Speech to the Africa Down Under Conference
I begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on, the Whadjuk Nyoongar people.
I wish to acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region.
I extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the audience today.
You will of course be aware that very soon Australians will be asked to support a change to the Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and to give them a say on matters that affect them.
And our nation will be lifted up when Australia votes Yes for recognition, listening and a better future for the people who have called our continent home for 65,000 years.
I would urge you all to get behind the Yes campaign.
And when you go from this place, please encourage your friends, families and work colleagues to support the Yes vote.
Let’s get this done.
I extend a warm welcome to our distinguished guests, including President of the Republic of Botswana His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi as well as my ministerial counterparts from across Africa and the delegations who have travelled a long way to be here today.
Can I also acknowledge my parliamentary colleague, Australia’s Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs the Hon Tim Watts MP.
Welcome to Perth and to the great state of Western Australia.
And thank you to Paydirt Media for the invitation to speak at Africa Down Under.
I would like to congratulate Africa Down Under on its 20-year anniversary, with this conference marking the 21st iteration since it started 2003.
Can I acknowledge in particular Bill Repard, who has been the force behind this conference for many years. He has also been a significant figure in resource industry media for many decades, keeping us informed and entertained.
This is truly a significant milestone.
As a proud Western Australian, I am absolutely delighted this event is again taking place in this magnificent city.
Perth and other parts of Western Australia have long been popular locations for ex-pats from nations such as South Africa and Zimbabwe to build their new lives, explore opportunities and make valued contributions to the state – and the nation.
Across Australia, around 400,000 people can boast an African heritage. And they are making a substantial contribution to Australia’s social and economic wellbeing.
Indeed, my ministerial colleague Dr Anne Aly, the member for the Western Australian seat of Cowan, was born in Egypt.
And as a Fremantle supporter, I must mention the magnificent Michael Frederick, who is rightfully very proud of his African heritage.
We share other things in common with many of our friends from African nations.
Resources play such critical roles in our respective economies – and in the close economic ties many of us share.
Australian investment in Africa is significant, particularly in the resources sector.
State of the Australian sector
I am proud to oversee Australia’s resources portfolio.
The resources sector has moulded Australia’s past, is a powerful force today, and will shape our future.
Events of recent years have challenged the sector, but it’s remained strong and will continue to flourish.
The sector generated a record $460 billion in commodity exports last financial year, accounting for more than two thirds of total merchandise exports.
The sector directly employs more than a quarter of a million Australians and contributes approximately 13.6 per cent of Australia’s GDP and the global demand for our resources is projected to grow at a steady rate over the coming decades.
Clean energy opportunities
The road to net zero runs through the resources sector.
Without the critical minerals - without the iron ore - without the copper - without the gas to process all these materials, there is no net zero.
The World Bank estimates over 3 billion tons of minerals and metals will be required in order to produce the renewable technologies necessary for the global net zero transition.
The clean energy transition is expected to drive an exponential growth in demand for critical minerals and key minerals in pursuit of a net zero goal.
Australia and African countries can both benefit from the global trend of supporting a low-carbon and resource-efficient sector to meet our climate and environmental objectives, while being socially inclusive.
Australia is currently the largest producer of lithium, with Western Australia alone accounting for 50 per cent of global lithium extraction. Australia is also the world’s largest bauxite producer and the second largest producer of alumina.
Much like Australia, African nations are abundant in the natural resources required to produce critical, clean energy technologies.
Fifty per cent of global cobalt reserves are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 30 per cent of manganese in South Africa, over 12 per cent of the world’s graphite is found in Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania.
This presents great opportunities for us to work together across international borders.
It’s already happening.
An example, because I know they’re represented at this conference, is Australian company Ionic Rare Earths.
Ionic Rare Earths operates in Uganda and develops rare earths from ionic clay projects.
The company is focused on developing its flagship Makuutu Rare Earths project to become a significant supplier of critical and heavy rare earths to support the global green energy transition.
The Australian Government wants Australia to be a renewable energy superpower, and a major exporter of clean energy and products.
This will add more value to our commodity exports and grow our domestic manufacturing sector.
We are ready to capture the opportunities the transition presents for clean energy commodities like copper, nickel, and lithium.
We also boast significant reserves of the critical minerals, energy transition minerals and resources more broadly that are used to manufacture products such as electric vehicles, mobile phones, and renewable energy systems.
