Searchings — 2

There really have been so many things I have seen or read in the past few days that deserve to be shared, that have provoked more reflection than I can possibly capture in one blog post or even two. To continue…

Sunday and Monday we had the two compelling episodes of Devil’s Dust.

An intensely personal drama based on one of Australia’s most shocking corporate scandals, Devil’s Dust tells the story of ordinary Australians caught in a web of deception in the James Hardie asbestos saga.

The two-part series follows four people – led by everyday hero and ex-Hardie’s employee Bernie Banton (Anthony Hayes) – thrown together by a tragedy that becomes a high-stakes battle through the corridors of corporate, political and media power.

Spanning four decades, Devil’s Dust shows industrial manufacturer James Hardie first cover up its knowledge of the dangers of its asbestos mining and products and then threaten compensation plans by moving the company overseas.

But it is not just a story of court cases and corporate legalese. Devil’s Dust depicts Australians from all walks of life whose lives are ripped apart by a deadly dust that looks so innocent, yet is so lethal.

In the 1970s, Bernie Banton works on the James Hardie BI factory floor in Parramatta where asbestos dust is piled like snowdrifts. Little does he realise the impact the dust will have on him, his family and his colleagues – and that he will inspire a nation with his determination to hold his former employer to account.

Young and tenacious ABC journalist Matt Peacock (Ewen Leslie) uncovers the dramatic gap between the dangers of asbestos known to international scientists and the public position of James Hardie and its allies.

When Matt meets Bernie during an interview for The 7.30 Report he anoints him the unofficial spokesperson for the asbestos compensation campaign. As the two become fixated on pursuing James Hardie, it’s up to Bernie’s wife, Karen (Alexandra Schepisi), to pick up the pieces at home. Karen helps Bernie handle the emotional burden of fighting for victims of asbestosis and mesothelioma, the cancer caused by asbestos – and to face his own asbestos fate.

The fictional character of James Hardie spin doctor Adam Bourke (Don Hany) is Matt and Bernie’s nemesis, as he works hard to protect the interests of the company’s shareholders. But far from being ruthless and uncaring, Adam experiences terrible moral dilemmas when he realises that the health and survival of thousands of Australians is jeopardised by the materials his company manufactured.

Based on interviews with those who have survived and the stories of those who have died, Devil’s Dust is inspired by the work of Matt Peacock, author of the book Killer Company.

The legacy of asbestos will continue for decades to come. By 2030, asbestos-related illnesses are expected to have killed more than 60,000 Australians, more than our country’s death toll in WW1.

Remember one of Tony Abbott’s less noble moments, from 2007?

Still putting his size 10s in his cakehole in 2012, I see…

That the events depicted dramatically but essentially truthfully in Devil’s Dust should serve to destroy any naive belief in the intrinsic goodness of capitalists, entrepreneurs  and markets is so obvious as to be hardly worth saying, and on an even greater scale consider the book I am now reading: Inside Job: The Financiers Who Pulled Off the Heist of the Century, by Charles Ferguson, Oneworld 2012. Thanks, Wollongong Library.

Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job, winner of the 2011 Academy Award for best documentary feature, is essential viewing for anyone who wants to understand the causes of the financial crisis. Although narrator Matt Damon brought Hollywood glitz, the film’s stars were the bankers, regulators and academics interviewed by Ferguson. The director’s gentle interrogation and good humour coaxed his subjects into attempting to explain their actions. Most failed. Like all good political documentaries, it informed and infuriated, while the creator remained in the background….

So begins a rather critical review in The Financial Times, linked to the book title above. As for me, I am thus far drawn in and impressed by Ferguson’s narrative, and by his anger which strikes me as well justified and rooted rather firmly in facts.

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See also Inside Job: how bankers caused the financial crisis; Corporate criminals gone wild by Andrew Leonard; Heist of the century: Wall Street’s role in the financial crisis, an extract from the book.

…The Obama government has rationalised its failure to prosecute anyone (literally, anyone at all) for bubble-related crimes by saying that while much of Wall Street’s behaviour was unwise or unethical, it wasn’t illegal. With apologies for my vulgarity, this is complete horseshit.

