Address to the WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Perth
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we are meeting on here in Perth, the Whadjuk Nyoongar people, and pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging.
I extend that respect to First Nations peoples here today.
I also want to acknowledge that today is twenty years since the Bali bombings. A devastating attack that left very long lasting ramifications for survivors, first responders and of course family and friends of those who lost loved ones in that terrible attack. On an island that is held with great fondness for many, many Western Australians.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.
It is an honour to stand here in Perth as the nation’s resources minister, a role of vital importance for Western Australia.
Those who know me know I have been a long-term supporter of the resources industry, well before my election in 2016. In my previous roles at The University of Western Australia, I learned a great deal about the intersection between the industry and research and the fact that the resources industry of WA has always been about so much more than the ‘dig it up and ship it out’ mantra that is sometimes ascribed to it.
You don’t get to develop and operate the world’s biggest robot or account for $230 billion dollars worth of sales using just shovels. Like all here today I fully understand how important the sector is to the nation and our state.
Here in Western Australia the industry dominates the economy, is achieving record sales and underpins our enviable standard of living. The resources industry contributes millions of dollars in royalties, which are used to provide essential services such as roads and hospitals and education.
There are about 125 operating resource projects across the state producing more than 50 different minerals.
For a dozen commodities, our state was ranked in the top five in share of the world’s total production in 2020.
Western Australia is of course the biggest iron ore producer and exporter in the world, accounting for 53 per cent of global exports in 2020.
In 2021 there were more than 156,000 people working in Western Australian mining, more than ever before. It is the second largest employer in the state behind the public sector.
Investment across the sector totalled $22 billion with about $156 billion of resources projects in the pipeline.
Western Australia holds some of the world’s richest deposits of minerals, including critical mineral reserves, in the world.
These minerals will be essential in the transition to the new net zero economy, not just in Australia, but globally. This is something that needs to be emphasised repeatedly.
We need to get the message out more effectively – resources not only enable Australia’s standard of living, they are the key to a clean energy future.
As I have said many times in recent months – without the resources sector there is no net zero.
Let me say that again. Without the resources sector, there is no net zero.
But to achieve this, we will need the support of more Australians, particularly partnerships with First Nations Australians, to allow the sector to continue to prosper and provide benefits to all.
First Nations people make up a greater share of the resources workforce than any other sector.
Across Western Australia there are over 12,000 First Nations people living in remote communities, especially in the Kimberley, Pilbara, Goldfields and Mid-West-Gascoyne.
An ongoing partnership with First Nations people, which protects their rights and delivers economic and social benefits, is essential to ensuring the sustainability of the resources sector.
The Government has committed to reforming our national cultural heritage protection framework, including through new stand-alone First Nations heritage protection legislation.
I am working with my colleagues – including the Minister for Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek – to ensure that this new legislation provides operational certainty for businesses and supports positive working partnerships between project proponents and First Nations Australians. Importantly, this work will be done alongside the important reforms the Western Australian government has undertaken to protect the cultural heritage of First Nations people.
I want to assure you that the Australian Government understands how important it is for the nation that the sector remains healthy and continues to prosper.
But the industry must take responsibility for reducing its impact on the environment.
Currently, the resources sector’s scope 1 emissions contribute about 20 per cent of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
We all know that unfortunately many Australians hold a poor perception of the resources industry.
Some Australians remain unaware of how the resources industry is improving their lives – whether it is providing ore for wind turbines for green energy or lithium for that mobile phone to allow them to share a TikTok clip.
We all know the resources workforce is already stretched and there is a major problem in attracting and retaining skilled workers.
A big barrier to attracting these workers is the attitude many young Australians hold towards the resources industry.
Enrolments in relevant degrees are dwindling, making it even harder to find qualified staff in this time of skills shortages.
We need to be able to convince more young people and more women that attractive careers can be found in the sector. Workplaces need to be made safer and more welcoming.
Women make-up only 18 per cent of the sector’s workforce and one obvious way we can bring in the needed skills is to increase the intake of capable women.
You will all be aware of disturbing accounts of the problems some women in the sector have faced.
I have been urging employers to improve conditions for women. This includes making sure workplaces are free of sexual harassment and sexual assault, which have no place in any workplace.
There are signs of cultural change occurring and the sector needs to continue on that path.
It is up to the industry to turn the poor perceptions around. It has the capacity to do so. Poor perceptions can be replaced by positive ones. I am keen to work with industry to help make this happen.
So how do we get that young person on TikTok to make the link between their new iPhone and the resources industry?
I think the resources industry needs to get more creative in how it connects with young people.
