Speech to CEDA - The future of Australia's resources sector and Northern Australia
I would like to begin by acknowledging the Turrbal and Jagera people – the traditional custodians of the lands we are meeting on today.
I want to pay my respects to their elders past, present, and emerging.
I extend that respect to any First Nations People in the audience today.
How wonderful it is to be back in Brisbane. With your great weather and strong resources sector it really is like a second home for a Western Australian.
Thank you to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia for inviting me to speak today about the future of Australia’s resources sector and this Government’s plans for investing in and further developing Northern Australia.
Thank you Clint for that very kind introduction. If I could also acknowledge CEDA Chief Executive, Melinda Cilento, who will lead the Q and A in short while.
And thanks also to Rio Tinto for sponsoring today’s event.
I’m privileged to have ministerial responsibility for both Northern Australia and our resources sector as Minister for Resources.
These two roles go hand in hand. Both are tremendous drivers of our economy and underwrite our prosperity.
It’s a fact that is often lost on many Australians.
Though perhaps not on Western Australians and Queenslanders!
As I say, I feel very much at home in Queensland.
The 1850s gold rushes changed Australia – fundamentally and for the better.
Between 1850 and 1880, our population doubled.
At that time, most Australians enjoyed the highest – or close to the highest – standard of living in the world.
The political impacts of the gold rushes were significant too.
The miners’ rebellion at Eureka Stockade in 1854 was a fundamental step towards true representative democracy in Australia.
And without the vast numbers of Victorians that migrated across the country to prosper in the Kalgoorlie Goldfields in the 1890s, Western Australia might not have joined the Federation.
My great great grandfather Eli Pizer was among those Victorians seeking opportunity in the WA goldrush in one of the many parts of the services sector that supported the mining industry then, and now: the taxi industry.
The refining and manufacturing processes developed at Mount Isa and Broken Hill were the foundation for Australia’s rapid industrialisation during and after World War II.
Since the 1960s, Australia has been further enriched by the discovery and development of our iron ore, coal, and gas reserves.
To paraphrase historians Geoffrey Blainey and David Lee, it’s the rush that never ended.
Australia’s resources sector posted record export earnings of $422 billion in 2021-22.
That’s 70 per cent of the total value of our exports.
In my home state of WA, some 4 per cent of Australia’s GDP was exported out of Port Hedland alone. Here in Queensland, coal, gas and mineral producers contributed $94.6 billion to the state economy including $9 billion in royalties.
This financial year, I am proud to say our resource and energy export earnings are forecast to top $464 billion.
Much of the future growth in the resources sector will be in Northern Australia. A potential pipeline of 174 major resource projects has been identified in Northern Australia with a total estimated value of $320-400 billion.
Last month, I delivered a Resources Statement to Parliament and outlined my vision for a strong, responsible and future-focused sector.
As I said in my Statement, there are big challenges shaping the world. Among the largest being international efforts to combat global warming.
We will need a sector that can build a pipeline of new projects through exploration, leverages Australia’s world-leading scientists and mining equipment and technology sector and attracts the next generation of mining workers.
But we will also need a sector that is actively investing in building and sustaining its social license with our communities.
Genuine partnerships with First Nations’ peoples
This is particularly relevant when it comes to our First Nations people.
As I said in my Statement to Parliament last month, I want to see genuine partnerships between the sector and First Nations people.
Our First Nations people are entitled to expect Australia’s resources sector will invest in local communities and stand up for the things that matter to them.
We should respect and celebrate the fact that we share this land with the oldest continuous culture on Earth.
And it’s this respect that underpins genuine partnership.
Before the end of the year, we will have a once in a generation opportunity to recognise First Nations people in the Constitution in a meaningful way.
This constitutional amendment is about recognising and listening.
The resources sector knows the value of collaborating and listening better than anyone.
That’s what the Voice is about. It will be a way for Indigenous communities in remote and regional Australia to have their voices heard in Canberra.
Because we know the best solutions to challenges come from the grassroots. By listening to people, not bureaucrats. Listening to people and communities with local knowledge so we can make better policies that make a practical difference.
I welcome the fact that resources companies such as BHP, RioTinto and Woodside as well as the Minerals Council of Australia have given their support to the yes campaign.
The history of the resources sector and First Nations peoples has not always been a happy one. Supporting this change is one small way the resources sector can help heal past injustices.
Decarbonisation and net zero opportunities
Global efforts to reduce emissions presents Australia and Northern Australia with tremendous opportunities.
As I have said repeatedly, the road to net zero runs through the resources sector.
So too we might say, that same road runs through Northern Australia.
We’re already a reliable, efficient supplier of energy to the world. Many of these commodities are produced here in Queensland.
Traditional commodities like iron ore will be crucial to the transition.
