Residents of the South Australian town of Whyalla are rallying behind each other amid the prospect of another potentially devastating industrial collapse.
Troubled miner Arrium says it will consider mothballing its Whyalla steelworks unless it can find $60 million in cost savings to break even at the operations.
Premier Jay Weatherill has held talks with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and expects the federal government will join with SA in negotiating a bailout.
For long-term residents like acting mayor Tom Antonio, there’s a sense of deja vu dating back to the closure of the town’s shipyards in 1978.
“For me, it’s like I’m reliving another nightmare,” he said.
“I went through that process. It wasn’t good but we came through at the end.
“Everybody’s worried but everybody’s rallying behind each other to keep the morale up in a positive way.”
Arrium cut about 900 jobs at Whyalla last year as it grappled with a plunge in iron ore and steel prices.
Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis has urged the federal government to follow SA’s lead and ensure Australian-made structural steel is used in major projects.
“We’re having cheap, inferior steel dumped on our shores and quite naturally, a lot of infrastructure companies are purchasing that steel to try and win tenders, especially government tenders,” he said.
Mr Antonio says the policy is a fantastic idea but should have been introduced years ago, pointing to projects such as the New Royal Adelaide Hospital built mostly using Chinese steel.
“Why does it have to take job losses to get to this point?” he said.
“It just beggars belief.”
Independent senator Nick Xenophon plans to prepare legislation so that any major project that receives commonwealth funding also includes a local procurement policy.
“My colleagues on all sides of the fence need to nail their colours to the mast on this,” he said.
The state opposition said it would be a disaster for the SA economy if the steelworks closed.