

Well, you know what? I’m relentless in supporting Australian jobs. Shorten has proved that he is not.

You’ve got to keep at it, you have to be relentless and if there’s a setback, you just keep going. Find another approach, keep on defending and advancing Australian’s jobs and their opportunities to get ahead.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, how concerned are you about the steep drop in iron ore prices? Will that affect the bottom line as much or more than if we were stuck with the tariffs?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ll ask Scott to talk about iron ore, but it’s a commodity, you know - I’ll just make this observation - that iron ore is a classic commodity business. Australia is very well positioned, very close to the main markets in East Asia and also a very, relatively low cost producer of iron ore. So we’re always very competitive. Scott, do you want to talk about it?

TREASURER:

I'll just make two points. One that the Prime Minister just made, that is how our iron ore producers are highly competitive, they can operate at prices – and profitably – below where they are today. The other thing is about the Budget. The Budget has conservatively estimating where iron ore prices have been now, for the last two and a half years. That’s why haven’t been getting nasty surprises, because as a Government, we have de-risked the Budget when it comes to iron ore prices, by taking a much more conservative approach. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to hold on to our AAA credit rating; because we don’t gild the lily on these things. We just call it pretty honestly as we see it and our current forecasts and estimates on iron ore are well below, well below, what the current price is. Even if there were to be, arguably, impacts because of what’s happening at the moment, there’s still long way to go for that to play out.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, on North Korea do you believe the Trump/Kim meeting would open the door for denuclearisation or are you sceptical about the negotiations that will take place?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think we’ve all welcomed the meeting, but cautiously. There have been plenty of false dawns in negotiations about North Korea's nuclear capability in the past. However, the President has taken this bold move, he has moved decisively to bring a meeting forward. He has done so deliberately on the basis that the North Koreans have said that they will suspend their tests in the interim and that they are prepared to agree to denuclearisation on terms to be discussed and agreed.

But I have to say, it’s vital that we maintain the strongest economic sanctions on North Korea, until such time as there is denuclearisation, until they do remove their illegal and dangerous nuclear capability. The President has obviously committed to that as well. So he’s taken this, it’s a bold move, but it is one that could - as he said in Pennsylvania just a little while ago - it could have a great and historic outcome or it could be disappointing. Time will tell, but the important thing is to keep that economic pressure up.

Just going back to a question that you raised earlier, I just want to be clear on one thing; I know there’s been speculation in the media about action being taken by other countries in the World Trade Organisation about the US steel and aluminium tariffs. Obviously as a country that will be exempt from those tariffs, we don’t have a basis to bring a complaint. So, I just want to be clear about that.

JOURNALIST:

Mark can I get one from you, if that’s alright? I guess what, potentially is there for growth here at Port Kembla, given that the exemptions obviously apply to what you’re doing here and the tariffs will probably strengthen your businesses in North America? What potential do you see here for growth?

MARK VASSELLA:

We still see lots of opportunity to grow the market here in Australia. It’s more, in Australia, about product substitution and the continuing development of our products, the research and development capability that we have here.

We still see lots of growth opportunity for the domestic Australian business and in recent times, on the back of the strong economy and strong markets, we’ve been in a position to employ more people, which is a great outcome for this region.

JOURNALIST:

So jobs here in Port Kembla?

MARK VASSELLA:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, we’re building a lot of things, Mark. A lot of infrastructure, we’ve got an airport we’re building, Snowy Hydro 2.0, a lot of money going into roads and rail.

MARK VASSELLA:

And all of those infrastructure projects demand steel, which is a great outcome.

JOURNALIST:

Can I just get another local question out there, the South Coast line has just missed out on federal funding to upgrade the rail line. Why is that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, what we’ve done is we’re providing some money for feasibility studies for three rail projects, one in New South Wales, one in Queensland and one in Victoria. In terms of the South Coast line, the Illawarra line, there is always the opportunity for the State Government to invest more on the line. We expect them to do so, the Treasurer is writing New South Wales a cheque for over $4 billion for the sale of their share of Snowy Hydro and the state government said that all of that will go into regional New South Wales, so there’s plenty of money there. But the money you’re talking about is funding for some feasibility studies. Obviously, we’ve selected a project – well, as it happens we’ve selected a project in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. But it’s just really for the business case and their planning, okay? Thanks everyone.

JOURNALIST:

Can I ask Ann a question? How is your campaign going to get additional money for the Princess Highway, which is now being seen as a hotspot with a number of deaths occurring?

ANN SUDMALIS:

Yes, it has been and those tragedies are absolutely awful. We’ve been nattering about this as we’ve been travelling, but I go back to my original premise. That is, Darren, when he was Minister for Infrastructure, put aside money to establish where the main parts of the highway need to be upgraded. What’s happening then is we look at it, where five other MPs are looking for it to be part of the national transport network. They have different funding formulas that then go to Infrastructure Australia. So, New South Wales has to do the business plan for that, put it towards Infrastructure New South Wales and then it goes to Infrastructure Australia. There’s very sequential step in order to get that happening. They’re in place, they’re happening. I knock on the doors all the time, but unless those steps are in place I can’t actually go and advocate for a specific amount of money.

PRIME MINISTER:

There’s a half a billion dollars, there’s already half a billion dollars of federal money that has already gone into the Princes Highway in recent times.

ANN SUDMALIS:

And I am always hassling these two about my bridge.

TREASURER:

Ann is always on my case, always for the south coast.

PRIME MINISTER:

You could not have a more passionate, persuasive or persistent advocate than Ann Sudmalis, believe me. Okay, thanks very much.