Gas will remain crucial for some time in the extraction, concentration and processing of critical minerals and rare earth elements.
Australia will continue to support our regional neighbours as a stable and reliable partner in ensuring their energy security and supporting their path to decarbonisation.
Investment, including from overseas, will be needed to develop new projects.
Without question, one of the most important contributions the resources sector will make to climate mitigation, global security, and Australia’s national prosperity and sustainability will be to unlock our vast potential as a supplier of critical minerals and rare-earth elements.
Northern Australia stands to benefit from this next wave of resources investment. It has some of the world’s richest deposits of minerals on the planet, including critical minerals.
We can be the same go-to producer of the critical minerals needed for clean energy components.
It’s an opportunity the Australian Government intends to seize with both hands.
To fully realise the sector’s potential, I will soon release a new Critical Minerals Strategy.
This updated strategy will help grow our sector – including here in Northern Australia – and reflect the important role our critical minerals can play in helping Australia and international partners achieve their net zero targets.
New mines are being planned off the back of the Government’s $225 million Exploring for the Future initiative that’s providing new data on resource potential in unexplored or underexplored areas of the country.
Existing mines are being expanded.
One of these is the Pilgangoora Project, near Port Hedland, where Pilbara Minerals produces spodumene concentrate used to manufacture lithium-ion batteries.
The Australian Government has committed up to $250 million in loans to Pilbara Minerals to allow it to expand operations at Pilgangoora.
The expansion will help Pilbara Minerals become a major world supplier of lithium raw materials.
It will also give Pilbara Minerals a growing presence in the value-added lithium market – adding to our battery manufacturing capabilities.
To accelerate a pipeline of promising critical minerals projects, the Government has committed $100 million through the Critical Minerals Development Program.
This program provides co-funded grants supporting early and mid-stage projects to overcome technical and market barriers.
In September 2022, I announced $49.7 million in funding for six successful projects, including three from Queensland:
One of these, Lava Blue, will receive up to $5.24 million to develop modular re-processing technology to recover high-purity alumina, magnesium, and other critical minerals from vanadium mine waste.
The National Reconstruction Fund, which passed through Parliament on 29 March, includes $1 billion earmarked for value adding in resources, which will expand Australia’s mining science technology capability and ensure a greater share of raw materials are processed in Australia.
The Government is playing its part by positioning Australia to seize the opportunities of a net zero future.
But the resources sector will also need to play its part in Australia’s own net zero pathway and ensuring we can meet our national climate goals.
Almost 70 per cent of the resources companies covered by the safeguard mechanism have committed to net zero, and, in fact, many did so well before the Commonwealth government.
Many Australian resource projects are already at the leading edge globally in deploying renewables, electrification, methane abatement technologies and carbon capture and storage.
While it is up to companies to make the investments needed to take these technologies forward, the government will also play a role.
Through the Safeguard Mechanism reforms, we’ve provided the resources sector with the certainty it needs to invest in technologies and decarbonise its operations.
Diversification and Northern Australia
As Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, I am committed to developing the region’s economic potential.
The Government wants to lift and diversify Northern Australia’s economy.
I will deliver a refreshed Developing Northern Australia White Paper in collaboration with my colleague the Hon Glenn Butcher, Queensland Minister for Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water, as well as our Western Australia and Northern Territory counterparts.
Investment in the breadth of opportunities across Northern Australia will be critical. From clean energy to agribusiness, defence to space, there are opportunities for the region and its communities.
The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility is the centrepiece of our agenda to accelerate economic and population growth across the north, which this Government has committed to increase from $5 billion to $7 billion.
Since 2016, the NAIF has backed 15 resources projects in Northern Australia with a total loan value of over $2 billion.
These NAIF-supported resources projects have a combined total capital value of $11.9 billion and are creating over $24 billion in economic benefit.
This year for example I announced that the NAIF would provide $66 million to support the Mount Morgan mine site rehabilitation project in Central Queensland, a project that will create 400 jobs.
Our Northern Australia Development Program supports small to medium enterprises like Townsville’s Wulguru Steel.
Wulguru Steel received $10 million to increase fabrication capacity; new capacity which supports resources and other freight dependent industries.
With its up-stream capabilities and competitive advantages in vanadium and other critical minerals, Queensland is well placed to create a battery industry.
The Australian Government is also partnering with the Queensland Government to create a battery precinct in Townsville.
We’re backing this partnership with a $100 million equity injection with the aim of diversifying the region’s economy and creating high-paying sustainable jobs.
Northern Australia is already a resources powerhouse and with the policies this Government is putting in place it can become an economic powerhouse as well.
Together, we can create an environment for businesses to profitably invest and communities to flourish.
Much of the history of this nation has been written in Northern Australia.
If we want future vision of the prosperous and positive future that lies ahead, we should be looking north once again.