Speech to Minerals Week Breakfast, Canberra

Canberra

I wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on, the Ngunnawal 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 would also like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of land right around the country wherever resource companies operate.

I extend that respect to all First Nations Australians in the audience today.

Thank you to the Minerals Council of Australia for this opportunity. It is a privilege to have responsibility for the resources portfolio.

Can I also say a special thanks to MCA chief executive Tania Constable for her stewardship of the organisation. I also want to pay tribute to outgoing MCA chair Helen Coonan.

I would also like to acknowledge former Federal Resources Minister Keith Pitt, who has a great depth of knowledge of the sector.

I am excited by the buoyant state of the sector in Australia, and its crucial role in the economy, now and into the future.

It provides high-paying jobs to more than a quarter of a million Australians directly employed by the sector.

And right now, tens of billions of dollars’ worth of projects are coming through the development pipeline.

To sustain and unlock further benefits from the sector, we must work together to the lay the foundations for a successful future.

We want to work in partnership with you to put in place the foundations to capitalise on the global energy transition, overcome jobs and skills shortages, ensure workplace safety and grow strong First Nations partnerships.

First Nations

Ongoing partnerships with First Nations peoples are essential for the mining and resources sector’s sustainability.

First Nations landholders and communities are core partners in mining.

They have not always been, but now and into the future they always will be.

More than 60 per cent of national resources projects operate on land covered by a Native Title claim or determination.

The resources sector also operates in many regional and remote regions 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.

I want to see a resources sector that continues 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.

I acknowledge the close partnerships that already exist.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Minerals Council of Australia for setting a new benchmark in this area.

I’m referring to the Minerals Industry Statement on First Nations Partnerships, the Mineral Council of Australia’s First Nations Partnerships Framework, and your adoption of the Towards Sustainable Mining Accountability Framework.

Through these initiatives, you are supporting cultural change across the sector.

Crucially, this includes striving to increase First Nations Australian representation in executive, leadership and professional roles.

The Government recognises and is supportive of your practical efforts to strengthen partnerships with First Nations Australians.

The Albanese Government has committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full and are already taking steps to constitutionally enshrine a Voice to Parliament.

I encourage your actions to go beyond practical efforts and extend them into engaging with the move to introduce a Voice to Parliament.

I believe the resources sector can play a leadership role in ensuring the Voice to Parliament campaign is a successful one, given the strong reach the sector has to landholders and communities right across the country, in the regions and the great cities of Australia.

It is in the best interests of the resources sector that the campaign succeeds.

A Voice to Parliament, we believe, will ensure decisions are properly informed by First Nations views and will assist the sector to build stronger and more lasting relationships with First Nations Australians.

Capitalising on net zero

While introducing the Voice to Parliament is a uniquely Australian quest, we share with the world a determination to reduce carbon emissions. 

The global transition to net zero emissions is a challenge, but also an enormous opportunity for Australia.

For the world to achieve the global Paris goals, low emissions technologies will need to be adopted across all sectors of our, and other nations’, economies. 

Critical minerals are the foundation for most, if not all, of these technologies – including electric vehicles, batteries, solar, hydrogen electrolysers and energy efficient technology like LEDs. 

Australia’s metallurgical coal, copper, iron ore and nickel are also crucial to the wires, batteries, magnets and semiconductors that power clean energy technologies.

Our challenge is to scale up supply of the minerals the world needs to make these technologies, and that’s where the world-leading experience and expertise of Australia’s resource sector will play a leading role.

In other words, there can be no clean energy transition without the resources sector of Australia

We are endowed with an abundance of critical minerals.

We produce around half the world’s lithium, are the second-largest producer of cobalt and the fourth-largest producer of rare earths.

The Government wants to position Australia as a clean energy superpower, and unlocking the full potential of our critical minerals endowments is a core part of that.

It can help unlock emissions reductions both in Australia and overseas, and on that basis is among the most valuable contributions we can make to achieve the global Paris goals.

All this while driving domestic economic growth through regional jobs, building domestic industries and strengthening international partnerships.

Part of our approach involves working closely with key international trading partners to link Australian critical minerals supply with international demand.

This includes partnering with the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, Republic of Korea, Japan, India and many others to improve investment in Australia’s critical minerals sector, foster commercial offtake agreements and get Australian projects off the ground.

This will help supply other countries with the materials they need to reduce their carbon emissions while also building robust, competitive and secure supply chains.

The Australian Government is aware of the magnitude of the challenge ahead to extract and refine these valuable resources and we will work with the sector to make sure what I consider is a vital national mission comes to fruition.

Traditional commodities

To play our part in the global energy transition and seize the economic opportunity therein, Australia must make the most sweeping set of changes to our energy grid the country has ever seen.

This is no small task. It is a massive challenge, and a massive opportunity, but we, and you, are up to it.

Steel for example is critical to the energy infrastructure that will power communities the world over for the next century and beyond. Transmission networks, offshore wind you name it – new energy needs traditional commodities.

High-quality Australian iron ore should be the cornerstone of that development, and we know that demand for metallurgical coal will remain high for some time as well.

We know that as the world decarbonises, we want the Australian resources sector to remain competitive.

Global energy markets have been thrown into a spin from events in Europe. As everyone here knows – that has been a boon for the Australian resources sector.

But unlike the previous Government, we aren’t going to pretend the world isn’t changing and won’t change over coming decades.

