By Janine Perrett

Bill Shorten is no Paul Keating.

But you probably knew that already.

He is actually in danger of sounding  more like a desperate Tony Abbott at his most hysterical as Opposition Leader.

Whyalla wipeout anyone? 

Shorten's behaviour and that of his senior shadow ministers, exploiting the Arrium steel collapse risks taking his party back forty years to before the Hawke Keating revolution and stymie their recent poll gains.

So just when you thought the Federal ALP was actually showing signs of economic credibility, they prove that might only be skin deep.

Last night Opposition Leader Bill Shorten looked so eager for votes that he resorted to old style Labor protectionism over the collapse of Arrium steel.

Worse steel, former Industry Minister Kim Carr, who should know better, went even further warning of the collapse of major buildings because of inferior imported steel.

A few salient points here.

Arrium's collapse is terrible for its 7000 employees and the 22,000 residents of Whyalla and the Australian steel industry as a whole.

It has been coming for some time; a combination of external market influences and internal management misjudgment. It is not the role of government to bail them out on either score but just provide what relief it can within the bounds of economic rationality. (Note rationality not rationalism).

It might have escaped the public's notice, maybe the Arrium board, certainly Labor's that the steel industry is subject to the same cyclical downturns as other mining and manufacturing industries which have been in upheaval for decades around the world.

I remember visiting union protests in Pennsylvania in the 1980's when the Pittsburgh steel industry was collapsing. The US went from half a million steel jobs to just over 100,000 in the space of 25 years.

Meanwhile newcomers like South Korea were producing cheaper steel with much fewer workers. Dare I say technology and innovation caused that.

We too have been forced to address the same in our other threatened steelworks at Port Kembla.

And while I hate the word, it is part of the "disruption" economy that is being hailed at the moment.

From cab drivers to journalists there is not only no job security but in some cases, the entire product is facing extinction. No government bailouts to run uneconomical newspapers.

There is now more and cheaper production from around the world and Australia signed onto the free trade mantra in those Hawke-Keating reforms.

Sure it has its drawbacks but it has also provided three decades of prosperity and new opportunities as well. The good outweighs the bad and resorting to old protectionist mantra like forcing certain percentages of local steel to be used is a huge step backwards.

It is also in breach of world trade agreements and would be a very bad path to take.

And yes, it is not a level playing field and China has been breaching those very same trade rules by dumping cheap steel.

Rather than copy the offender, we should be much much tougher about calling them out and fighting them through official WTO channels. Sure we are doing that but perhaps we actually need to back it up by not kowtowing to them publicly and showing a bit of steel wherever we can.

As for Senator Carr's scaremongering about building falling down on cheap steel - well that is just irresponsible and shows no faith in our own standards that seem to have avoided the problem till now despite being open to imported steel before.

It is reminiscent of the more hysterical and damaging outbursts of a desperate Tony Abbott over the carbon tax when he infamously warned it would wipeout the whole of Whyalla.

Well that did happen but not because the carbon tax and that is what the Opposition needs to stress. 

Calmly and rationally or did Bill  Shorten learn nothing from his outrageous screaming loony performance on the back of a truck in Adelaide warning about the danger of giving the submarine contract to our World War 11 enemies the Japanese.

There is another minefield coming up for both sides.

And even though last night's televised town hall meeting was on my own Sky network I would say to Mr Shorten - what were you thinking?

The election has not officially begun yet and while it is admirable you want to get out and sell your good policies, you are still better off letting the other lot take the limelight while they are making such a mess of it.

Stick to releasing sensible economic policies like superannuation reform and highlight the lack of action on the other side.

 

Don't just join the blather rush.