Speech to the AFR Mining Summit


Thank you, Michael for the introduction.

I begin by acknowledging 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 and present.

I extend that respect to First Nations peoples present.

It’s always a pleasure for me as Resources Minister to be involved in a mining conference convened by the Australian Financial Review.

It’s very good to see representatives of the Fin Review in Western Australia - Australia’s powerhouse export state, as I saw Tory Maguire refer to it as the other day. 

I know the AFR is a very keen observer of goings on here in my home state. And that’s a very good thing. 

And there is certainly a lot to write about at the moment. 

Not least of course the $20 billion dollar plus investment the Albanese Government is making in our resources sector – the most significant investment in a generation. 

This investment will underpin Australia’s future economic prosperity. 

But I will get to that in a moment. 

I feel the Fin probably owes a great deal to the Wild West, as I know you like to refer to us in Rear Window. 

After all we have provided you with no end of copy over the many decades about our various entrepreneurs and business figures – from Robert Holmes a Court to Dallas Dempster through to Alan Bond. 

Where would the AFR have been without great Western Australian ventures like Rothwells, WA Inc, Poseidon or Anaconda?

Writing about colourless bankers and consultants in Sydney and Melbourne?  

You can only tap out so may pieces about your so-called Double Bay Jesus. And you can’t kick around Alan Joyce anymore. 

What a dull read the AFR would be without WA?

And I haven’t even mentioned the printing press.  

But more seriously.

From its first editions in the early 1950s and down the decades, the Fin has been a shrewd observer of Western Australia’s resources sector.

And importantly, the AFR has always been able to explain to the nation how happenings in the Pilbara, the Goldfields or the North West Shelf might have seismic implications for the whole nation. 

Or even our entire region. 

After Rio Tinto signed a deal to export the first Pilbara iron ore to Japanese steel mills in 1965, The Fin predicted[1] mining exports would overtake wool as Australia’s major foreign exchange earner within a decade. 

And they were right. 

Iron ore and iron ore concentrate dislodged wool as Australia principal export commodity in 1970.

This milestone in Australia’s economic development was achieved incredibly quickly when you think that the ban on iron ore exports imposed in 1938 on national security grounds was only lifted in 1960.

Michael wrote in 2021 that “It’s hard to imagine an Australia without a big mining and energy sector”.

I will talk a fair bit about critical minerals and rare earths today, our new resources sector and a companion to our traditional sector. 

Many people would have heard of the Wodgina mine in the Pilbara.  

One of the oldest mines in the state, it is now owned by one of the job creators under attack by the Opposition. 

These days, it produces lithium spodumene. 

But from 1905 to 1939 Wodgina a enjoyed a global monopoly on the production of tantalite and beryl. 

Both of these were critical or strategic minerals for the United States in the 1940s and they remain so today. 

The owner of the mine, an extraordinary woman, Dr Buller-Murphy – the inheritor of the Sir John Winthrop Hackett legacy - had sought international investment to extract these minerals for a long time, with little interest. 

But in the later years of the Second World War the United States sent urgent requests to Australia for as much tantalite and beryl as it could get because it needed them for the war effort.

Those minerals came from one mine – Wodgina. 

It seems unbelievable today, but this tantalite ore was air lifted and the beryl was shipped from the Pilbara to New York in 70 tonne lots in case it was attacked and sunk. 

Today, most thankfully, the Wodgina mine now extracts lithium for use in everyday applications like batteries in our phones and batteries for electric vehicles. 

The point is Australia’s critical minerals and rare earths remain just as important to the world today in 2024 as they were in the 1940s. 

Then, they were pivotal to our security – but now, they are as pivotal to our national security as they are to our future prosperity and to our efforts to fight climate change. 

But today there is an important difference – we want to ensure that we do more of the refining and processing of these valuable commodities here where they are found. 

Less air lifts, more uplifts – right here in a Future Made in Australia. 

Key messages

Iron ore, coal, gas, and oil have paid for our way of life for over sixty years. 

