Speech to the AusIMM Critical Minerals Conference, Perth

Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre

Thank you Stephen. (Stephen Durkin – CEO of AusIMM.)  

I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which this event is taking place, the Whadjuk Nyoongar people, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present. 

The resources sector is the largest employer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so forums like this are of great relevance to first nations people. 

I extend my deep thanks to all those involved in organising and participating in this conference.

This includes Stephen Durkin, CEO of AusIMM, conference chair Stephen Grocott of Queensland Pacific Metals, Marnie Finlayson of Rio Tinto and Rebecca Tomkinson, CEO of the Chamber of Minerals & Energy of Western Australia. 

Hello all and thank you for the opportunity to speak today during the 130th anniversary year of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

It is a pleasure to officially open AusIMM’s inaugural Critical Minerals Conference.

You have a very impressive list of speakers over the next two days, including WA Minister for Mines, and Energy, the Hon Bill Johnston. Minister Johnston is a great advocate for the industry on the national and world stage. 

When I was going through the conference program I noticed that your keynote speaker tomorrow is not the head of a mining or resources company, but Tesla’s business development manager, Dev Tayal. 

I am very much looking forward to what he has to say. 

Tesla has become the most tangible artefact of this exciting energy revolution currently taking place around the world. 

Everybody wants one. And why wouldn’t you? 

They’re fast and well designed. And anyone driving past a petrol station at the moment in a Tesla must feel pretty happy with their choice. 

But while they are hugely popular – particularly among people younger and cooler than me – not many seem to be aware of the massive industrial shift that needs to be made to bring more of these electrical marvels to our roads. 

As clean technologies become more sought after, global demand for critical minerals and rare earths will continue to expand.

Global electric car sales increased by sixty per cent in 2022, exceeding ten million units. 

Energy storage systems experienced even more rapid growth around the world, with capacity additions doubling in 2022. 

Solar PV installations continue to shatter previous records, and wind power is set to resume its upward march after two subdued years.

From 2017 to 2022, demand from the energy sector was the main factor behind a tripling in overall demand for lithium, a 70% jump in demand for cobalt, and a 40% rise in demand for nickel. 

This trend will put stresses on supply. 

The International Energy Agency projects that global supply from existing mines and projects under construction will not be enough to meet demand.

It will only meet half the world’s projected demand for lithium and cobalt, and 80 per cent of copper by 2030. 

This means that there is a need for more exploration and more mining.

Australia is in the box seat to meet this demand. 

We have all the basic mineral elements needed for these batteries right here in Australia. In fact, we are lucky to have most of it is here in Western Australia – the world’s geological Lego box of minerals and elements. 

To achieve our targets we need to ensure we have a workforce with the skills needed to meet the challenge. 

Let me be clear, the global clean energy transition will need more mining, not less. 

And if we are to mine more we will need of our young people to look to a career in mining. 

The resources sector employs about 300,000 Australians directly. And countless more Australians indirectly. 

I am acutely conscious we need many more workers to operate existing mines and to build the pipeline of planned resources projects.

The availability of skilled expertise is one of the sector’s greatest challenges.

The Albanese Government is doing the work to help deliver the workforce for the resource sector of the future. 

We have commitment to create 1.2 million tech-related jobs by 2030.  To do this we are funding 465,000 Fee Free TAFE places across the country. 

The Government is delivering up to 20,000 new university places – targeted at academic streams that will directly benefit the resources sector.

The Universities Accord process, being led by my friend, Education Minister Jason Clare, is also looking at how we can set our higher education system up for the next decade and beyond, including how vocational education and universities can better work together and how we can ensure we are producing the skilled workers we will need in the future. 

We have already established Jobs and Skills Australia to provide up to date data such as contained in the Jobs and Skills Atlas which is under continuing development. This work can properly guide policy makers to forecast and respond strategically to skills demand pressures.

And we are working across the trade, industry and Home Affairs portfolios to attract the investment, skilled labour and talent we need for the tech sector to thrive.

But to get more skilled workers, the resources sector and governments must work together to do more to improve its public image.

The sector has a great story to tell.

But many young people see the mining and resources sector as damaging to the environment, and do not see the end role for the use of these mined resources in fighting climate change. 

Indicators are that knowledge of mining careers among secondary school and university students is extremely low.

Students are also often likely to have a negative view of mining in general, despite all the benefits it brings them, including through their mobile phones.

There is an of irony of playing Minecraft on an iPad, while lacking the understanding that it was actual mining in real life that took place to build the device and the energy needed to re-charge it. 