Perhaps you need to organise a national computer gaming competition?
Miners for Minecraft maybe?
I confess I have dabbled in Minecraft myself.
And anyone who plays Minecraft knows that before building your palace you first need to find some iron ore, build a furnace, then find some coal to smelt your iron ore to turn it into steel.
Surely we can turn the Minecraft crazed kids of today into the skilled staff the resources industry needs for tomorrow?
More seriously there is an immediate need to target the skills that are in demand such as mining engineers, electricians, plumbers and mechanics, but we must also plan for the future of work.
As the resources sector continues to develop and evolve, workers will require a new set of skills to meet industry needs, including through the transition to net zero emissions.
Jobs and Skills Summit
We will increasingly see digital technologies playing a role in how mines run, including through automation and remote mine operations.
Our nation is well placed to adapt to these new opportunities with Australia already being at the forefront of ongoing developments in minerals processing and mining equipment technology and services.
Even so, many more skilled people will be needed to meet the future requirements of the sector as Australia and the Indo-Pacific region transition to a net zero economy.
In August, I hosted jobs and skills roundtables with stakeholders in Brisbane, Perth, Kwinana and Karratha.
Key themes raised by participants at the roundtables, and shared at the National Jobs and Skills Summit in September, included the need for stronger industry links with the university sector.
The role of skilled migration in the mining industry was of course a major issue. Housing has also been identified as a key strategic and social issue across Western Australia.
The Jobs and Skill summit committed to more flexibly utilising $575 million in the National Housing Infrastructure Facility to invest in social and affordable housing, and attract financing from superannuation funds and other sources of private capital.
Importantly it also produced an agreement to increase the permanent Migration Program ceiling to allow for 195,000 migrants to help ease widespread, critical workforce shortages.
The clear message of the Jobs and Skills summit is that this Government is listening and is responding with working solutions.
Net zero and the importance of the resources sector
Australia has committed to reaching net zero by 2050, and cutting emissions by 43 per cent compared to 2005, by the end of this decade. This is an ambitious but achievable goal.
I thank the Chamber for its support of the Government’s emissions reduction and net zero targets.
But many people do not realise how important mining will be in the emissions reduction process.
For the world to achieve the global Paris goals, low emissions technologies will need to be adopted across all sectors of the world’s economies.
Critical minerals are the foundation for most, if not all, of these technologies, including electric vehicles, batteries, solar, hydrogen electrolysers and the computer processors we will need run more efficient engery networks.
Australia’s metallurgical coal, copper, iron ore and nickel are also crucial to the wires, batteries and magnets that power clean energy technologies.
Our challenge is to scale up supply of the minerals the world needs to make these technologies. That’s where the world-leading experience and expertise of this sector will play a prominent role.
The Australian resources sector is so huge that it is essential to the world’s clean energy transition.
Think about that for a moment. It is an extraordinary opportunity and a remarkable responsibility.
Our nation is endowed with an abundance of critical minerals. Australia produces about half the world’s lithium, is the third-largest producer of cobalt and the fourth-largest producer of rare earths.
The Government is working with our international partners, state and territory governments and industry to position Australia as a world leader in exploration, extraction, production and processing of critical minerals.
Australia can be a clean energy superpower, and unlocking the full potential of our critical minerals endowments is a core part of that.
This is among the most valuable contributions we can make to achieve the global Paris goals.
Developing our critical minerals will also drive domestic economic growth through creating regional jobs, building domestic industries and strengthening international partnerships.
The Government recently delivered $50 million in grants to accelerate six early and mid-stage critical minerals projects in regional and northern Australia.
In order to achieve our emissions reductions commitments, the Government will reform the existing Safeguard Mechanism to gradually and predictably reduce emissions limits.
Industry and the community will be consulted on these changes to ensure they are fair, efficient and effective.
The Government is building on the existing architecture of the Safeguard Mechanism, but working to get the settings right to drive down emissions while supporting industry competitiveness.
I will also work closely with resources workers and communities to identify opportunities in the challenging transformation to a decarbonised economy.
In partnership with the sector, emissions will be decreased predictably and gradually.
The Government will support industry, including the resources sector, to decarbonise, by establishing the Powering the Regions Fund, to keep Australian industry competitive in a changing global economy, and ensure our regions thrive.
Our $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund will support new and emerging industries to transition to net zero emissions to grow, advance and diversify Australia’s industrial base and create secure well-paid jobs for Australians.
The essential role of gas
Australian gas will be necessary to support global efforts to transition to a net zero world.