When the government is really serious about something – preventing another 9/11, or pursuing major organised crime figures – it has many tools at its disposal and often uses them. There are wiretaps and electronic eavesdropping. There are undercover agents who pretend to be criminals in order to entrap their targets. There are National Security Letters, an aggressive form of administrative subpoena that allows US authorities to secretly obtain almost any electronic record – complete with a gag order making it illegal for the target of the subpoena to tell anyone about it. There are special prosecutors, task forces and grand juries. When Patty Hearst was kidnapped in 1974, the FBI assigned hundreds of agents to the case.

In organised crime investigations, the FBI and government prosecutors often start at the bottom in order to get to the top. They use the well-established technique of nailing lower-level people and then offering them a deal if they inform on and/or testify about their superiors – whereupon the FBI nails their superiors, and does the same thing to them, until climbing to the top of the tree. There is also the technique of nailing people for what can be proven against them, even if it’s not the main offence. Al Capone was never convicted of bootlegging, large-scale corruption or murder; he was convicted of tax evasion.

A reasonable list of prosecutable crimes committed during the bubble, the crisis, and the aftermath period by financial services firms includes: securities fraud, accounting fraud, honest services violations, bribery, perjury and making false statements to US government investigators, Sarbanes-Oxley violations (false accounting), Rico (Racketeer Influenced and Criminal Organisations Act) offences, federal aid disclosure regulations offences and personal conduct offences (drug use, tax evasion etc).

Let’s take the example of securities fraud. Where to begin?…

The Chinese are coming…

Last night on SBS the BBC2 documentary from early last year commenced. Fascinating. Do watch next Wednesday night at 9.30.

Travelling across three continents, Justin Rowlatt investigates the spread of Chinese influence around the planet and asks what the world will be like if China overtakes America as the world’s economic superpower. In the first of two films, he embarks on a journey across Southern Africa to chart the extraordinary phenomenon of Chinese migration to Africa, and the huge influence of China on the development of the continent.

While many in the West view Africa as a land of poverty, to the Chinese it is seen as an almost limitless business opportunity. From Angola to Tanzania, Justin meets the fearless Chinese entrepreneurs who have travelled thousands of miles to set up businesses.

On the ABC News at 7 Alan Kohler had presented this very telling graphic of Where Global Growth Is Coming From.

120117 Where global growth is coming from

This morning in The Illawarra Mercury we read:

BlueScope Steel has started work on building its new factory in China, which is expected to employ 400 people when it reaches full production.

A ground-breaking ceremony was held last month in the Xi’an High-Tech Industries Development Zone, where BlueScope will invest about $60million to establish a building materials production base, a new posting on the development zone’s website said.

BlueScope says it employs about 2000 people in China, with 57 sales and marketing offices, a metallic coating and painting facility at Suzhou, 80km west of Shanghai, and several building systems manufacturing facilities.

The new plant at Xi’an, in central western China, will cover an area of almost 13ha, with 50,000sqm of floor space, and will be positioned to capitalise on the booming construction industry in that country…

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Both these make a bit of a nonsense of the  complacency of the Guardian review of the BBC doco:

The Chinese are taking over the world. Such, at least, is the premise of The Chinese Are Coming (BBC2). Justin Rowlatt investigated what Chinese influence meant for African countries, nicely skewering racist presumptions about China as he travelled. Intriguingly, the Chinese have often revivified old British colonial infrastructures. But are they as rapacious as we were? Tough call. Zambians resented their new imperialist yoke, while Angolans and Tanzanians seemed pleased by their countries’ reinvigoration.

Could the Chinese do the same for Britain? Probably not. At least Africans have stuff – copper, cobalt, cheap labour – that the Chinese want. What do we have? Our coal and oil are depleted, our manufacturing base destroyed; our only surplus is celebrities. Perhaps we could trade Myleene Klass and Stephen Fry for an overhaul to the railway network. The Chinese probably wouldn’t go for that.

The Chinese have come, in fact, just getting on with it. And there is very little The West can do about it.

What a transformation!

I have been putting together a DVD for M’s 50th birthday and Chinese New Year. He has now been in Australia from Shanghai since December 1989. That year he saw this:

3Student Protesters, Shanghai, 1989

Student protesters on the streets of Shanghai 1989

The city he grew up in was like this:

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Now look at it!

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That last one is Chinese New Year 2011 in Shanghai.