There is a lack of understanding that the modern mining industry is high-tech and environmentally sustainable, particularly in Western Australia, which leads the nation in the application of advanced mining technology. 

Modern mining involves technologies like virtual reality, drones, and data analysis.

Technology has greatly improved workforce conditions, with a strong emphasis on safety.

Remote-operated mines like BHP’s Jimblebar and Newman East iron ore mines in the Pilbara are world leaders and excellent examples of this.

Perceptions about the types of jobs available also need to change to attract more young people.

The resources sector not only needs geologists, chemists, metallurgists and engineers, but robotics and automation specialists, mechanics, anthropologists – in fact the resources industry needs just about every occupation you might imagine. 

It is also essential that we increase women’s workforce participation in the resources sector, not only because it is the right thing to do, but to meet skills shortages. 

The choice should be easier for women to have careers in mining, technology, science and renewables.

Leadership by the resources sector in equality, sustainability and governance is vital for the resources industry to create better workplaces and attract new talent.

This also means ensuring the health and safety of all workers in the resources and critical minerals sector.

The critical minerals pathway

While the Government has a plan to provide the skills for the critical minerals boom, it is also working on the policy and international partnerships to achieve success.

There is a strong global awareness of Australia’s abundance in critical minerals and rare earths.

Barely a week passes in which I am not meeting with a partner nation seeking access to our critical minerals. 

Last month the Prime Minister and I were in Washington where we met with US President Joe Biden and other leaders to advance talks on American investment in our critical minerals industry and to ensure Australia benefits from the hundreds of billions of dollars in funding under America’s Inflation Reduction Act.

We announced the doubling of funding available through the Critical Minerals Facility to $4 billion – bringing the total in government support for the sector to almost $5.5 billion.

This includes $500 million of Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility funding, and I see the NAIF CEO Craig Doyle is here to discuss these important opportunities.

Just a few weeks before I travelled to the United Kingdom and Europe where I met with leaders there all seeking new supply chains to our critical minerals. 

This government has expanded international critical minerals partnerships with Japan, the Republic of Korea, India, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. 

Australia has a great opportunity, we are also involved in a competition.

We have to be a reliable, stable and environmentally responsible supplier of critical minerals to international customers. 

If the whole point of this energy revolution is to green our energy networks and take care of the planet, how we produce these minerals matters. 

We have to have an edge on competitors.

Remarkably, we have three advantages;

  • First, our unique geology. Nothing can change that. 
  • Second, we have the remarkable resources sector of this nation, which is well established and experienced. 
  • And third, thanks to our world leading ESG standards we can rightly market our minerals as being greener and cleaner. 

Aussie Green and Gold standard critical minerals. 

To ensure we can meet all of these objectives I released a new Critical Minerals Strategy in June.

It sets out a vision to grow our critical minerals industry, develop downstream industries, strengthen global supply chains, and contribute to global efforts to achieve net zero.

The Government has set about creating a new critical minerals list, which will ensure supports are better targeted. 

We are also backing exploration to find those badly needed new supplies of critical minerals and rare earths.

Geoscience Australia considers that 80 per cent of Australia is “under-explored”, meaning there are likely abundant opportunities for new mineral discoveries.

Our world-class scientists and geologists are opening new geological frontiers and developing a pipeline of exciting new mining projects.

It has to be remembered that critical minerals alone are not enough to meet the requirements of decarbonising technologies.

They need to be combined with traditional resources like nickel and copper to produce the products we need.

Demand for these commodities is also increasing. For example, Australia’s export earnings from nickel rose to approximately $5 billion in 2022-23. 

And Australia will remain a reliable supplier of coal and gas while also supporting the economic development and decarbonisation commitments of our trading partners. 

Australia’s iron ore and metallurgical coal will still be needed to make the steel used to deliver the renewable energy sources of solar, tidal, geothermal and wind.   

Our bauxite and iron ore will be needed for the aluminium and steel required to build the electric vehicles, factories and infrastructure of a decarbonised global economy.

And critical minerals in WA cannot be processed at scale without gas. 


The Australian Government has pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and a 43 per cent reduction in emissions on 2005 levels by 2030. 

The extraction and processing of Australia’s critical minerals will play a central role in reaching that net zero target and helping the world to decarbonise.

Traditional commodities will also be needed in this process. 

The road to net zero runs through the Australian resources sector. 

But none of this will be possible if we do not have the skilled workforce to discover, mine, process and market these materials. 

We have to do more to ensure Australians understand the economic, social and environmental benefits that flow from the resources industry.

And we must help young Australians understand how a career in the resources industry can be personally rewarding and a practical way in which they can contribute to the fight against climate change. 

Thank you.