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Address to NSW Mining Health, Safety, Environment and Community Conference

Lovedale NSW

5 August 2019

Check against delivery

During the recent federal election, the Queensland Government announced a new condition that it would place on Adani. To receive approval, Adani would have to count every black throated finch on its mine site.

Now I have come to love the finch - I know a lot more about it than I thought I ever would thanks to the Queensland Government - but this condition was absurd. That was all proven true when within weeks of the election result Adani received their final approval from the Queensland Government. Either Adani was extremely fast at counting, or the Queensland Government saw common sense.

The result showed that it was the latter. There is a statistically significant relationship between the swing to the LNP at the election and a polling booth’s distance from the Adani Carmichael mine.

There was a big outcome down here. I welcome Joel Fitzgibbon’s renewed support for coal. We need to have bipartisan support for the industry to give long term confidence. We have a real opportunity to re-establish a common sense, bipartisan environment that I will work hard to deliver.

Joel’s job is not made easier, however, when we still see his Members adopt a “white flag” approach to the coal industry. Last week a Parliamentary Friends of Coal Exports was established jointly chaired by Craig Kelly from the Liberal-National side, and Joel Fitzgibbon from Labor. In response, the Labor member for Newcastle Sharon Claydon has announced the group as “childish” because in her words we must continue to plan for a “just transition” for the coal industry.

Whenever you hear the words “just transition” from a politician what they really mean is they “just want you to lose your job.” At the election the Labor Party had a policy to establish what they called a “Just Transition Authority”. They would have invested $8 million to establish this authority and it would have, and I am only quoting from their policy here, “overseen and implemented pooled redundancy scheme for coal power stations and associated mines.” The Bowen Basin, where I am from in Central Queensland and the Hunter here were specifically targeted in Labor’s policy as areas that required a just transition.

This is surrender tactics. The Liberal National Government is not going to wave the white flag for our coal industry. I want to see our coal exports continue to thrive and I believe that will happen. Last year, coal fired power grew by 354 terawatt hours in Asia, more than any other electricity source. In effect, around 45 coal fired power stations the equivalent of Lidell came online in Asia last year.

New South Wales has the best and highest quality thermal coal in the world. The market for it has never been stronger and the Liberal National Government will support you and your region to take advantage of that. We don’t want a just transition - we just want more jobs.

Safety always first priority

I have great respect for the workers that perform these jobs. It is a high risk endeavour as we have seen over the past year especially in Queensland. In Queensland, we have suffered four fatalities at coal mines within 6 months. Each of these losses is a personal tragedy for the families and loved ones and wider loss for our industry.

We would not be honouring the loss experienced by these families if we were not to respond. I welcome the Queensland Government’s and industry’s response through the establishment of a “safety reset” across the industry.

These matters are regulated by the Queensland and New South Wales Governments but I will always use my platform as the Federal Minister to remind the senior levels of the industry that their number one priority must be safety. It is great to see so many here focusing on that issue and I applaud these ongoing efforts.

I regulate the offshore oil and gas sector. We should not forget that on the morning of the tragic Deepwater Horizon incident, BP executives awarded the local rig contractors a safety award. Straight after the ceremony, well integrity tests were misinterpreted in an environment where the pressure was on to reduce drilling delays. Eleven people then lost their lives when the well blew out later that day.

Many of you have probably seen the movie but these events were not Hollywood’s embellishment. That’s exactly what happened and it is a lesson for all of us.

I congratulate all of the winners here today but those of us not winning awards let’s make sure we remember the lesson. Safety is not about ceremony it is about constant vigilance and diligence.

Lengthy approval processes

I am very humbled to return as the Federal Resources Minister and we have a full agenda to progress.

That is mapped out in detail in the National Resources Statement that I released earlier this year - the first such statement for more than 20 years. The overall objective of the statement is to make Australia the best resources nation in the world and we identify 6 key areas to achieve that. I say "we" because the COAG Resources Council has agreed to work on these areas together.

The first area is to maintain Australia’s position as an attractive destination for investment. We cannot sugar coat things. Our reputation has taken a hit in recent years as projects have struggled to gain approval in a reasonable time frame, and activists have hijacked our approval processes to conduct lawfare with the express objective of stopping resource jobs, not protecting the environment.

Today, I announce a step forward in re-establishing our hard won reputation for robust environmental standards and regulation implemented in a consistent and reasonable way that allows for economic development alongside environmental regulation. I announce that we will ask the Productivity Commission to conduct a 12 month inquiry into Australian resources regulation with a focus on streamlining processes.

This review delivers on the agreement I made with state and territory governments in our National Resources Statement to establish a benchmarking of resources regulation.

