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31 October 2019

Question time – Portland Aluminium. Britnell to Premier

Ms BRITNELL: My question is to the Premier. Alcoa chief executive Roy
Harvey has stated that Alcoa is considering potential closures.

The closure of the Alcoa Portland smelter would see 1200 workers lose
their jobs in a town with a population of just 10 000.

This would be devastating for the people of Portland and south-west Victoria. In January 2017 the Premier stood in front of the workers at PortlandAluminium and said he supported them and had their backs.
What has the government done since that photo opportunity to ensure
that the Alcoa smelter has a future in Portland?

Mr ANDREWS (Mulgrave—Premier) (11:09): I thank the member for
South-West Coast for her question.

When I was at the smelter in Portland with the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who was happy to attend the event despite contributing
but a fraction of the cost of the investment of the overall package, I was
not there for a photo; I was there to announce an historic repowering
agreement worth tens and tens and tens of millions of dollars.

I think for reasons of precedent we have not named the figure, but it is a
very substantial amount of money and the smelter would be closed today without it.In other words, if we had taken a policy of indifference—if we had, for instance, dared them to go, dared them to close, for instance—
then it might have been like Ford or General Motors.

Ms Britnell: On a point of order, Speaker, I asked a very specific question.I asked what he has done since then to support the jobs in Alcoa, what has he done since then to ensure that the smelter in Portland stays open.

The SPEAKER: Order! The Premier’s answer is relevant to the question.

Mr ANDREWS: What have we done since providing tens of millions of
dollars to the company? Goodness me. If the honourable member would
like a briefing, I am happy to inquire as to whether that is appropriate,
because might I respectfully submit that to try to suggest that the
government has not done enough since having provided the funding thatAlcoa required to remain open—an agreement that has not yet expired—
is curious at best. In the question—

A member interjected

Mr ANDREWS: No, to be clear about this, in the question the member for
South-West Coast referenced recent commentary by the global CEO of
that business, and yes, those comments are indeed concerning. There will be no argument from me on that point But to suggest that the
government has not done enough to this point or, perhaps in the supplementary, to suggest that we are not in active discussions with Alcoa is wrong; it would be wrong.
This is not our record. It is not our way of doing things. We provided themoney that was necessary to keep the smelter open, and it was not aboutphoto opportunities; it was about job opportunities. If the member for
South-West Coast knows so little about the biggest employer in her
electorate, I am happy to organise a briefing.
Ms BRITNELL (South-West Coast) (11:11): When the Premier was
opposition leader, he said:

Every job is worth fighting for and there is a job for the state government to play.

When questioned by the media about what the government would do to save Alcoa’s 1200 jobs and the town that so depends on them,
the Premier’s spokeswoman said:

This is a matter for Alcoa.

Why aren’t Portland aluminium jobs worth fighting for?

Mr ANDREWS (Mulgrave—Premier) I do thank the member for
South-West Coast for her supplementary question.

I can remember when the Point Henry smelter closed under a previous
government. That was very much a matter for Alcoa at the time, so a little bit of history is important when it comes to these matters.

I have indicated that we are concerned. I think all Victorians would be
concerned whenever a global CEO starts talking about big changes in anybusiness that is a major employer.

To suggest that the government is not actively involved in these issues
and actively supportive of those jobs and other jobs is simply wrong.

Members interjecting.

Mr ANDREWS: Well, commentary from the CEO of Alcoa is a matter for
Alcoa. That is news to those opposite apparently.

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order! The Leader of the Opposition!

Mr ANDREWS: We will be doing more than you did. Goodness me!
Members interjecting.

Mr ANDREWS: Yes, the workers’ friend over here. The bloke who ran the unemployment rate through the roof, thank you for the lecture.