16 March 2021
We know that workers all over Australia are doing it tough right now.
Tonight I’d like to speak in particular about the circumstances confronting around 150 workers in Portland, whose jobs are teetering on the brink in my home state of Victoria.
We often hear a lot in this place, and in places like it all throughout the country, of the great virtues of renewable energy.
Wherever you might stand on the question of Australia’s future energy mix, should it be coal or gas, solar or—dare I even suggest it—nuclear, it is not my intention to debate that topic tonight. But I would hope that those on both sides of this chamber would agree, regardless of what method of electricity generation we are talking about, that the importance of ensuring there are opportunities for Australian workers in this industry is paramount.
As we speak, workers at Keppel Prince in Portland in my home state of Victoria are facing a terribly uncertain future.
For those unfamiliar with it, Keppel Prince is Victoria’s only manufacturer of towers for wind turbines. Down at the plant, they use Australian steel from BlueScope to build towers upon which a wind turbine sits. One might think, given their line of work, that it would be boom times for a company like Keppel Prince. Alas, it is not. Whilst many may celebrate the seemingly endless fields of wind farms being built across Victoria and Australia, I’m afraid to say that very few consider where these turbines are actually made.
The truth of the matter is that often Australian wind turbines are hardly Australian at all, with the tower, the blades and the steel within them coming from overseas. It is the port in Portland where many of these items land, carted off the foreign ships that haul them here. These items are almost ceremoniously paraded through the town on their way to the wind farm they are destined for.
Workers at Keppel Prince—Australian workers—make a fine product from Australian materials and they have to suffer the injustice and humiliation of seeing the trucks roll through their town, loaded to the brim with the very same product that they are making at their factory just a few minutes down the street.
This situation is simply not good enough, and it’s something that is entirely within the purview of this government to fix.
Many of these turbines are being constructed at a brand-new $360 million wind farm facility of which over half of the electricity to be generated will go to the government’s own Snowy Hydro scheme.
As the wind farm’s single largest customer, it is entirely within the capacity of the government to mandate the use of Australian made materials in the build. Yet the government has done absolutely nothing about it. Whilst Australian producers of all types languish, locked out of the Chinese market, in Australia the government continues to roll out the red carpet to discount steel made by overseas workers on lower wages and with substandard conditions.
Ultimately those who will pay the price are the 150 workers at Keppel Prince whose jobs are at risk tonight. I can also tell the Senate tonight that 12 workers have lost their jobs this evening and that a further 26 will be made redundant this coming Thursday.
It’s not just them. It’s the scores of other Australian workers who find themselves in this situation all over the country.
This isn’t good enough and it needs to stop.
That’s why I’m standing on the side of these workers and their representatives at the AWU and the AMWU, and it is why I’m calling on this government to mandate the use of local materials in projects such as these. Putting Australian workers first is surely the very least that they can do?