Magnetite iron ore concentrate production will be ramped up at South Australia’s Whyalla steelworks in a project GFG says will place the city “at the heart of a new industrial revolution” based around the use of renewable energy and hydrogen to produce steel.
GFG Alliance executive chairman Sanjeev Gupta has backed long-running AWU calls for the nation to ramp up its manufacturing capabilities, particularly in the steel sector.
Australia exports enough iron ore to produce 500 million tonnes of steel, more than a quarter of the world’s annual needs, but less than 1 per cent of this is processed into steel here.
“And with global steel consumption set to double in the next 30 years, could there be a better time for Australia to claim its place as a modern, efficient, low-carbon, global steel power?” Mr Gupta said.
The AWU has long argued that the transition away from coal was, if handled properly, an opportunity for Australia to take advantage of what could be an energy revolution, creating thousands of new jobs in the process and dealing with some of the supply-chain risks exposed by COVID.
“The AWU supports net zero emissions by 2050, but in pursuit of this goal, significant emphasis must be placed on measures that protect and encourage Australian jobs,” AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said.
“This includes identifying opportunities for Australian industry to not just participate in renewable energy supply chains but to become a world leader.
“Australia can and should become the world’s first net-zero-emissions manufacturing superpower.
“But if we want to reach that goal, we need to hang on to the manufacturing capacity we already have and build on it.
“The simple fact is Australia needs steel operations such as those at Whyalla, Rooty Hill and Laverton to continue to grow because they are critical to our sovereign capability.
“We’d also like to see Mr Gupta’s enthusiasm and values to flow through to GFG’s management ranks, to ensure that AWU members have decent jobs and decent conditions going forward.”
Expanding production of magnetite iron ore at Whyalla is a key element of GFG’s clean steel plan, which aims to produce carbon-neutral steel by 2030 with the aid of renewable energy and hydrogen.
Magnetite iron ore is particularly suitable for use in the Direct Reduced Iron process crucial to clean steel.
Mr Gupta said the events of the past couple of years had also thrown into sharp focus how “flimsy and fragile our supply chains really are … and that we’ve become too dependent on others”.
“Globalisation versus the need for self-sufficiency now requires a major rethink. At times like these … sovereign manufacturing capability moves from important to critical … exactly the opposite to our thoughts and deeds for the last three decades,” he said.
Mr Walton said Australian workers had long despaired that local businesses, backed by successive governments, had let manufacturing disappear offshore, in search of profits and at the expense of local workers’ jobs.
“The AWU is well placed to talk manufacturing, covering about 70,000 members nationally in a diverse range of industries including mining, energy, manufacturing, civil construction, and agriculture, along with many others.
“Projects like this one in Whyalla may be a chance for Australia to press the reset button, offering us the chance to be a world leader in a new clean economy while providing quality, secure jobs for all Australians, with manufacturing at the core.”