International demand for Australia’s lithium, rare earths, manganese, cobalt, and the other minerals crucial for clean energy technologies, remains strong.
To be competitive in this global environment and to successfully capture downstream processing opportunities – we need to do more.
On 20 June, the government announced the new Critical Minerals Strategy.
It sets out the government’s plans to grow Australia’s critical minerals industry and maximise opportunities presented by our endowment of critical minerals.
Australia's Strategy recognised the role critical minerals will play in net zero and decarbonising economies across the world. Africa, like Australia, with its minerals endowment, will play a key role in this endeavour.
And when it comes to sharing ideas and perspectives, it is worth emphasising areas where we as a nation can add real value – one that springs to mind is environmental, social and governance standards, or ESG.
Sustainable and responsible progress towards net zero – for any nation on any continent – will only be possible if our extractive industries are underpinned by a commitment to the highest ESG standards.
And we are wholeheartedly committed to supporting the highest standards possible.
It’s not only about contributing to the global net zero ambition and economic growth, it’s also about delivering benefits to communities, culture, and the environment.
Again, this is an area where Australia can work with our counterparts in Africa.
The Australian Government knows how important it is to invest in the skills of people and in the capacity of institutions.
Building capacity in the mining sector in Africa is a focus for Australia. We want to support governments in Africa to deliver responsible, accountable and effective mining governance.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade plans to run an Australia Awards short course on mining governance later in the year.
Australia also wants to make sure more women can access these capacity-building initiatives, and to eventually take up more of the senior roles in mining.
And I think at this point it’s worth mentioning the now discontinued International Mining for Development Centre, run in partnership with the University of Western Australia and The University of Queensland, which did good work in supporting African nations in improving their systems of industry governance and mechanisms to support environmental sustainability.
It was a great program and has left a lasting, positive impact.
Australian companies have a wealth of ESG expertise, but we can also add value in a range of other supporting functions.
The mining equipment, technology, and services (METS) sector is a prime example.
The METS sector is crucial to the evolution of mining around the globe as operators, including those in African countries, look to extend mine life and control costs.
Many Australian mining and METS companies have been active across Africa for decades.
The opportunity for mutual growth in the Australia-Africa economic partnerships in METS as well as other sectors is enormous.
Australia’s METS sector is one of the most innovative in the world, contributing approximately $90 billion Australian dollars annually to the economy with yearly exports of at least $27 billion dollars.
Companies can capitalise on our track record in innovation, driven by the need to improve operations or reduce costs in a remote operating environment.
The services Australian METS companies offer to the global marketplace are incredibly diverse.
From remote asset management to big data analytics, machine learning applications and environmental monitoring services, these companies have established an impressive footprint across the globe – including in Africa.
Exploring more opportunities
Australia is also immensely proud of its role as a world leader in minerals exploration.
Exploration is key to unlocking and accelerating resource development at the scale and pace needed.
The investments we have made in Geoscience Australia and the Australian Space Agency are allowing advancements like airborne imaging to map the location of resources and mineral deposits.
Opportunities exist to use similar methods to map deposits across vast continents like Australia and Africa.
Space based data, for instance, could be used to potentially find a wide range of minerals, water sources, sources of greenhouse emissions, improving the productivity of mines by logistics planning and other untapped uses.
One program, Digital Earth Africa – funded by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Australian Government – is based on Geoscience Australia’s Digital Earth Australia program.
It is built on technology that Geoscience Australia created, and continues to use through the Digital Earth Australia program, to come up with a raft of solutions to geological issues.
Geoscience Australia reached the establishment phase of Digital Earth Africa in 2021, with the South African National Space Agency appointed to host the Program Management Office going forward.
From monitoring changes to the coastline to tracking the location and extent of waterbodies across our continent, the program had already been used by scientists to tackle pressing issues of sustainability and conservation by effective regulation of mining activities.
Thank you again for participating in this year’s Africa Down Under conference.
The conference is an opportunity to emphasise how important the mining and resources sector is to Australia, and places the spotlight on the resources and mining issues that we have in common with many nations in Africa.
Australia recognises the important role African countries play in world affairs and is committed to strengthening and expanding its partnerships within the region.
The role our respective mining and resources sectors can play in the transition to net zero is only going to help bring us closer as partners and collaborators.
The future for both our continents is brimming with potential – let’s make the most of it.