The federal government says there’s little more it can do to secure the future of steelmaker and miner Arrium.
Federal Industry Minister Christopher Pyne has been working with the company, which employs almost 7000 Australians, to secure its future after it went into voluntary administration.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison have spoken with the banks involved and been assured they want Arrium to survive as a long-term business.
Mr Morrison said the bringing forward of the $80 million purchase of steel for an upgrade of part of the trans-Australian railway, a contract likely to be won by Arrium, had been a “very significant commitment” by the government.
But he rejected Labor and the unions’ suggestion of mandating Australian steel in all major projects, saying they would breach recently negotiated trade agreements with partners such as China.
“Those trade agreements are providing jobs in the new economy and the services economy and these are important considerations that you have to take into account,” Mr Morrison said.
Australian Workers’ Union secretary Scott McDine, who has been involved in meetings with the voluntary administrators, said there were times when the national interest came first.
“There is no reason why we should be having Spanish steel coming into Australia right now for rail projects in NSW,” he said.
However he said the union was happy with the support given to Arrium so far “from government, creditors, suppliers and customers”.
Mr Pyne appeared sympathetic to the idea of using more Australian steel in state and federal projects.
“Sometimes it’s not always exactly possible,” he told the Nine Network.
“We don’t always make every kind of steel, but where we do, we should be allowed to compete.”
He said he was working towards the “next chapter” for Arrium rather than the business closing down.
BlueScope Steel’s 4500 workers and thousands of others in the Illawarra won a reprieve last year after the NSW state government gave the troubled steelmaker $60 million in payroll tax relief.
Port Kembla workers also agreed to 500 job cuts, wage freezes, and workplace restructuring to help save the plant.
Paul Billingham, from administrators Grant Thornton, said forecasts showed there were “no particular cash concerns”.
“It really depends on customers continuing to support Arrium, buying the products, that’s very important.”
However Arrium is more than $2 billion in debt.
Mr Turnbull said many of the problems Arrium was facing were unrelated to the difficulties confronting the steelmaking sector, including slumped prices and a global over-supply.
“There have been some poor decisions taken by the company … and that has created some serious problems,” he told radio 3AW.