Adjournment: South Australian Steel Industry

25 November 2019

Senator Patrick: I rise tonight to speak about a most important issue for my home state of South Australia. On Thursday 14 November—that is, the last sitting day—I rose at question time and asked a question of the Minister representing the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, who on that day was Senator Cash. I asked the minister, noting the strategic and economic importance to Australia of steel production in Whyalla, whether the government would provide support to GFG in their plans to modernise and expand Whyalla's steelworks operations. Minister Cash responded by saying that no formal request for assistance had been submitted by GFG Alliance but that the government was engaging in good faith and would not comment further in order to not prejudice discussions when a formal proposal was received.

Tonight, I caution the government that, when a proposal is put, it will be a proposal not for the transformation of the steelworks at Whyalla but for a transformation of both the city of Whyalla and South Australia as a state. It will be a proposal that will take a city with a 22,000 population and 12 per cent unemployment and turn it into a city of, in Mr Gupta's assessment, 80,000 people.

Last week, I was in Whyalla and I sat down and talked to the Mayor of Whyalla, Mayor McLaughlin, about what a city of 80,000 looks like. We discussed what it would mean for South Australia. I'm going to share that with you tonight. It will be the largest regional township outside of Adelaide. It will be like Mandurah in Western Australia. It will like Mackay or Bundaberg in Queensland. It will be bigger than Armidale and bigger than Maitland. It will be a thriving regional city like nothing South Australia has ever seen. It will be a city producing 20 million tonnes of steel per annum, and there'll be a multitude of other businesses, related and unrelated, spinning off that activity. It will see unemployment go from 12 per cent, as it currently is, down to zero. It will see an airport that will accommodate 250,000 passengers per annum. Currently Whyalla's airport has a throughput of 70,000 people. We will see flights directly from Whyalla to Sydney and from Whyalla to Melbourne. We'll see 737s with Virgin logos and Qantas logos flying regular services to the city. We'll see commercial property vacancies dropping from 45 per cent, as is the current situation, down to zero per cent. Property valuations will stabilise, and then will grow in a controlled manner. The boom-bust cycle of mining will disappear. Fly-in, fly-out operations will cease, and, of course, that will improve the productivity of the mines in the area. Everyone will be resident in a city with 300 days of sunshine and a ripper beach and a marina which comes fitted with dolphins that regularly swim and follow the boats as they come in from fishing, and the city will have a gigabit network feeding everyone in the town.

The city is currently configured to support 60,000 people, even though at the height of the steel boom it was about 33,000—and that's the time when I lived in Whyalla. So I do declare a bias here, being a Whyalla boy. It will have to upgrade, nonetheless. It'll have to deal with things like stormwater capture and reuse, wastewater treatment and reuse, and perhaps a solar-powered desalination plant to provide drinking water for all of the new arrivals. There will be a requirement for a second high school. For those that aren't aware, Whyalla is building a super-school, combining all of the high schools in the town into one, but that won't be enough. It will see an expansion of UniSA's campus and of TAFE SA's campus. The size of the hospital will double, and there'll be full services both for people in Whyalla and, importantly, for people in the region—people that would otherwise have to go to Adelaide to get services. It will be a catalyst for a dual carriageway between Adelaide and Whyalla. It will also be a catalyst for a new standard-gauge railway extension from Whyalla—which is currently connected to the ARTC network—down to a new deepwater port at Cape Hardy, which will be servicing all of the activity that will flow not just from Whyalla but also from around the region. Those 80,000 people and all of the people in the region will create a market that will sustain a cross-gulf ferry service.

I could go on but risk the flood of applications from workers and doctors and teachers and nurses and project managers and shop assistants and engineers, all heading to Whyalla. And I can see the senators in the chamber tonight licking their lips, wishing that they were South Australian senators, because this is what Whyalla is going to be about, if indeed this proposal from Mr Gupta is accepted by government. And it's only going to take a little bit of support. With a little bit of support from government, I would imagine we will see a transformation of the City of Whyalla and, of course, the state of South Australia. So we need to make sure, when that proposal turns up and when all of the bureaucrats are looking at the steel plant and the business case for and against, that they do not exclude the unbelievable effect that this will have on my home state. This will not be a proposal about steel; it will be a proposal about South Australia and, in particular, about regional South Australia, and it will need to be considered most properly and most comprehensively by government as such.

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