Here’s a bit of outrage from the local scene

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One rather significant comment on the Mercury site:

OneSteel manufacturers long products, BlueScope manufacturers flat products. The OneSteel sourced product in the stadium would be structural products (beams, etc) that are not produced by BlueScope.

And another:

you people are funny.

When I look at what I’m wearing, in don’t see any Australian made product. Most of the cars on our roads are foreign,

80 percent of our mining companies are foreign owned, our agricultural land is systematically being purchased by foreign governments.

The white anting of the Australian economy has been happening for more than 25 years. The horse has bolted.

The globalization of the Australian economy is almost complete. I think the Australian public is finally starting to awaken. We have been hood winked and at has to be revealed for what it is.

Don’t expect a return to tariffs and protectionism any time soon though.

Decided to see what the Left is saying, and the answer seems to be not much. Green Left Weekly is so busy saving the planet it really seems uninterested in what’s just happened in The Gong, aside from a puff piece on behalf of a candidate in the upcoming local elections.  A search of Socialist Alternative came up with very little, aside from a memory lane job some three years back.

"If it’s anything like Port Kembla…I’d sooner stay away. Men waiting round the steelworks, so that when a chap is killed they could get his job."

This is how a character in Kylie Tennant’s novel The Battlers described conditions at the Port Kembla steelworks.

The Depression hit the Wollongong steelworks hard because the industry had already been in a slump since 1925. The conditions destroyed the limited gains in union organisation at Australian Iron and Steel (AIS) that the Federated Ironworkers Association (FIA) had made since the company’s move to Port Kembla in 1927.

There were huge barriers to union organisation at the plant, even before the onset of the Depression. There was enormous competition for jobs as men flowed in from Sydney and other areas.

Historians Robert Murray and Kate White describe how one shantytown above the steelworks "became an emergency camp where AI&S could get extra labour in a hurry. Each morning the unemployed would gather on the hill and an AI&S manager would select half a dozen or so men from the crowd waiting there like cattle being culled for market." By the late 1930s there were queues of as many as 700 waiting daily for work.

Unemployment and underemployment reached staggering proportions. In Wollongong one breadwinner in five declared no income for 1933. Shantytowns sprang up as a housing shortage quickly developed in the new town. Disease and illness were rife; in 1928 alone there were seven outbreaks of typhoid fever…

And that is certainly worth remembering. Unionism does have a history that ought never be forgotten and an ongoing relevance despite current attitudes.

Trouble is, for all the good they may have done, the hard Left seems to have been almost totally impotent in the face of developments in the past thirty years, Port Kembla today merely being the cherry on top.  I recall my old Communist mate Ray Southall ruefully referring to King Canute and the tide – and that was back in 1985!

Kudos too to John Quiggin for his Herald piece on the outrageous panic and lies surrounding the carbon tax. Future generations will wonder at how so piddling a thing attracted such wrath, but even more seriously may well curse us all for our apathy and inability to act more decisively on climate change.

Carbon scaremongering to make even dishonest advertisers blush

The people of NSW have been treated to alternative descriptions of the impact of the Gillard government’s proposed carbon price package.

The first, prepared by the Commonwealth Treasury, showed very modest impacts on prices, wages and employment, most of which would be fully offset by the various compensation and adjustment mechanisms included in the package.

The second, attributed to the NSW Treasury, showed a very different picture. According to the Premier, Barry O’Farrell, and the Treasurer, Mike Baird, the carbon price would be a ”disaster”, which would ”tear the heart out of many industries” and ”savagely hit” regions such as the Hunter and Illawarra. Households would face electricity prices being ”forced up” by ”up to” $498 a year.

On the face of it, the Commonwealth and NSW Treasuries seem to have very different economic models, producing sharply different results. But a closer look reveals a different, and more surprising, story. The NSW Treasury report was based on work by a consulting firm, Frontier Economics, who say they used the same model as the Commonwealth, with almost identical inputs. As a result Frontier concludes, ”At an aggregate level, the modelling results in this report are broadly consistent with the Commonwealth Treasury modelling.”

How can this be? The answer is that the NSW government engaged in an exercise in misleading advertising that would make even the most shonky of infomercial vendors blush…

That’s an absolute MUST READ!

Finally, from today’s Mercury comes this wonderful aerial shot.

