The steel sector is “unprevious” in 2017, according to new data, with employment growth still outpacing the broader economy.
The figures show the Australian steel industry grew by about 8 per cent in the year to March 2017, beating the previous record set in 2015.
It also beat the previous high set in February, 2016, of 8.5 per cent.
But the sector also fell in terms of new jobs.
“I think there are some really interesting indicators in terms on the industrial sector, and the manufacturing sector, that indicate that things are quite normal in 2017,” Mr Rudd said on Monday.
The Federal Government is also planning to introduce a package of measures to stimulate the industry.
A new tax on imports of steel and aluminium, and tougher penalties for firms that export steel, have already been introduced.
The Government’s chief economist, Ian Macfarlane, said the data showed “the industry is back on track”.
He said the “record low unemployment” and “high employment levels” had helped the sector to keep pace with other industries.
The manufacturing sector was also “moving towards full employment”, he said.
“It’s very clear that there’s a very strong recovery happening.”
Mr Macfaddin said the manufacturing and construction sectors were expected to benefit from the new levy on imports, as they were the fastest growing industries in the country.
“What the data shows is that while the overall job market is not quite as strong as we would like it to be, it’s certainly better than what we had a year ago,” he said, warning that “we are in for a big year”.
He also warned that the new import tax “could see us hit the brakes”.
The Federal Opposition is calling for a tax on foreign steel imports, but Mr Rudd defended the decision.
“The only thing we’ve done is to introduce the tax, which is an effective, well-designed and fairly simple and straightforward tax,” he told Sky News.
“And it’s a way to encourage more manufacturing activity.”
The Prime Minister also defended the Government’s decision to introduce measures to boost the sector.
“We’re going to have to have a bit of a debate about whether that is a good thing, but what we’ve seen is a huge amount of jobs being created and a huge number of people finding work, and that’s what we need to continue to do,” he added.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb has also defended introducing a levy on foreign imports, saying it was “the right thing to do”.
Mr Robb said the Government had also put measures in place to encourage domestic manufacturing.
“At the moment, we’ve got the lowest employment figures in the past 20 years,” he warned.
“In terms of the manufacturing employment rate, we’re at the lowest we’ve ever been at, and we’re now on track to beat our target of 4 per cent growth.”
He said it was time to “move on”.
“The best way to do that is to make sure that we’re looking at how we can actually increase the domestic manufacturing rate, rather than increase exports.”
But he conceded the Government needed to “think hard about” the issue.
“If you look at the numbers, we have the lowest labour force participation rate in the world, and so we need a new way to get more manufacturing into the economy, rather and increase exports,” he noted.
“That’s where we need some support.”
He also questioned whether the Government should have focused on manufacturing during the last election, saying the country “needed” a stronger economy.
“But now we’ve actually seen the economy actually move in the right direction, that’s very encouraging, I think,” Mr Robb told ABC radio.
As I said, we are not just going to get through this year without some significant reforms to the steel sector.”