Speech to the Powering the Future Conference, Perth
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land we are meeting on here in Perth, the Whadjuk Nyoongar people, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.
I extend that respect to First Nations peoples present.
Hello all and I appreciate the opportunity to speak today at this important event.
You have assembled an impressive array of participants, including industry leaders and Premier Mark McGowan, who of course spoke earlier.
And I know Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was here at the weekend taking in many of the amazing displays and stalls. The Prime Minister also attended the Derby on Sunday and I am accrediting his attendance to us getting the right result there.
Can I also acknowledge in particular Ryan Stokes who I see will be speaking later today. I am sure you will all be paying close attention to that session.
As a Western Australian and Federal Minister for Resources I understand very well how vital the resources industry is to our state and the nation.
So much of the nation’s wealth comes from Western Australia’s mineral resources. It makes sense that the Federal Minister for Resources be a Western Australian.
Even better – a Resources Minister born and bred in Kwinana and raised in Rockingham – the suburbs of which so many of our resource workers live in.
And I might note that given your previous speaker is also a Rockingham resident perhaps next year we might consider holding this conference at the Swinging Pig.
Let’s remind ourselves how important Western Australia is to the national economy.
Western Australia holds some of the world’s richest deposits of minerals, including critical mineral reserves, in the world.
Nine of the world’s top fifty mineral projects are based in our state, including six of the world’s ten highest value projects.
Australia provides more than half of the world’s seaborne iron ore trade.
And the majority of that iron ore comes from mines in the Pilbara region.
The Pilbara is one of the most remote locations on earth but it is also one of the most automated.
There you will find a fully autonomous fleet of trucks and drills working for hours on end, monitored by workers in control rooms over one thousand kilometres away.
The Pilbara will also be the centre of emerging industries like green hydrogen and critical minerals processing.
These industries will play a role in the nation’s future energy security and sovereign manufacturing capability.
Western Australia and its offshore waters are also home to LNG projects representing over $200 billion in investment.
The Scarborough project, including the construction of a second Pluto LNG train, will be an investment of almost $17 billion in our state.
Scarborough and the Pluto Stage 2 train will help customers in Asia move away from higher emitting fuel sources.
It will maintain Australia’s reputation as a reliable and lower emissions energy supplier.
The continued operation of the existing Pluto LNG train will also supply gas to the domestic gas market, supporting jobs across Western Australia.
The resources sector employs around 280,000 thousand Australians, and is the largest employer of First Nations people.
Here in WA it is the second largest employer after the public sector. And with great respect to our wonderful public sector, I would like one day to see more resources workers than public servants.
But we need more workers to operate existing mines as well as to build the pipeline of planned resources projects.
We heard from industry at the Jobs and Skills Summit that access to skilled labour is a major handbrake on growth.
I used this forum to remind resource companies that one way companies could address skills shortages was to attract more women to the sector.
Something that would only happen if companies could demonstrate they were providing safe and inclusive workplaces and living environments.
I would like to acknowledge the role The West Australian Newspaper played in exposing those unacceptable workplace issues in the resources sector.
It is encouraging that we are now seeing progress in this area and I applaud those companies who have pledged to improve the culture on resources sites.
Fly in fly out set ups are an essential part of resources extraction in the very remote places that these natural resources are found. It is a challenging lifestyle of long swings away from family and friends but adding the possibility of harassment and sexual assault makes it understandable repellent.
The Government is investing in workforce skills primarily through the education portfolio.
Like Australia’s resources sector more broadly, the critical minerals sector has a highly skilled workforce.
This workforce is supporting a pipeline of planned critical minerals projects vital to the new energy economy.
Growing the sector may require a larger and wider talent pool of workers.
When I addressed Parliament last week to make my first Resources Statement, one of my central themes was of the urgent need for the sector to get better at telling its story to younger Australians.
This Resources Showcase does precisely that. And again it is good to see The West Australian newspaper taking up this theme.
Our ongoing prosperity depends on the resources sector. Reaching net zero by 2050 will need the expertise of the resources sector.