Natural gas and storage technologies are key to supporting the security and reliability of our electricity grid by firming up the increasing share of renewable generation in the National Electricity Market.
Australia’s gas will also help our trading partners meet their own decarbonisation goals as over coming decades, as they move from coal to increasing renewable generation. While we must decarbonise to meet the global challenge of arresting climate change, we cannot transition from fossil fuels overnight. Gas will remain an essential part of our energy mix and that of our region for some years to come.
Here in WA natural gas supplies more than half of the state’s primary energy needs and fuels about 60 per cent of the state’s electricity generation.
Western Australia and its offshore waters are home to LNG projects representing over $200 billion in investment.
Offshore gas projects supply the majority of the state’s domestic gas through places such as Varanus Island, Devil’s Creek, Macedon, the North West Shelf, and Gorgon.
The state currently has five operating LNG export projects including the North West Shelf, Pluto, Gorgon, Wheatstone, and Prelude.
Collectively in 2021, the total LNG export capacity was 50 million tonnes a year, which was approximately 56 per cent of Australia’s LNG exports and 12 per cent of global LNG exports.
Here is a statistic I never cease to be amazed by: If Western Australia was a country it would be the third largest LNG exporter in the world after Qatar and the United States.
The Scarborough project, including the construction of a second Pluto LNG train, will be an investment of almost $17 billion in Western Australia.
Scarborough and the Pluto Stage 2 train will maintain Australia’s reputation as a reliable energy supplier to our partners in Asia.
The continued operation of the existing Pluto LNG train will also supply gas to the WA domestic gas market, supporting energy security and jobs across Western Australia.
Apart from its export value and its essential role in the energy transition, an affordable and reliable supply of gas is vital to Australian manufacturing and employment.
Gas supplies will be needed to undertake the refining of critical minerals and rare earths that we want to see happen here in Australia. Gas will be part of the future of this important national effort.
And avoiding, reducing, and offsetting residual carbon emissions as we move through the energy transformation towards a net zero future, will be critical.
When carbon credits are required, they must be of a high quality. This is why the government initiated a review of Australia’s carbon credit units to ensure they are of the highest integrity. Industry also has a part to play by purchasing credits that do more than just the bare minimum of carbon abatement, such as enhance biodiversity or economically benefit First Nations communities.
Complementing carbon credits, the Albanese Labor Government will legislate a way of valuing nature to incentivise farmers and land managers to protect and restore our precious environment. The nature market will work in partnership with carbon credits.
The gas crisis on the east coast this year brought the need for reliable and affordable gas into sharp focus.
The Government has responded decisively. We recently signed a new Heads of Agreement with East Coast LNG Exporters to prevent a gas supply shortfall and ensure a significant increase in gas supplies that we expect will put downward pressure on prices.
The agreement will ensure continued access to secure and reliable gas and I was very pleased at the way east coast gas producers worked cooperatively with the Government.
As a result, I was satisfied I did not need to take steps to activate the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism, which we had formally extended to 2030.
The mechanism of course is an important measure of last resort which allows the Government, in the event of a predicted shortfall, to restrict exports to ensure enough gas is available for domestic use.
Western Australians know that ultimately, the best solution to the tight domestic and international gas markets is to boost supply and I will play my part in helping to make that happen.
Let me state very firmly that I expect gas companies to play a role in ensuring supply for the domestic market and in keeping downward pressure on prices.
I am committed to ensuring the future sustainability of Australia’s resources sector.
This government will continue to support resources development that stacks up environmentally, socially and economically.
Our resources are central to the global energy transformation required to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Australia is a long-term, reliable energy supplier and the Australian Government is committed to being a stable and secure destination for investment. And I want to see a resources sector that is a strong supporter of First Nations Australians.
Essential to this is continuing to provide local recruitment, training and education programs as well as dedicated procurement programs to maximize local supplier engagement.
The central importance of the sector to the Australian economy and our way of life has to be repeatedly emphasised.
The resources sector has a good story to tell but it is clearly not being told well enough to the wider public.
This industry needs to get much smarter about the way it tells its story to Australians. Particularly young Australians.
The central importance of the sector to the Australian economy and our way of life has to be repeatedly emphasised.
But the industry needs to find ways of explaining to Australians how it is improving their lives for the better.
And this includes explaining the role of the resources sector in achieving net zero.
I invite everyone here to consider ways in which we can get the message across. We may be aware of the realities, but others are not. We need to change negative perceptions.
We need as much public support as we can get to ensure that our resources sector attracts the necessary skills and talent and continues to bring great benefits to the nation and to the world.