Speech to the Hunter Valley mining leaders

Singleton NSW

Thank you to our MC Danny Eather for your kind introduction.

It is wonderful to be back here in the Hunter and to have the opportunity to take part in the Mining Leaders Lunch discussions.

I would like to begin by acknowledging that we are meeting on the traditional Country of the Wonnarua people, and thank Uncle Warren for his welcome to country.

I pay my respect to Elders past and present and emerging.

I recognise and respect their cultural heritage, beliefs and relationship with the land.

I also extend that respect to other First Nations people present today.

Along with the Worimi to the north and the Awabakal to the south, the Wonnarua developed a trading route connecting what is now known as the Hunter Valley to Sydney Harbour.

I acknowledge this rich history and its legacy. I firmly believe we all continue to benefit from the wealth that trade brings to this region.

Today, the mining sector and its global exports continue to provide opportunities for Australia’s First Nation’s peoples, and I’m delighted to be alongside the founder of Blackrock Industries, Steven Fordham, to learn more about the work they do here in the Hunter and more broadly.

I’d also like to acknowledge:

Member for Hunter - Daniel Repacholi MP

Member for Upper Hunter in the NSW State Parliament - David Layzell MP 

Speaker Stephen Galilee – CEO NSW Minerals Council

Singleton Mayor – Councillor Sue Moore

Muswellbrook Mayor - Councillor Steven Reynolds

Uncle Warren Taggart

Singleton Council General Manager - Jason Linnane

Muswellbrook Council Acting General Manager - Derek Finnigan

Former Member for Hunter- Joel Fitzgibbon

And Robin Williams President of the Hunter branch of the Mining Energy Union.

I’m so glad to be back in the Hunter Valley, the heart of Australian coal-mining country.

As a few of you may know, I was on the road from Canberra to Cessnock in September to speak at the Cessnock Miners Memorial. Unfortunately, however, the Queen passed away and I was required back in Canberra for the Executive Council to proclaim the King.

I would like to thank my good friend and Member for Paterson, Meryl Swanson for delivering that speech on my behalf and thank everyone involved for being so understanding under the circumstances.

Now, we all know the importance of mining and resources to this nation – and to the Hunter Valley.

The coal mining industry here in the Hunter, and across the nation, has played a pivotal role in our economic development and our ongoing economic wellbeing.

The sector is central to the story of our economic past, our present, and our future, as we work to achieve our net-zero commitments.

It provides jobs, energy security and royalties and makes an essential economic contribution to many regional areas, enabling new investment in roads, hospitals and schools.

It also plays a significant role in ensuring energy security across our region, ensuring industry and development can continue in the countries who rely on our resources for their economic wellbeing.

The sector’s impact on the Hunter Valley has been immense, and its workforce ensures regions like this one thrive.

Coal was first discovered in the region by Lieutenant John Shortland, who named the Hunter River and made the first chart of the harbour and the future site of the city of Newcastle in 1797.

Shortland had been despatched to find a group of escaped convicts. He didn’t find the convicts, but he did collect coal samples and confirmed the presence of significant coal deposits.

He wrote to his father that he though the coal discovery would prove “a great acquisition to the settlement”. 

Coal mining with convict labour was soon underway.

Indeed, coal was Australia’s first commodity export when a shipment left Newcastle for India in 1799.

Today, some 200-plus years later, and Newcastle is the world’s largest coal export port, with shipments going to markets across Asia.

Many of the towns and cities in the greater Hunter owe their foundations to the coal industry. It has shaped the growth of local industries, communities and economies.

It was not until I went for a long walk around where the Member for Paterson lives in Maitland that I learned just how prolific coal is in this region. It can literally be kicked up in the sandbank alongside a creek.

Clearly to mine the best quality coal requires much more effort than Meryl and I kicking about some sand on our leisurely walk, but it’s sheer abundance in the region reminds us of its place in the community and of how and why coal has been so central to the development of NSW, and therefore the nation.

The latest figures also demonstrate the ongoing importance of the sector to the Hunter Valley and to the wider Australian economy.