The Productivity Commission will be asked to look at best practice examples, both here and overseas, that remove unnecessary costs for businesses while maintaining sound oversight. This work will complement the statutory review of the EPBC Act due to commence in October this year.

The review is an important part of the Government’s regulatory reform agenda which is tackling a range of barriers to investment in key industries and activities, with the aim of boosting efficiency, productivity and job creation. The Productivity Commission work will both complement and contribute to the Government’s Deregulation Taskforce headed by Assistant Minister Ben Morton.

We can’t let something like Adani happen again. No investor should be made to wait 10 years to get a yes or no answer. The development of our resources are too important to allow fringe, activists to hijack the processes for their own narrow ends. The timely development of our resources are important for the direct jobs they generate but in many cases unnecessary delays have wider implications for other industries that rely on secure and affordable resources as inputs.

A case in point here is the bans and delays we have seen on the development of Australian gas resources in southern Australia. These delays are putting thousands of jobs at risk in manufacturing and I simply call on state governments to get on with it. Listen to the science and protect Australian jobs by developing Australian gas.

Establishing new markets and new basins

The other areas of our National Resources Statement are important too. I won’t have time this morning to go through all of the areas in depth but I want to highlight a couple.

First, we have a real need to develop new markets and new areas of resource wealth. The hold up of coal into China as been a challenging development. We continue to make frequent representations on the issue, however, I believe the best response is to do what we can to diversify our markets so that we are less exposed to disruption.

The obvious next, big hope for our coal is India. India is already the biggest market for our coking coal, and its steel making ambitions promise to see that market continue to grow strongly.

However, our market share of India’s thermal coal imports could be much better. India's coal imports have grown by 30 per cent over the past four years. Yet, Australia accounted for less than 5 per cent of India’s thermal coal imports last year. Even the United States exports almost double what we do to India.

The Adani project will help but its production is only 10 million tonnes out of a total Indian import thermal coal market of 160 million tonnes and growing. Since the election there has been great interest from other Indian coal and power companies about direct investment in Australian coal. I will be travelling to India in a few weeks to further build on our relationship and develop these opportunities.

This development dismisses the rubbish that was put out there that somehow developing the Galilee Basin would threaten the Hunter Valley. Whether it is coal, iron ore or gas our resources industry has developed through the promotion of new opportunities not the closing up of parts of our country.

Look at it from the our customer’s point of view. We are an attractive resources hub because we have significant resources and we allow their development unrestricted by the narrow ideology of protectionism. If we were to close off some parts of our country, our customers and our investors would rightly get worried about our entire country. I follow the adage the customer is always right and if we want to maintain our strong coal industry across the country we must serve our customer first.

There are other opportunities in resources outside the coal industry that I am focused on too.

We have just become the world’s largest LNG exporter but there is more to do. It remains possible for us to secure a $25 billion investment in Browse Basin soon. The Beetaloo Basin, Australia’s first major shale play, offers the potential for the shale gas revolution transforming the US to come to our shores. And, the Great Australian Bight remains a long term opportunity to secure a potentially liquid-rich basin to replace the Bass Strait.

Another issue we are focusing on is skills in the industry. I am well aware of the pressures facing the industry over a lack of skills and the concerning drop of entries into mining and petroleum degrees. I convened a roundtable earlier this year to discuss these matters. The Government has recently announced significantly more funding for apprentices and some specific investments in the mining sector.

I will be soon be conducting more discussions with my state and territory counterparts and the industry to discuss these matters further.

Finally, I want to stress the importance of continuing to develop indigenous opportunities in mining. This has been a recent, almost untold, success story of the sector. Since 2006, indigenous employment in mining grew by two and a half times, by comparison indigenous employment in the wider economy grew by more than one a half times.

I want to recognise the great efforts of the likes of Steve Fordham here locally who is working cooperatively with the mining sector and indigenous locals who have got themselves in trouble. He is achieving great outcomes and it is this kind of local, practical work that will help us close the gap for indigenous Australians.

Extremely bright future for coal

But the main message I want to leave you with today is that our great, successful coal industry is here to stay. It is going nowhere, indeed, I think it will get bigger and better in the years to come, and the way the everyday coal workers responded at the election has helped secure that.

The result was a hi-vis revolution. The mining industry stood up and said they were sick of being ignored or worse misrepresented by people who have no idea of the industry.

It always seemed a paradox to me that our mining workers are the brightest people in our airport terminals. Yet they sometimes appear invisible to the political class.

Because I live in Central Queensland I didn’t need the election result to tell me how important you are but it has made my job fighting for you a lot easier. And, for that I thank you!