Steel profits good, but prepare for the future

Seeing BlueScope making profits is good for the Illawarra.

Though it’s easy to believe that some might not like it.

Last week the steelmaker announced a half-year profit of $359.1 million – an impressive 79 per cent improvement on the same period in the previous financial year.

For some of the Port Kembla steelworkers made redundant during the steel crisis of 2015, that news may well be bittersweet.

Perhaps, through their eyes, the steelmaker’s growing profits appear to have come on the back of their lost job – and the jobs of others.

And, to an extent, that would be true. But, when the choice is between losing some jobs and losing ALL the jobs, then the lesser of two evils is easily the better choice.

For that was what the region was faced with in the dark days of 2015.

BlueScope delivered an ultimatum – we either cut some jobs to save money and keep making steel in the Illawarra or we shut the gates and let the place go to seed.

Losing all the jobs at Port Kembla would be harsh for those employed there.

But seeing the gates close would have had a massive ripple effect throughout the Illawarra economy.

The steelworkers voting to accept job cuts – knowing they were effectively voting themselves or some of their mates out of a job – they saved the city.

It’s a lesson the city shouldn’t forget.

Every time we drive past the steelworks and complain about those white clouds coming from the stacks, we should think about how different the Illawarra would be had those clouds disappeared in late 2015.

Another lesson from 2015  that already appears to have forgotten by many is the danger of relying too heavily on one industry.

For years there has been talk of diversifying the region’s economic base, of making sure all our eggs aren’t in the one basket.

It makes a lot of sense – there is a real danger in a city being so deeply wedded to one business for so much economic activity.

If it goes, so does the city.

We need to have less talk about diversification and more action.

What 2015 showed us is just how easily the closure of Port Kembla could happen.

The city dodged a bullet back then but we need to remember that.

And we need to ensure that, should that threat ever return, the potential won’t be quite so devastating.

The story Steel profits good, but prepare for the future first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.

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