The region today is home to 35 coal mines, which make up the large majority of NSW’s 15,000 coal mining jobs. Mining accounts for around 17 per cent of the region’s salary and wages.  And that is without accounting for the indirect jobs created as a result of mining in the Hunter.

Hunter Valley mines predominantly produce high-quality thermal coal and a smaller amount of metallurgical coal.

And it is worth noting that most of the production is exported – some 94 per cent.

The movement of coal is highly technical. The Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator oversees transport of the world’s largest and most complex coal supply chain – it is remarkable and impressive operation.

I had the opportunity to visit the Coal Chain Coordinator while in opposition and learned a great deal.

Through a vast network extending over 450 kilometres of mines, rail track, trains, terminals and vessels, the coal chain links Hunter Valley mines to consumers throughout Asia, while navigating towns and villages along the way.

Each year the coal chain manages more than 20,000 train trips and loads around 2000 vessels - or an average of 54 trains and five vessels every day.

The Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator is tasked with efficiently synchronising all these constantly moving and changing parts of the chain to deliver the contracted coal on time.  

Adding factors such as short lead times, mine disruptions impacting supply, track, train and terminal maintenance, ocean swell preventing vessel movements and weather events frequently disrupting other parts of this vast network – it is quite an incredible feat!

The Coordinator demonstrates the complexity of the industry, that I think many are unaware of.

Across Australia, the coal industry exported over 350 million tonnes in the last financial year, worth more than $100 billion.

This is only the second export commodity after iron ore to reach the $100 billion dollar export milestone.

Australia’s coal, oil and gas sectors play a crucial role in providing jobs, energy security and contributing economically to many regional areas of Australia.

In the 2021 financial year, Australia’s coal industry accounted for around 51,000 direct jobs, of which many were located in regional areas of New South Wales and Queensland.

The industry also paid over $10 billion in royalties to state governments in the 2021-22 financial year, which helps pay for essential state services like schools, police and hospitals.

Australian coal also supports our trading partners to sustain their energy and development needs.

In 2021, Australia exported 167 million tonnes of metallurgical coal and 199 million tonnes of thermal coal, which represented around 55 per cent and 21 per cent of global exports respectively.

Major export destinations included India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. In 2021, Australia provided approximately 52 per cent of these markets’ total coal imports.

There is no doubt the events of recent years have been challenging for coal and the wider resources sector.

But Australia has made it through the turbulence of the COVID pandemic and the global energy disruptions, all while maintaining a reputation as a stable and reliable supplier.

The need for stable and reliable supplies was highlighted at home in June when regulators intervened in the Australian energy market as we faced our own domestic energy crisis.

That crisis was, in part, attributed to planned and unplanned outages at coal-fired power stations, disrupted coal supplies due to natural disasters, and of course the withdrawal of 4GW of despatachable capacity out of the grid over the past decade, with only 1GW replaced.

But the crisis underlined a simple fact – that Australia needs reliable supplies of despatachable power.

Another challenge to the mining sector is safety.

You may have heard that earlier this month, two people were fatally injured in two separate incidents while working on mine-sites in my home state of WA.

My deepest sympathies remain with their loved ones.

And of course the Cessnock Miners Memorial every year commemorates the lives lost in mining coal in NSW.  Almost 1,800 coal miners have died in the Northern District Coalfields of NSW since 1801.

It reminds us of how dangerous the resources sector and mining can be, and the importance of safety in the workplace, and the laser-like focus we have to have on that. 

In April this year I had the opportunity to go underground at Yancoal’s Ashton Mine with the Member for Paterson and the Member for Hunter, Dan Repacholi. I learned a lot about the realities of mining, especially underground operations involving longwall mining. I recognise that despite all efforts on safety this remains a very dangerous game.

The fact remains however that everybody, in every workplace, deserves to work in a safe environment and go home to their families at the end of the day.

Looking ahead, the latest Resources and Energy Quarterly publication from my department forecasts combined metallurgical and thermal coal exports to earn a record $120 billion in this financial year.

That result is fuelled by Russia’s unconscionable invasion of Ukraine which has disrupted global energy markets and pushed up prices for both thermal coal and gas, while metallurgical coal prices have eased.

Prices and revenue are expected to ease to more normal levels in future years.