But we can’t sit back and do nothing as the world changes around us. 

Australia’s resource industry is being tested by increased competition and geostrategic challenges – as well as the imperative to decarbonise and support the global response to climate change. 

Access to processed critical minerals is vital to the development of renewable energy industries and to the security of this nation and to the security of our allies.  

But production is concentrated in a small number of countries outside Australia, making their supply vulnerable to trade disruption. 

Other countries are already moving to provide significant incentives, including tax incentives to attract investment to grow their industries of the future.

We must ensure the mining industry is properly prepared for those challenges ahead. 

We need our resources industry to be there to provide for future generations of Australians – just as it has provided for us. 

We must act now or the world will move on without us.

This is why this Government has placed the resources sector at the heart of its A Future Made in Australia plan. 

The Albanese Government backs Australia’s resources sector. 

A strong resources sector means highly paid and highly skilled jobs.

A strong resources sector means roads, schools, hospitals and security. 

And a strong resources sector means getting to net zero – and doing it in a way that seizes the immense economic and industrial opportunities of the net zero transformation.    

At Federal Budget last week Treasurer Jim Chalmers made the strength of our support for the resources sector very clear. 

We are investing in a 10 % Production Tax Incentive for all 31 critical minerals to support Australian critical minerals processing capacity. 

And we are backing our scientists to find more of those economy-making discoveries by providing funding to Geoscience Australia to the tune of $3.4 billion through the Resourcing Australia’s Prosperity program. 

Combined these measures are worth more than $20 billion. 

This Government is determined to back our critical minerals sector. 

We cannot build the batteries, solar panels and wind turbines we need to reach net zero without critical minerals. 

This support is recognition that our minerals do not always trade on a level playing field. 

Australia and its friends and partners need to ensure secure supplies of critical minerals. 

This is too important to fall by the wayside or to be left to the headwinds of global events. 

These two measures have the strong support of the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, the Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA, Wesfarmers, Lynas Rare Earths, Liontown, Ardea Resources, Australian Vanadium and Mineral Resources just to name a few. 

There’s a few Fin Review subscriptions right there I would suggest!

But quite bizarrely, Peter Dutton has decided to make a political issue of this. 

He’s discovered class warfare! Welfare for billionaires he’s calling it. 

This from the bloke whose entire party was once funded by Clive Palmer. Whose party supported Clive Palmer in his lawsuit against Western Australia and who he is now calling a rent seeker. 

And I seem to recall Rear Window breaking a story about Peter Dutton making a midnight dash to Perth amid the Dunkley by-election to wish a certain Perth-based iron ore billionaire happy birthday. 

The hypocrisy is as staggering as it is unbelievable. 

Mr Dutton and Angus Taylor are putting the worst kind of politics against the best interests of our nation. 

And today, Angus Taylor, the Liberals, are going to say Australia should let other countries to the heavy lifting on investment in critical minerals. 

Turns out – for the Liberals – Joe Hockey was wrong and today’s modern Liberals want us to be leaners not lifters. 

Their opposition is tone deaf to the work the Government is doing with the US administration to secure our critical mineral supply chains from disruption and manipulation. 

Our Compact on Critical Minerals is just one year old and the Government is making important progress with the US administration in the interest of both our nations. 

This Australian Government investment is a down payment on Australia taking responsibility to lead on critical minerals globally.

The Liberals’ decision to play politics on an important issue of sovereignty is mind boggling. 

Particularly from an Opposition leader who has made such a show of playing the hard man on national security. 

And we should be clear that supporting our critical minerals and rare earths industry is a matter of national security. 

The Liberals and the Nationals are ignoring the realities of thin markets and market domination in critical minerals. 

We are seeing an extraordinary level of wilful blindness from the alternative party of government towards the realities of the challenges facing the critical minerals industry. 

The development of the critical minerals industry should be bipartisan.

Indeed, it once was. Now we have a spectacular about face from the coalition, using class warfare to argue against policy to ensure the development of a critical minerals and rare earths industry that will secure the supply chains of Australia and our partners.