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Foreground is the Entertainment Centre and behind that the stadium. On the corner to the right of the stadium is the Steelers Club.

Update

See Ben Eltham on New Matilda.

It’s spring in Port Kembla…

Well maybe not.

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Click to enlarge

The stoicism among BlueScope workers set to lose their jobs is turning to anger as word spreads that the company’s executives will pay themselves $3 million in bonuses while sacking 1400 people and making a billion-dollar loss.

The consequences of BlueScope’s decision to halve steel production became clearer around the Illawarra yesterday, with predictions that 100 local companies will be seriously affected.

Workers and unions greeted Monday’s announcement of 1100 job losses at Port Kembla as inevitable, but by yesterday afternoon the mood had changed to outrage as it was revealed chief executive Paul O’Malley would receive a $720,000 bonus on top of his $1.7 million salary.

BlueScope Australia New Zealand boss Mark Vassella will receive a $269,000 bonus on top of his $763,000 salary, while the man he replaced, Noel Cornish, will get $255,000 on top of his $770,000 salary.

For the 800 workers and 300 contractors at Port Kembla who will be out of work, news of the six-figure bonuses was a bitter blow.

Australian Workers Union (AWU) acting branch secretary Wayne Phillips said it made him "sick" and workers were furious.

"I’m over the shock now and I’m getting bloody angry," he said.

"I find that extremely offensive … that these people who are on millions of dollars anyway, can … sack 1000 people, then reward themselves…

Mercury

What can one say? BTW, as the above images and extract show, the Illawarra Mercury has been doing a pretty good job on the Bluescope story.

What it all means? Well, that depends who you read.

Take The Australia Institute for example:

BlueScope Steel has led the tantrum against the introduction of a carbon price and today it, or more precisely its employees, have fallen victim to an entirely different problem. The rising dollar has been placing obvious pressure on the competitiveness of the Australian steel industry but the company seems to prefer playing politics than proposing a sensible plan for the future.

Despite all of BlueScope’s thundering about the impact of a small carbon price they were largely silent about the real cause of their problems: the mining boom.

Rapidly rising world demand for Australia’s coal and iron ore has driven up our exchange rate as fast as it has driven down BlueScope’s competitive position. Ironically, other countries are so determined to make or buy steel that Australia can no longer afford to make it ourselves. Nobody ever said global markets generate common sense solutions.

The fact is, however, that if BlueScope had spent the past few years making the case for Australia to introduce a comprehensive mining tax and invest the proceeds in a sovereign wealth fund then they might not be in this position today. But instead of making a sincere contribution to the political and policy debate the steel executives chose instead to try and hide their real problems behind the imagined depravations of the carbon price.

The Australia Institute estimated earlier this year that a $20 carbon price would account for only 0.4 per cent of BlueScope’s revenue after their entitlement to 94.5 per cent of their pollution permits for free was factored in. Even with a carbon price of $23, the impact remains 0.4 per cent of their revenue.

The rising dollar, on the other hand, has been placing the company’s operations under serious threat. So why aren’t BlueScope’s management enthusiastic supporters of the mining tax? Why haven’t they been advocating for a sovereign wealth fund to help keep the dollar down? Why haven’t they been more active in building coalitions with other manufacturers, the tourism industry, the agriculture industry, the education industry and all the other sectors of the economy that struggle to compete internationally with an Australian dollar that is above parity with the $US?

The workers of BlueScope are now facing an uncertain future thanks to the determination of BlueScope management to play politics and to shift the blame.

If the carbon price led to thousands of jobs being lost Tony Abbott would be into his hardhat and expressing outrage as quick as you could say ‘photo opportunity’. But since it is the mining boom that is causing this grief he is strangely silent in his criticism of the big mining companies. Indeed, he has promised to roll back any mining tax that the Gillard Government introduces.

A cynic might argue that he doesn’t really care about the manufacturing industry at all.

Then we have variously:

 Our future is mining, not making (Ross Gittins)

… What governments shouldn’t do is increase protection and other assistance to manufacturing industry itself in an attempt to stave off change. It needs to adjust to the reality of a significantly changed world economy.

Efforts to help manufacturing resist change can come only at the expense of all other industries. There are no free lunches in industry assistance.