Against that backdrop, the domestic and global energy landscape is rapidly changing.

The transition to a lower emissions economy will see significant changes to our energy mix over the coming decades.

The coal and gas sectors will still be needed in the near term to ensure secure and affordable energy supplies as economies make the move to clean energy sources as quickly as possible.

Australia – and the world – need to set a firm path to net zero.

That’s why we’ve committed to lifting the ambition of Australia’s 2030 target, and legislating Australia’s 2030 and 2050 net zero targets.

Our target of 43% emissions reductions by 2030 is a huge step‑up in Australia’s ambition. It’s almost double the previous government’s target.

On the road to achieve these ambitious targets, we see the resources sector as a critical part of the solution.

Many in the community don’t realise how important mining will be in reaching our emissions reductions targets.

As we seek to move to a decarbonised energy system, we are still going to be using coal and gas to keep us warm and to keen our manufacturing sector going.

Australia will play an important role in meeting the energy needs of the region, while also supporting the transition to secure, affordable and reliable clean energy.

As Resources Minister, I am committed to working with industry to ensure the benefits of Australia’s traditional energy resources are realised across the community.

If projects stack up environmentally, economically, and socially, we support them going ahead.

Australia’s resources sector has the means and the motivation to deploy the technologies at scale to reach net zero.

Mass deployment of renewables, the upgrade of the grid with our $20 billion Rewiring the Nation plan, fleets of battery and hydrogen-powered mining vehicles, will all help drive down our emissions.

And our $1.9 billion Powering the Regions Fund will provide dedicated support to make sure regional Australian and traditional industries in particular can harness the economic opportunities of decarbonisation.

I remind everyone that Australia’s copper, metallurgical coal, iron ore, aluminium, tin, zinc, nickel, cobalt, lithium, gold, silver and rare-earths are crucial to the infrastructure, wires, batteries, magnets and semiconductors that will power clean energy technologies.

In the meantime, coal still plays an important role in underpinning energy systems in the region.

Although I am from WA, far from the rolling hills of the Hunter Valley, since becoming Shadow Minister for Resources back in 2020 I have actively sought to learn more about the coal regions of Australia. My first coalmine visit was to the Bloomfield mine east of Maitland.

The Bloomfield Group has important contracts with Japan, and alongside other projects in the Hunter region, helps ensure the energy security of our neighbours.

International Energy Agency modelling shows coal demand in the region, particularly for developing economies, is projected to increase over the next decade to satisfy demand for electricity and industrial development.

The world needs to ensure sufficient supplies to bridge the global energy transition to renewables.

Growing populations, economic development in emerging economies and the transition to clean and renewable energy will drive growth in demand for Australian resources more widely.

The sector provides jobs, energy security, royalties and makes an essential economic contribution to many regional areas.

In talks in Perth last week, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Prime Minster Anthony Albanese signed a new partnership on critical minerals cooperation.

But the visit was also an opportunity for the Japanese to underline the importance of Australian coal and gas to Japanese energy security.

And of course Japan – the world’s third largest economy – committed to net zero emissions by 2050 long before the Australian Federal Government did.

We can’t overstate the importance of Australian exports to regional energy security. It is something we should be very proud of.

Australia is a long-term, reliable energy supplier and I assure you the Australian Government is committed to being a stable and secure destination for investment.

I am committed to a consultative approach when considering reforms that impact the sector.

Governments need to manage the transition carefully in a balanced and planned manner.

The Australian Government is committed to ensuring Australian households and businesses have access to reliable, affordable energy.

The recent energy crisis highlights why we need to continue to explore and develop our energy resources.

Our resources sector will need clear policy signals and access to skilled staff as it transforms to meet this challenging environment.

The Government’s $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund and our Powering Australia Plan will help provide the support needed.

Programs like the Powering the Regions Fund will help develop new clean energy industries and support the decarbonisation priorities of the industry.

When Australia’s resources sector is healthy, Australia is healthy.

That’s why we are right behind the sector.

We want to ensure the resources sector prospers and provides the nation with a pipeline of secure, well-paying jobs and a buoyant economy for years to come.

And I am looking forward to working with all of you along the way.

Thank you.