Nyrstar, Port Pirie

06 Jul 2011 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make an explanation before directing a question to the Minister for Regional Development regarding threats to Port Pirie's major employer Nyrstar.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: As honourable members may be aware, Nyrstar contributes some $1.6 billion to South Australia's economic output, employs 800 South Australians and indirectly provides over 2,000 jobs. Many of Nyrstar's Australian competitors are in Asia, particularly in China, and the company has been quite clear that the carbon tax threatens its Port Pirie operations.

Indeed, its executives have criticised the government's consultation with industry on compensation as 'lip service'. Its Zurich-based General Manager (Matt Howell) of group smelting says that, if the federal Labor government does not protect the company's Australian operations under a carbon tax, then the Port Pirie smelter will close'. He said:

In the case of Port Pirie, in the event that government policy caused us to exit that business, it will never return and the lifeblood of an important regional community of 14,000 will be lost. Where the hell are those people going to go to, what are they going to do?

The group also says that untrue comments by South Australian Labor Premier Mike Rann in parliament had misrepresented the company's position on a carbon tax, and that the Premier was misleading the people. My questions to the minister are:

1. Does the Minister for Regional Development represent regional South Australians, or does she represent the Premier?

2. Does the minister support a carbon tax or does she support regional South Australia?

3. Has the minister visited Port Pirie and Nyrstar since the Prime Minister said before the last election that there would be no carbon tax?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Public Sector Management, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Government Enterprises, Minister for Gambling) (15:16): Indeed, as the honourable minister Russell Wortley has pointed out, there are a number of future announcements to be made by the federal government in relation to the details of the carbon tax—how it will operate, who it will apply to and where compensation will be made, and those details will take time to be rolled out in a series of announcements.

We know that what the opposition is doing here is scaremongering. We know that they are going around to regional centres and scaring the living daylights out of these communities. We know that is what it has been—a campaign of scaremongering. We know that they are carbon sceptics. We know that they do not believe that carbon is having a polluting effect on our environment; that it will have a major social, economic and environmental impact on the planet that is going to cost all of us significantly—and our children and our grandchildren, etc.

There is a cost from these polluters, and what we see is a federal government that has a strategy to stop polluters, and that is something that any responsible person on this planet should be supporting.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (15:18): As a supplementary: has the minister in her capacity as Minister for Regional Development visited Port Pirie, and has she, in fact, met with Nyrstar or any of the locals who are employed at the smelter?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Public Sector Management, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Government Enterprises, Minister for Gambling) (15:18): I have visited Port Pirie—

The Hon. D.W. Ridgway interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order! The Hon. Mr Ridgeway is expending a lot of carbon.

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: I have visited many regional centres. I have not met with Nyrstar but I have met with many industry leaders, including OneSteel and many, many other industry leaders, as well as non-government community groups. I have had a relationship with the regions for many, many years, particularly in my ministerial responsibilities.

One of my first ministerial responsibilities was as the minister for environment, and I had a series of ongoing regional visits throughout that portfolio and many other portfolios that I have had; so I have established some extremely good relationships right throughout the regions with a wide cross-section of industry groups.

What I can say is that most South Australians are deeply and profoundly concerned about the long-term impact of carbon pollution on this planet and the enormous ongoing social, environmental and economic cost to this community. I could not count the number of people who have approached me to raise their deep and profound concerns.