It would be a good way to fritter away the proceeds from what the governor of the Reserve Bank has called ”potentially the biggest gift the global economy has handed Australia since the gold rush of the 1850s”.

WA mines ‘can’t save the nation’

WA’s resources sector is unlikely to be the saviour of the Australian manufacturing industry and the national economy is in danger of sliding into a shallow recession, Premier Colin Barnett says.

In the wake of steel producer BlueScope’s decision to shed 1000 jobs and warnings that as many as 100,000 Australians could lose their jobs by March, Mr Barnett said securing locally fabricated content on the estimated $260 billion of local mining and petroleum projects was a "never-ending job".

But he accused the Federal Government of taking its eye off the ball, failing to recognise the significant weaknesses in the non-resources parts of the national economy.

Mr Barnett said the strength of the mining and petroleum sectors had concealed domestic economic weakness.

He urged Julia Gillard to shift her attention from "trying to penalise and hold back the mining and resources industry" through the mining tax and sharpen her focus on "those industries that are suffering", including manufacturing, retail, property and tourism…

Calls to buy local as job losses bite

… The manufacturing debate is set to flare tomorrow morning when the steel industry, unions, an action group of 20 Labor MPs, and ministers hold a breakfast seminar in Canberra. Today the automotive industry, including Holden boss Mike Devereux, will hold similar talks with MPs and other groups.

BlueScope shed the workers because of losses incurred by the high dollar and the soaring costs of coking coal and iron ore. These factors are driven by the mining boom and there is anger against the miners for contributing to the demise of the manufacturing sector while doing nothing to help by establishing start-up deals with Chinese suppliers.

Australian steel is used in no more than 10 per cent of mining construction work. The Greens MP Adam Bandt and independent MP Bob Katter called for local content rules for big mining projects but the government said this would be protectionist.

In a submission to be released today, the Australian Industry Group will propose a national procurement strategy to augment existing government strategies and increase the use of locally made products without breaching World Trade Organisation obligations.

”Ai Group member companies increasingly report being locked out of contracts by barriers and distortions,” said the group’s chief executive, Heather Ridout…

Naturally the local news outweighs most things this morning

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Serious of course, but the REAL change happened during the 1980s when employment in Illawarra steel-making dropped from 23,000 to 15,000, down to 3,100 + contractors in July 2011.

Our local steel industry commenced in 1927 with Charles Hoskins entering into an agreement with the state government to build a steelworks at Port Kembla, thereby commencing a long history of steel production that still continues to this day. Operations began in 1930 with one blast furnace of 800 tons capacity. In 1936, BHP acquired Australian Iron and Steel Limited and production at Port Kembla increased rapidly. The steel industry was a catalyst for growth for many decades, and laid the foundations for the city’s economy, lifestyle and culture.

Wollongong is proud of its industrial roots, and is still known and acknowledged as one of Australia’s leading industrial centres. While steel and other manufacturing industries remain an essential part of the local economy, the city has long recognised the need to diversify its economic base. Construction of the spectacular Sea Cliff Bridge to the north has given even more focus to the burgeoning tourism industry, and information technology, hospitality, health services and telecommunications continue to grow as key industries of the region…

Source

In 2006:

illawarrastats

There was some good analysis on 7.30 last night. Paul Cleary was on and I have to say I find his hypothesis persuasive: Riding our resources ‘dumb luck’ to ruin.

… Without stronger and more effective government control, Australia will continue travelling at breakneck speed towards the bottom of the quarry, a journey that will wreak havoc on the non-resource sector and potentially leave many people far worse off. As the resource boom accelerates, it will keep the dollar sky-high and force up the cost of doing business for everyone else. Industries such as tourism and education – industries that, unlike mining, involve many jobs – will fade away as our currency soars even higher, propelled by speculative investment as the Australian dollar becomes Asia’s new hard currency. We will be left high and dry when commodity prices suddenly collapse, as they did with the GFC in 2008 or worse, when the resources start to run out.

Our state and federal politicians have become so bedazzled by the prospect of even greater mineral riches that they are eagerly encouraging a resources rush while neglecting long-term ecological and financial consequences.

Increasingly, we see weak and inept governments up against muscular multinationals…

Welcome to Carbon Central

That’s where I live, according to an article just published in the UK in The Guardian.

