Speech to the International Mining and Resources Conference
I begin by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of this land, and pay my respects to the Elders both past and present.
I would also like to pay my respects to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the audience today.
I really appreciate the opportunity to join you all here in Sydney for what is a significant conference.
What a great chance this is to hear from and share ideas with some of the key names in mining and resources.
State of the sector
It’s always a pleasure to talk about Australia’s resources industry.
A strong resources sector is the foundation for the next generation of jobs and industry.
And, right now, our resources sector is robust.
In the last financial year, the sector exported $422 billion worth of resources to the world, which is nearly 70 per cent of the value of Australia’s total goods and services exports.
The resources sector and the great value of the exceptional natural endowment of this country dwarfs all other export industries, and has done so for many years.
The sector accounts for around 10 per cent of our gross domestic product.
Australia’s resource and energy export earnings are forecast to reach $450 billion in the current financial year.
The resources sector workforce is at record highs, at around 280,000 workers nationally.
And we must acknowledge the taxation and royalties revenue the sector generates – in the last financial year, more than $43 billion went to help fund essential services for all Australians.
This didn’t happen by luck.
While what is under the ground and off of our extensive shores is a product of millenia of geological activity; it takes people and their ingenuity and determination and commitment to create an industry that has become the backbone of Australia’s economy.
And the resources sector will continue to need more and more people driven to ensure its continuing contribution to this nation.
The mining sector specifically, directly employs around a quarter of a million workers. That is almost two per cent of total employment.
In my home state of Western Australia, resources is now the second largest employer behind the public sector.
Iron ore remains our largest commodity export – forecast to hit $119 billion in export earnings for Australia in 2022 - 2023 – this is around 903 million tonnes.
Total exploration expenditure rose by nine per cent through the year to be $1.3 billion in 2022.
This strong exploration spending is a positive sign for the future of the industry.
I encourage you all to visit the Geoscience Australia booth, where you can learn more about Australia’s exploration programs. Geoscience Australia is a highly respected national institution and the scientists and analysts that work there do exceptional work across minerals, energy, and groundwater resources exploration, as well as offshore exploration and earth observation. Geoscience Australia works to let us know quite literally what this continent is made of, and where everything is.
I think it a remarkable organisation, participating in great scientific endeavours, and I am enormously pleased that it sits within my area of responsibility as Australia’s Minister for Resources.
Mining and net zero
Our energy and resources sectors are obviously in a period of major transition.
But on the road to net zero, the future for resources remains bright.
In fact, net zero cannot be achieved without the resources sector.
We know many of our mineral resources are vital to the clean energy transition.
Iron ore and bauxite are vital inputs to the steel and aluminium we need to build the electric vehicles, factories and infrastructure of a decarbonised global economy.
Australia’s critical minerals are essential to the technologies at the heart of the energy transition, such as batteries, wind turbines and electric motors.
Vast quantities of all of these minerals will be needed, and Australian production will be required to meet the ambition of the global goal of decarbonising our economies.
This is reflected in the Prime Minister’s announcements in October, of $50.5 million over four years for an Australian Critical Minerals Research and Development Hub, and $50 million over three years for a Critical Minerals Development Program.
Once again, Australia finds itself in an enviable position thanks to the good fortune of this continent’s geology.
Australia boasts some of the richest deposits of critical mineral reserves in the world.
We have the world’s largest resources of rutile, zircon and tantalum.
And our resources of critical minerals like antimony, cobalt, lithium, manganese ore, niobium, tungsten and vanadium, rank in the top five globally.
This presents us with an unmissable opportunity and a remarkable responsibility.
We must bring forward a new wave of investment in our resources sector, and further demonstrate how Australia is not only reducing emissions at home, but also is a crucial player in the global efforts to reach net zero emissions.
Coal and gas – and the energy transition
Traditional players in the sector, including coal and gas, also have significant roles to play during the energy transition.
While we address a decade of inaction in domestic energy policy, these energy sources play a role in dispatchable capacity and in key industries that lack viable alternatives.
As we decarbonise, we are still going to need gas and coal to firm renewable generation and keep manufacturing going.
