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AWU calls for action to build Australia’s Green Steel Industry

August 29, 2022

The Australian steel industry is a key plank in the national economy and generates $29 billion in annual revenue, but all that is under threat as we moves towards a post-carbon economy.

Almost 140,000 Australians work making steel products, and the recent AWU National Conference resoundingly agreed that they can’t just be thrown on the scrapheap.

But the new Albanese Federal Government has committed Australia to a more ambitious target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, a 15 percentage point increase on our previous target.

The problem is that steel making produces about 9 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the pressure is on to change how steel is made in Australia to maintain the quality, well-paid jobs and export earnings the industry provides.

AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said Australia must act now as we’ll be locked out of future trade and investment opportunities if we don’t.

“This is a moment for bold action by governments, steelmakers, and steelworkers’ representatives,” Mr Walton said.

“The trouble is that our best hopes for decarbonising steel-making rely on technology that is only partly ready; it has not yet been commercialised at scale anywhere in the world.

“It could take a decade of preparation before we get to the starting line to begin lowering emissions.

“If we fall too far behind, other countries will penalise us, but if we get to the front of this race, the potential opportunity is staggering and good for workers.”

Australia boasts two major primary steel producers: BlueScope, with its Port Kembla, NSW steelworks, and GFG Alliance, with its steelworks in Whyalla, South Australia.

GHG Alliance’s InfraBuild also operates secondary (recycled) steel plants in NSW and Victoria, and there are more than 300 steel distribution outlets across the country alongside numerous fabrication, manufacturing and engineering companies embedded in the steel-making cycle.

The AWU recently partnered with the John Curtin Research Centre to prepare a report, Clean and Mean: New Directions for Australia’s Steel Industry, which makes the case for Australia becoming a clean-steel leader in Asia and globally.


But to do it, we need to make it a national project. This would involve:

  • A National Clean Steel Roadmap with interim targets to meet the challenge of developing and deploying multiple unproven technologies commercially within a narrow time frame.
  • National accreditation for clean hydrogen and steel to ensure meaningful signals are available to this emerging market.
  • Making clear the critical role of strategic government investment to support our major steelmakers as they move to decarbonise.

The report notes The Port Kembla steel operations are the biggest challenge, and that the Federal Government should partner with BlueScope to rapidly decarbonise those operations.

Whyalla will be easier because that plant is already planning to go all-electric, but it should be home to Australia’s first commercial-scale, clean-steel demonstration project.

And because iron ore and renewable electricity are the main ingredients for clean steel, we cannot ignore the potential for upgrading Australia’s iron ore exports into clean iron, with pilot-at-scale decarbonised iron-metal production in the Pilbara.

Mr Walton said Australia must seize the moment.

“There is a huge list of difficult tasks ahead of us. But we should be thinking big.

“Off the back of an attractive investment environment, readily available clean hydrogen, certified clean-steel credentials and a growing export market, Australia could actually increase its production of steel and steel products.

“But we have to move now, and we have to move fast, because this is a race we cannot afford to lose.”

The AWU National Conference resolved to recognise:

  • That Australia’s steel industry is a critical sovereign capability, highly exposed to trade, and emissions-intensive.
  • That if urgent action is not taken, steel manufacturing risks being lost altogether to countries with poor environmental records, with costs for the sector and the environment.
  • The initial work undertaken by the sector in planning for a zero-emissions future, noting that a comprehensive tripartite approach is needed.
  • The significant opportunity in Australia taking a first-mover position in the emerging clean-steel industry.

National Conference also called on:

  • All Australian governments to establish a taskforce with government, industry and the AWU, to develop and implement a National Clean Steel Roadmap aimed firmly at ensuring Australia’s steel industry can survive and thrive.
  • The Australian Government to accredit low-emissions hydrogen and steel products.
  • The Australian steel industry, in co-operation with governments and the AWU, to actively pursue all opportunities for green steel in Australia.
  • The Australian Government to set ambitions for green-steel and green-iron production in Australia.

You can read the report in full here.

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