Locals call this city "carbon central". But in the polarised Australian climate change debate, this mining hub is not central at all, but firmly positioned at one extreme.

Wollongong, 50 miles south of Sydney in New South Wales, is home to 300,000 people and millions of tonnes of coal.

The steep hills around Wollongong afford views of endless queues of ships on the watery horizon, waiting for their cargo of black gold. Coal has been the lifeblood of the city for 150 years and the backbone of its steel industry.

Regardless of the climate extremes, the droughts, wildfires, cyclones and floods that are ravaging Australia, locals do not want to give it up.

"It’s all right for greenies to say this carbon tax has to happen, but we can’t all hug trees for a living," said Brett Withers, who has worked as an industrial cleaning contractor in the steelworks for 20 years. "It might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. If the tax comes in, this area will be devastated. It’s not just the steel industry – it’s the butcher, the hairdresser and the baker. Everyone will suffer." …

The article uses Wollongong as a hook but as it progresses it really has little to say about the place, or the way the debate is going here.

When I lived in Wollongong forty years ago it was indeed true that just about everyone in the area worked directly or indirectly for the steelworks and the coal mines, all of them Australian-owned – well with one controversial exception and that was a Yank company — or in fertiliser making or other metal industries or in clothing manufacture. The place was also a notorious or famous hotbed of left-wing politics, with quite a strong local communist party. The place also stank – literally. You could often see what you were breathing. But it was all pretty stable and sure as the industry was heavily protected and locked into special mates rates for raw materials.

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Port Kembla in the 1950s – Frank Hurley, photographer

Back here forty years on and changing times and globalisation have wrought havoc, or at any rate brought great change. The steel industry survives courtesy of some niche products, no longer protected, no longer getting raw materials from itself or at mates rates. Brett Withers really is a bit in the past there.

View from Bulli Lookout

Link there to a great page from Chilby Photography

1930

1930 Steel Works

See also A Brief History of the Steel Industry at Port Kembla, A coal history in the Illawarra and w w w . i l l a w a r r a c o a l . c o m. The last two are from industry-related sources.

Today’s mines – and there are fewer of them – are most often in foreign hands: see Gujarat.

Gujarat NRE Minerals Limited, incorporated in October 2004, is a subsidiary of Gujarat NRE Coke Limited, the largest manufacturer of Low Ash Metallurgical Coke in India. Gujarat NRE is involved in mining, processing and marketing of world class coal products. The Company owns and operates the mine, NRE No. 1 Colliery (formerly know as South Bulli Colliery), spreading over 6421hector with reserves of over 300 million tonnes of coking coal and located in the Southern Coalfields of New South Wales, Australia. It holds the consolidated coal lease and other mining tenements which include mining purpose lease and exploration license to the NRE No. 1 Colliery. The colliery is surrounded to the north, south and west by other collieries.

The mine is located at a distance of 14 km from the Kembla Port Terminal in the Southern Coalfields of the New South Wales Coalfields…

Sunday lunch at Five Islands Brewing–and other things brewing in The Gong

Sirdan came down from Sydney via Bundanoon yesterday. The plan was Sunday lunch at The Steelers, but it was a touch crowded there! It happened to be the first game for quite a while at the still-under-construction WIN Stadium.  The jubilation after the game would not have matched last year’s Grand Final.

The home team lost.

So Sirdan and I moved on to the Five Islands Brewing Company.

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Tried two beers:

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I think I preferred Rust. Accompanied the beers with an excellent grilled steak.

Moved on after that to Diggers for a wicked dessert.

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Of course here in The Gong there is much angst of late.

BlueScope Steel has delayed major capital works and drastically cut back the work for external contractors in the strongest indication yet of how badly the Port Kembla steelmaker is struggling.

Some contracting firms have been forced to look to other regions as they try and maintain their workload, while others are considering cutting staff.

Workers at the steelworks were asked to take a week’s leave in June to help limit its spending.

On Friday the steelworks officially came under the new entity BlueScope Australia and New Zealand, headed by Mark Vassella, who flew in to Australia from the United States on the weekend.

Within the steelworks, major projects have been put on hold, with the new $40 million steel injection station delayed indefinitely and the $66 million steam asset upgrade now not due to be commissioned until late this year.