Natural gas will be part of our future energy mix as we decarbonise our economy.
Gas is an ally of renewable energy and will support the addition of more intermittent energy sources.
The recent energy crisis highlights the importance of gas and coal in our domestic economy and for the economies of our neighbours.
Australian gas and coal play a critical role in meeting global energy demand, and in providing our neighbours with secure and dependable energy sources.
I think this is often lost on many people. Each day, Australian coal and gas heats homes or allows families to cook meals right across Asia.
The Government’s position on new coal and gas developments is clear.
If the environmental and economic credentials stack up, and projects receive all the necessary approvals, the Government will support new development.
New developments will help ensure long-term energy security for Australian households and industry as well as our core trading partners.
Australian liquefied natural gas will have a key role to support the decarbonisation ambitions of our trading partners, particularly those in north Asia.
Our north Asian trading partners invest in our gas fields to help them navigate from coal power generation, through gas and eventually to hydrogen and other cleaner energy sources.
It is important to acknowledge that our trading partner nations committed to net zero emissions by 2050 well before Australia did and they have nominated different pathways to that ambition.
We should remember, that much of the gas in the East Coast network would not exist were it not for the tens of billions of dollars of foreign investment that established an LNG export industry, thousands of jobs - both direct and indirect, and added more gas into our domestic supply.
Getting the settings right
We are committed to ensuring the right conditions are in place to support the sustainability of the resources sector in the transition to net zero.
It is important that the sector operates under a comprehensive regulatory regime to balance development needs with the management of environmental impacts.
The Government has committed to work with stakeholders on environmental law reform to ensure our national environmental laws work better for everyone.
We are protecting our environmental values while speeding up processes for job generating project proposals.
Effective environmental legislation strengthens community confidence in national environmental protection activities, resulting in greater trust in regulatory decisions.
Getting these settings right will facilitate the delivery of the pipeline of projects needed for a net zero future.
As I travel the country I have been giving the same message over and over to leaders in the resource industry – you need to find ways to tell your stories better so that more Australians understand the role the sector will have in achieving net zero.
The road to net zero runs through the resources sector.
All of you here need to ensure that this message cuts through. If you do not, developing much needed new resources will only get harder, and the nation as a whole will suffer.
Mining and First Nations peoples
I’ve spoken at length in recent months about the need for strong and ongoing partnerships with First Nations peoples in the context of the sector’s health and sustainability.
It’s an issue that’s extremely important to me and to the Government.
First Nations landholders and communities are core partners in mining.
More than 60 per cent of Australia’s resources projects operate on land covered by a claim or determination affording rights and interests to First Nations traditional owners.
The resources sector also operates in many regional and remote areas of Australia that are in close proximity with First Nations communities.
And, at a national level, the mining industry, as a proportion of its workforce, employs First Nations Australians at a higher rate than any other industry.
Our resources sector can continue to be a strong supporter of First Nations Australians by providing local recruitment, training and education programs as well as dedicated procurement programs to maximise local supplier engagement.
More broadly, the Australian Government is committed to working in genuine partnership with First Nations Australians and is progressing towards enshrining a First Nations Voice to the Australian Parliament.
The Voice will provide a means for First Nations peoples to more directly put forward their views to Parliament on issues that directly affect them, such as mining and cultural heritage.
I urge the resources sector to play a positive and energetic role in ensuring the Voice campaign is a success.
After all, the First Nations peoples of Australia were the first to inherit the extraordinary natural endowment of this continent, and the resources sector owes First Nations people so much.
I could have easily spoken for much longer today about the buoyant state of Australia’s resources sector, and the bright future that lies ahead.
Unfortunately, time has only allowed me to scratch the surface.
Nonetheless, I hope I have painted a picture about how critical mining and resources are to this nation, and the Government’s determination to seize the opportunities that lie in the transition to net zero.
I hope I’ve also emphasised the importance of investment in building a pipeline of projects to ensure the sector’s continuing success.
And, finally, I hope I’ve left you with something to think about in terms of enhancing the sector’s social licence and accountability to all Australians.
Again, thank you for this opportunity and, please, enjoy the rest of the conference.