Opening of Steel Distribution Complex

  • John Luxton
Associate Minister of International Trade

68 Stonedon Drive, East Tamaki Auckland

Special guests, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for inviting me here today to join you in opening your new $13 million dollar steel distribution complex. I know that projects like this don't just happen by themselves. They are the result of careful planning, hard work and team effort.

We have here today a magnificent 140,000 square foot building, which I understand is approximately one and a half times the size of Eden Park under one roof. Whilst I know you want to use it for Steel and Tube, I might suggest that the Parliamentary Rugby Team, with its coach John Hart, could find this a useful training building in winters ahead.

I also understand this is the most high-tech building of its type in the steel industry in Australasia. I congratulate you on your ideas, foresight and investment in your future.

This building, I guess, is the latest step in what has been a long history for the steel industry in New Zealand.

The industry's history began in 1848 when a small amount of iron was made using blast furnace technology and iron sand from the iron-bearing volcanic rocks of Mount Egmont.

From these humble beginnings the NZ steel industry has technologically become a story of success, in spite of the challenges it faces. Steel and iron exports to April 1997 totalled $289.9 million, an increase of 5.5% from the previous year. And of corse there is a large domestic demand as well.

Your company, Steel and Tube, has continued to make a contribution to that industry through its main business segments of manufacturing, construction and agriculture.

The company has had spectacular success since it focussed on its core business competencies in the early 1990s in conjunction with the growth experienced in the economy.

In November 1995, the company took another significant step and purchased a Canadian-based steel distributor, A J Forsyth & Co Limited, which operates 9 service centres throughout British Columbia.

With some slowing in economic activity recently, your company, like others, is facing increasing challenges. What I have found is that it is often in the more challenging times that we make the most progress as we are forced to look at ways of doing things even better, improving our long term future.

Government, over the last 15 years has had to do the same.

Today the government sector is dramatically different from that in 1980, but we still have some work to do. My personal view is that the size and role of Government is still too big. From over 40% of GDP we have reduced Government as a proportion to about 34% of GDP. To me about 20% is a better level, because after all, governments don't create wealth, they merely transfer it.

It is the producers and exporters such as Steel and Tube who do the hard work. Governments should keep out of your way and free you from needless constraints such as compliance and regulatory costs, so that you can get on with the job.

Today, we are sealing a "time capsule". Time capsules remind us, I think, of the changes that have taken place over the last 50 to 100 years and I guess, challenge us to think of the changes that are going to take place over the next 50 to 100.

What will be the shape of the steel industry in New Zealand when this time capsule is opened? What will be the shape of New Zealand? Will our rugby players and our netballers still be competitive in the world sporting arena? Will we be able to retire with sufficient income to sustain us? Will we still have MMP? Which one of your children will be Prime Minister? What activities will the Government be involved in. Will Steel and Tube have an office on Mars? And will Elvis Presley still be alive?!

I don't know the answers to all these questions, but what I do know is that in the next 50 years, we will have at least as much significant change in the world as we have had in the last 50.

The changes have been enormous. One Star Trek concept has become a reality with handheld personal communicators. For New Zealand and its companies, it is important that we are able to keep pace in order to retain our standards of living and meet our social and environmental goals.

In today's world, labour, capital and technology know no national boundaries. They simply shift to where they can be best utilised. The challenge for New Zealand is to make sure that we retain our competitiveness so that we can attract the capital and technology, use our labour, and increase our standards of living.

This complex here today is part of that process. It brings Steel and Tube to the forefront in its ability to supply its customers.

Ladies and gentlemen, congratulations on all your work to date. I am sure that this building will be a very important asset for Steel and Tube as it meets the challenges of the future. I wish you all the best in your endeavours.

I am confident that when the time comes to open the time capsule, we will be able to look back with pride to the way in which your company has contributed, through investment in people, jobs and ideas, to economic growth in this country. Thank you.