Quite frankly this position is anti-resources and anti-WA.   

As a party that does support the nation building resources sector, I’d like to return to some of those measures outlined to support our resources sector in last week’s Budget. 

I particularly want to highlight Resourcing Australia’s Prosperity.

This is big. 

$3.4 billion to Geoscience Australia for 35 years to map the entire continent to find out what is beneath our feet. 

A vast ambition fitting for a vast country. 

Geoscience Australia will map all of our natural resources, focusing on critical minerals, strategic materials and ground water, naturally occurring hydrogen or potential sites for hydrogen storage. 

This data will then be used resource companies to find future deposits of minerals to fire our economy and help get us to net zero. 

This funding support goes to the heart of the argument this Government is making about the future of our resources sector. 

Good policy backed by data and science, driving our resources sector to greater success. 

Pre competitive, public science and data to enable explorers to explore more, so we resource our prosperity for generations to come. 

A few other important items that we funded last week. 

We will provide $10.2 million to states and territories to progress feasibility studies for common user minerals processing facilities. 

We committed $5.8 million over three years to accelerate trade efforts to realise the premium of Australia’s critical minerals that are produced to high environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards.

And we are investing $1 million for a pilot program to strengthen the capabilities of Australia’s critical minerals sector to detect, prevent and mitigate foreign interference. 

Make no mistake, this is one of the most significant Budgets for our resources sector in many years and I am very proud of it. 

Other measures

The 2024 Budget was not the start of this Government’s support for critical minerals. 

Since 2022, we have implemented a long list of initiatives to strengthen our critical minerals industry.

The Critical Minerals Strategy set out a vision to 2030 to grow the geostrategic and economic footprint of our critical minerals sector.    

We’ve updated the Critical Minerals List and created a list of Strategic Materials to align with Australia’s national interests and economic development.

We have added nickel to our critical minerals list so miners can access financing for projects aligned with the Critical Minerals Strategy – giving projects access to billions of dollars in Government support. 

In February, we unveiled our Critical Minerals prospectus showcasing 52 investment ready projects.

We have made significant new investments in the Critical Minerals Facility and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

Investments which are already helping de-risk projects and attract investment.

This support will build sovereign capability in minerals processing and help kickstart a domestic battery manufacturing industry.

We’ve made significant progress in the past two years, but there’s more to be done.

None of it could happen without the industry itself and those that work in it. 

The Future Made in Australia initiative will operate as a master plan to co-ordinate development and investment across the critical minerals sector and other industries that will be vital to our net zero future.

Attracting Investment and building international partnerships

If I could speak more about investment. 

Australia’s resources industry would be nothing without foreign investment. 

Just as foreign investment helped us build our iron ore and LNG industries, foreign investment will support the growth of our critical minerals and rare earths industries. 

The Australia-Japan Critical Minerals Partnership I signed in October 2022 is helping establish a framework for building secure critical mineral supply chains between our two countries.

The partnerships we have forged with the Republic of Korea and India as they accelerate their transition to renewables are progressing well.

We’re also shoring up supply chains with the United States and working closely with them on the green energy transition.

Since President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) into law in August 2022, more than $5 billion of US investment has flowed into the critical minerals sector.

The Australia-US Climate, Critical Minerals, and Clean Energy Transformation Compact signed in 2023 will help us capitalise further on opportunities arising from the IRA.

And if I could I’d like to thank US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Base Policy Dr Laura D. Taylor-Kale, who I met with in Canberra last week and who has been instrumental in driving this work. 

To conclude, Aussies are renowned for combining pragmatism with a positive outlook on life. 

That’s especially so of the people in our resource industries.

I share their self-belief and confidence in the quality of our resources and our ability to supply them to the world – securely, sustainably, and profitably. 

The US and our other strategic and economic partners understand this implicitly and are eager to cooperate with us.

With a clear vision, collaboration, and co-operation between domestic and international stakeholders, I am confident we can lock in further success for the critical minerals and rare earths industries.

Thank you.