The world needs our young people to consider careers in geoscience, geophysics, chemistry, metallurgy and engineering if we are to decarbonise and stop dangerous climate change.
We need to help young people understand that a career in the resources sector is making a positive difference in the fight against climate change.
Though we often hear about the decline in interest in these careers I am happy to report that during a recent visit to Curtin University I was told that enrolments in mining related courses were up.
Australia’s commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050 means we will need more mining, not less.
And as I’ve said repeatedly, without the resources sector, there is no net zero.
The road to net zero runs through Australia’s resources sector.
That means we must continue our search for more resources and take measures to make the resources sector stronger.
We need to build a workforce with future-facing skills, fully engage our world-leading scientists and METS sector and invest in value-adding capabilities.
Australia is a world leader in mineral exploration with expenditure at an all-time high.
Australia’s share of mineral exploration expenditure rose from 12 per cent in 2014 to 20 per cent in 2022.
A growing pipeline of new resource projects and acceleration of resource development means that Australia can seize the opportunities presented by the global net zero transition.
It means a boost to regional development and a helping hand to our international partners.
The Government’s domestic support initiatives target the earliest stages of exploration where there is greater investment uncertainty, and greater financial risk for industry.
This includes our $225 million Exploring for the Future program led by Geoscience Australia.
The program provides world-leading data on Australia’s mineral, energy and groundwater potential in unexplored and underexplored areas of the country.
As the Minister responsible for Geoscience Australia, I can’t emphasise enough how important geoscience data is for Australia.
Understanding what is on and underneath the land will empower regional communities, governments, and industry to make informed decisions on how we harness our natural resources and manage our environment.
We must also remember the amazing work of the Geological Survey of WA that does resources development in this state.
Since 1888, the GSWA has collected geology data covering a surface area of over 2.6 million square kilometres with a geological history spanning 4 billion years. That is over 130 years of investigating what Western Australia is made of. The data is a critical national asset.
Again, as I told Parliament last week, there are few bigger global challenges than addressing climate change.
The clean energy transition over the coming decades will ride on the back of critical minerals.
And most of these critical minerals are right here in WA.
These minerals are essential to things such as storage batteries, electric vehicle motors, solar panels, and wind turbines.
They are also essential inputs for a range of advanced manufacturing, aerospace, and defence applications.
Demand for these technologies is projected to skyrocket over the next three decades.
This means more demand for lithium, cobalt, graphite, and rare earth elements, among others.
The latest Resources and Energy Quarterly statement, released yesterday, forecasts that lithium export earnings will increase more than ten-fold, from $1.1 billion in the 2021 financial year to $17 billion dollars in the 2024 financial year.
I believe it is nothing short of a national mission to ensure that our critical minerals are effectively and sustainably utilised.
Doing so will help us achieve net zero at home, while making a substantial global contribution to reducing emissions.
And it is a fact of life that countries need to be able to defend themselves.
Some of the defence applications for which critical minerals are essential to Australia and our allies include:
- Lithium, cobalt, manganese and graphite for weapons, sensors and in-field personal combat electronics
- Magnesium for lightweight metal alloys in structural components of vehicles and aircraft
- Rare earth elements for high strength magnets, guidance systems, and laser components.
Australian companies are integrating themselves into global defence supply chains.
For example the United States Department of Defense has contracted Lynas Rare Earths to build a processing plant to supply the US with separated heavy rare earths.
Feedstock for the facility will be sourced from Lynas’ Western Australian Mount Weld mine.
Like our other major commodities, critical minerals exploration is growing, helping to create a pipeline of new projects and progress them toward market.
New mines are being planned and existing mines expanded.
Downstream processing capacity is being increased, which is a central part of the Government’s industry diversification plans.
This is especially evident in the lithium sector.
Three lithium hydroxide processing plants are currently in operation, under construction, or in advanced planning in Western Australia.
The Government is developing a new Australian Critical Minerals Strategy to clearly articulate development priorities.
The new Strategy will continue to focus on the importance of stable supply of critical minerals.
