Governments must do more to help towns like Whyalla adapt when manufacturing is threatened, Greens leader Richard Di Natale says.
About 1600 workers at Whyalla’s steelworks and mine face an uncertain future after the town’s biggest employer, Arrium, appointed administrators.
Senator Di Natale has backed calls for the federal government to help fund upgrades to the steelworks and says Australian steel should be used in taxpayer-funded projects.
But governments had to embrace new industries, such as renewable energy, to ensure regional communities such as Whyalla could adjust and diversify if industries collapsed.
“This is what’s happening right across the world in terms of the transition that is necessary to ensure we are more efficient in those energy-intensive industries,” he told reporters in Adelaide on Monday.
“Rather than reacting after the event, it’s incumbent on political leaders to show a bit of courage and vision and outline their road map for what the future looks like.”
SA Premier Jay Weatherill has said he is increasingly confident the Whyalla steelworks can be saved with assistance from the state and federal governments.
He compared Whyalla to nearby Port Pirie, where a major redevelopment – partly underwritten by the state government – transformed the town’s lead smelter into an advanced metal refining facility.
“It was a very substantial turnaround, it required a lot of work and it took a lot of time,” he told reporters on Monday.
“The government stayed the course, insisted that we received a proposal which was about the long-term future of the plant and ultimately we were prepared to support it in that way.”
Whyalla is one of several South Australian towns heavily dependent on traditional industries that are under threat from global economic headwinds.
Others include Port Augusta, which is facing the closure of two coal-fired power stations in May, and Leigh Creek, where Alinta recently shut down a century-old coal mine.
Business SA chief executive Nigel McBride said Arrium’s difficulties showed the need to reinvent regional communities with sectors such as tourism.
“What we’ve heard from our regional members is ‘we want to diversify’ so if there’s one torpedo that hits, it’s not the one that sinks us all,” he told AAP.
“We have for too long relied on these single companies and these single industries, and it’s a painful lesson we’re learning now.”
Arrium’s administrators, Grant Thornton, have tasked a team of global experts with collecting data and sifting through tens of millions of documents related to the company.
The complex forensic investigation involves 94 separate entities within Arrium and is expected to take up to two weeks.
The administrators will then begin to assess options for a restructure of Arrium, starting with its Whyalla operations, in the hopes of encouraging a recapitalisation of the company.
The first creditors’ meeting is scheduled to be held on April 19.