That only serves to hang you, and the communities you work in, out to dry.

In the 2021 financial year, Australia’s coal industry, for example, accounted for around 51,000 direct jobs.

This Government understands the contribution that traditional resource industries have played and continue to play. We also recognise the world is united in its drive to decarbonise and like the minerals and resources industry we recognise the new opportunities across your sector.

This Government will provide the policy certainty necessary for a domestic economy as the world undergoes this massive transformation.

As the Prime Minister said this week, Australian will remain a trusted and reliable supplier of energy to the region.

As Japan and Korea continue to look to us for their existing energy needs we will work with our friends to establish a clean energy future.

Safeguard Mechanism

The Safeguard Mechanism is also going to play a central role in meeting our national emissions reduction goals.

Our 43 per cent emissions target is a huge step-up in Australia’s ambition, and we’ve done this because we know that genuine action on climate change is in our national interest.

But we know how important it will be to get the design of our policies right. That’s why we’re consulting extensively on reforms to the Safeguard Mechanism.

We see the Safeguard Mechanism as enabling a transition already underway within the sector.

Businesses are already deploying low emissions technologies because they reduce emissions and energy costs and boost energy security in remote facilities – like on-site renewables, energy storage and electrification.

The Safeguard Mechanism will help encourage take-up of technologies like these.

Global markets and finance are increasingly looking at projects through an emissions lens, and so a framework for reducing the sector’s emissions in an efficient and effective way will help boost its attractiveness and competitiveness, and ensure it retains a strong social licence.

We are keen to engage with the sector on these reforms to ensure any changes are fair, efficient and effective.

Environmental Reform

This Government will continue to support resources development that stacks up environmentally, socially and economically.

But the regulatory systems on which we rely must also stack up.

The final report of Professor Graeme Samuel’s review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, released last year, found a number of shortcomings.

It found the Act is ineffective at protecting the environment, with duplication across state regulations, causing slow processes and high business costs.

I know the resources sector is keen for environmental law reform that will reduce regulatory complexity and provide opportunities to streamline regulation.

To that end, the Government will provide a full response to the Samuel Review of the EPBC Act by the end of the year, led by my colleague, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP.

We will commit to ongoing consultation on law reform, to make sure our national environmental laws work better for environmental protection and provide greater certainty for industry. 

The Government has also committed to thorough consultation on new national environmental standards.

Our approach to reform will be informed through engagement with stakeholders, including the resources sector, to ensure the nation’s environmental laws work better for everyone.

Jobs, Skills and Workforce Safety

I want to conclude by talking about the well-publicised skills shortage.

We witnessed the sector’s resilience through the pandemic, but it’s far from immune to the labour and skills shortages that are being experienced across the economy.

Unfortunately, in previous years, enrolments and graduates from university qualifications relevant to the resources industry, such as mining engineering, have fallen sharply.

At the same time, demand is increasing.

We need more workers to operate existing mines and build the pipeline of planned resources projects vital for the new energy economy.

To do this, the sector must seek the widest possible talent pool of workers.

We are supporting the sector through a number of avenues.

The recent Jobs and Skills Summit was an immense success, bringing together stakeholders from industry, education, government and unions.

During the two resources roundtables I hosted in Brisbane and Perth, I heard about a lot of promising initiatives from companies to address these challenges, and saw the willingness of industry to work together to ensure the needs of the sector can be met.

I encourage stakeholders to continue engaging with the Employment White Paper Taskforce to help chart a course for continued economic security and prosperity for the nation.

Ensuring we have enough highly skilled workers in the resources sector will of course be essential as part of this government’s work to reach net zero.

Australia will need the skills and experience of everyone in this room to realise the exciting opportunities presented by the critical minerals industry. 

In addressing labour shortages, there is more we can do in areas like attracting women into mining and resources.

Mining remains one of the most male-dominated industries in Australia.

Improving female representation in the industry – at all levels and across a range of roles – means a commitment to ensuring every worker in the sector is treated with respect in the workplace.

I have spoken about the need to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace.

I was appalled at the findings of the WA Parliamentary Inquiry into Sexual harassment against women in the FIFO Mining industry.

And I have made clear my intention to work with my Western Australian counterpart, Bill Johnston, and with resources sector employers to stamp out sexual harassment.

This sort of behaviour is abhorrent and should not be part of any modern workplace.

The Respect@Work Report was released in March 2020 and made 55 recommendations focused on preventing and addressing sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.

We will implement all recommendations of the Respect@Work report.

I note the Minerals Council of Australia published its Respect@Work Toolkit in December 2021, which provides fact sheets, guidance and templates to support action to eliminate sexual harassment in member companies.

Congratulations on your efforts on this important resource.

I urge all MCA members and all companies in the sector to continue doing whatever they can to improve workplace conditions for women.

Conclusion

Thank you once again for the opportunity to speak with you today.

I’m conscious that I’ve covered a broad range of issues this morning – and there are many more topics that I simply haven’t had time to touch on.

The resources and minerals sector will continue to be a central part of the nation’s fabric and I believe that it is well placed to evolve, transition and seize opportunities globally now and into the future.

The government is right behind the sector, and we want to continue to ensure it prospers, providing Australia with a pipeline of secure, well-paying jobs and a buoyant economy for years to come.

Thank you again.