The new Strategy will reflect:
- the important role Australia’s critical minerals can play in helping Australia and international partners achieve their emissions reduction targets
- the growth of Australia’s domestic manufacturing sector
- Australia’s ongoing commitment to the highest environmental social and governance (ESG) standards and engagement with First Nations Australians
- the need to balance development of the sector with strong environmental and cultural protection – including through balanced regulation that maintains our already high environmental standards.
This will help ensure the development of new sources of supply and establish robust, diverse supply chains.
We are also working to streamline the approvals process to enable industry to bring on projects more efficiently.
The Government will have more to say on the Strategy over the coming months.
Gas and other commodities
The Australian Government recognises the critical role gas plays, both domestically and in our export markets.
As the Prime Minister has said, gas is a flexible fuel and will only become more important to firming electricity supplies as our reliance on coal is reduced.
Australia’s LNG export revenues are forecast to reach $90 billion in the 2023 financial year, providing a considerable boost to the economy.
It is often forgotten, but Australia’s coal and gas resources are essential for energy security, stability and reliability, both domestically and across the Asia-Pacific, and will be for decades.
In many cases Australian gas has the potential to lift millions out of energy poverty. I was in India last month with the Prime Minister where gas is allowing families in rural areas to access a clean cooking fuel. Women and young girls are disproportionately impacted by health problems stemming from dirty cooking fuels.
This is something we take for granted but I remind everyone of that.
Gas will remain central to supporting Australia’s energy needs and will boost the reliability of an electricity grid increasingly powered by renewables.
It is also very important for the energy needs of Western Australian households and businesses.
Also, natural gas is a vital feedstock and heat source for our industrial base.
It is a critical feedstock for manufacturers and the fertiliser production that underwrites global food security.
As you know, the Government is committed to reaching our net zero emissions target by 2050. We have legislated for net zero and we are determined to achieve it.
Natural gas will help us reach the target.
It will be a critical fuel in the decarbonisation of Australia’s economy, and for our trading partners’ net zero pathways as well.
Gas is essential for energy intensive projects such as extraction, concentration and processing of critical minerals, minerals that are central to the energy transition.
If we don't have enough gas then we can’t process our critical minerals, and we can’t produce batteries for the storage of renewable energy, and that makes our pathway to net zero emissions all the more difficult.
In order to decarbonise, the world needs our resources industry, and that includes our gas and our critical minerals.
The nation’s resources companies can capitalise on a track record in innovation, driven by the need to improve operations or reduce costs in a remote operating environment.
Australia’s Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) companies have made outstanding breakthroughs including in robotics and automation ecosystems.
Our companies are at the cutting edge.
From remote asset management and materials handling technology solutions to big data analytics.
And from machine learning applications to environmental monitoring services.
The METS sector contributes about $92 billion to the national economy.
Our METS companies have established an impressive footprint across the globe with exports valued at around $15 billion dollars each year.
The Australia Government is helping maintain and improve the global competitiveness and productivity of the METS sector through the work of Industry Growth Centre METS Ignited.
We need to continually emphasise that in order to decarbonise, our resources sector must thrive. Australia and the world need our resources industry and our critical minerals.
To repeat: batteries, wind farms, solar panels – they all need minerals, and we will need gas to process those minerals.
These exports also make an important contribution to our neighbours’ energy security, stability and reliability.
Of course the sector needs to play its part in meeting net zero and it is already developing new technology and adopting cleaner production processes.
There is some way to go, but I am confident of success.
And on a final note, can I thank the resources sector for giving its support to enshrining an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice in the Constitution.
The constitutional amendment in this Bill will rectify over 120 years of explicit exclusion in provisions of Australia’s founding legal document.
Constitutional recognition is an opportunity to acknowledge our history and come together for a more reconciled future.
This is an important but modest reform.
This Bill is about recognising and listening.
It is time to open a new chapter.
So thank you again for putting on this showcase and conference which is an excellent opportunity to present a positive story about resources and innovation.
As I said, we need to gain the attention of young people for all the right reasons and show that there are good and valuable careers available to them in resources and to help them understand how a career in resources is helping fight climate change.
Working together and spreading the word we can all play our part in powering the future.