BlueScope posted a $55 million loss for the first half of the financial year and has warned of a similar result for the second half.

Contractors told the Mercury work had been cut drastically, which would hurt businesses reliant on work from the steelworks…

That’s a story that goes back way before talk of a carbon tax. The high Aussie dollar has certainly not helped this industry, and surely there has long  been enormous pressure as we have gone further down the free trade route.

Port Kembla has been casting about for other things than steel. Coal export remains a big item, and isn’t likely to stop carbon tax or no carbon tax.

It’s full steam ahead in the expansion planning department at the Port Kembla Coal Terminal – thanks to the coal boom.

Expansion at the terminal could include taking over its bulk products berth, dredging part of Port Kembla harbour and developing a new berth and ship loader.

The increased capacity could allow it to handle more than $1 billion worth of extra coal a year, as demand and prices for hard coking coal continue to soar.

Port Kembla Coal Terminal (PKCT) general manager Peter Green said existing machinery would be refurbished to optimise capacity. But further "upgrades" may be necessary, including at the new berth.

"The expected increase in demand on our infrastructure is inevitable based on the forecast coal production from the southern and western coalfields," he said.

"In anticipation of this outcome, PKCT, together with the support of its employees, has commenced studies and modelling of the existing infrastructure and what might be needed to ensure a safe plant, reliability and to increase capacity."…

And wheat. And cars.

Hual Car Ship entering port

Car ship entering Port Kembla

I was telling Sirdan yesterday about how really dumb the state and federal governments have been when it comes to infrastructure down here. We have ONE rail line to Sydney and that comes down to ONE TRACK at the Clifton tunnel. But further down south and west you can find this:

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Abandoned rail works

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Click to enlarge

See La Perouse:

The proposed Maldon-Dombarton rail link is a 35 kilometre standard gauge rail line connecting the Illawarra Line from Wollongong to the Main Southern Line running from Sydney via Campbelltown. The line was originally proposed and partially constructed by the NSW Government, commencing in 1983. Construction ceased in 1988 following a reassessment of the demand case by the NSW Government. The rail corridor is not believed to have been compromised. Approximately two-thirds of earthworks along the rail corridor have been completed, as well as the entry cuts to the tunnel portals and construction access roads to the tunnel and catchment area. However some significant infrastructure has not been constructed, including a number of bridges…

The Maldon-Dombarton line would improve the connectivity of Port Kembla to the South Sydney Freight Line and these intermodal terminals. The port would have the capacity to handle container trade as part of its planned Outer Harbour development.

Now which party was in charge of NSW in 1988, eh Barry?

See also The Illawarra Mercury on this dumbass decision and what it has led to:

Not a single tonne of rail freight has left the Port Kembla cargo handling facility since it opened in 2007, prompting questions over how the region’s congested roads will absorb future port expansion.

The revelation has triggered a demand from the Greens that the port should be prevented from expanding until it can guarantee more goods will be moved by rail.

A report obtained by the Mercury shows Port Kembla Port Corporation failed to meet a State Government target that, by the end of 2010, at least 20 per cent of freight would move to and from the site by rail…

The report showed 187 trucks per day moved almost 850,000 tonnes of cargo in 2009-10, almost 90 per cent of which were imports.

The port corporation noted it had carried out rail upgrade works and lobbied for extra rail infrastructure, and rail remained a key mode of transport for coal, grain and mineral concentrate at Port Kembla.

But the news will add to growing disquiet over the ability of the region’s road links to cope with the weight of freight traffic generated by the outer harbour expansion.

Preliminary work on the $600million project began this year. It will almost double the port’s cargo handling capacity.

As the Mercury reported last October, an RTA submission on the expansion raised concern that predicted rail freight volumes could not be achieved, which would likely lead to “unacceptable impacts to road safety and traffic efficiency, as well as environmental issues such as amenity, noise and air quality”…

A Planning Department spokesman said future applications to expand the port must demonstrate that adequate rail infrastructure is in place, or will be provided in a timely manner. The port corporation must also prepare a rail master plan before embarking on future stages of the work, he said.

The corporation did not directly manage the movement of cargo, and constraints on rail transport had largely been beyond its control, he said.

Australian Amalgamated Terminals and Patrick Autocare are the cargo facility’s main tenants.

Seems only The Greens have been really serious on this one.