Speech to the WA Energy Transition Summit
I begin by acknowledging that we are gathered on the lands of the Whadjuk Noongar people, and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.
I extend that respect to all First Nations peoples present.
Good morning and thank you to Melinda [Celinto] and CEDA for the invitation to speak at the WA Energy Transition Summit.
Can I acknowledge some of my fellow keynote speakers at this event including:
- the Honourable Roger Cook, Premier of Western Australia and the Member for Kwinana
- the Honourable Chris Bowen, Federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy, and
- the Honourable Bill Johnston, Minister for Mines and Petroleum; Energy; Hydrogen Industry; Industrial Relations
- Dr Alan Finkel, former Chief Scientist.
And thank you to Richard Cohen for introducing this session. I really enjoyed the tour of Dampier Port you and Simon Trott gave the Prime Minister and myself in August.
Western Australian Power
Friends and colleagues.
This morning you had a Kwinana local, the Premier, speak to you about the big opportunities ahead for Western Australia in energy and power.
While our former Premier drew a bit of attention to her southern neighbour, Rockingham, some might say Kwinana is now the heart of political power in this state.
But Kwinana has also long been the centre of actual power generation and energy for this State.
And it is also the future.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been travelling to Washington, Paris, Berlin, London and Brussels and I can tell you Kwinana is mentioned everywhere I go.
Kwinana was built around the British Petroleum refinery in the 1950s and the industrial area grew to become the central hub for Perth’s electricity generation. The Kwinana Industrial Area has driven the economic development of this state since the 50’s, and the workers and community that created it is the reason there was a dedicated maternity hospital in the little suburb of Calista for some 20 years, at which I was born.
Kwinana is now evolving to play a key role in the global energy transition.
Companies like IGO, Tianqi, Wesfarmers, SQM and BHP have all chosen Kwinana to turn Western Australian ores into battery grade lithium and nickel.
Woodside is investing $1 billion in its H2Perth hydrogen and ammonia project.
EcoGraf is expanding its Australian Battery Anode Material Facility in Kwinana, with the support of Commonwealth funding.
And BP, the original tenant of the Kwinana Industrial Area, is turning the old refinery into a clean energy hub to produce sustainable aviation fuel, hydrogenated vegetable oil and green hydrogen.
Kwinana is a leading example of how the world is transitioning the way it generates and stores power.
The Albanese Government understands this. And after more than a decade of inaction on climate and energy policy under the Coalition, this Government is investing and working to get the nation’s policy settings right to ensure we meet our net zero targets.
Australia’s critical minerals are the lodestar of this transition.
Last month Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and I were in the United States for historic talks on critical minerals and rare earths.
These talks put Australia’s resources sector at the heart of US policy making and it was a significant opportunity for me as Federal Resources Minister to promote our world leading resources sector and its future alongside the Prime Minister on this State visit.
The Prime Minister met with US President Joe Biden to take the next steps to lock in Australia’s role as a source of the critical materials the US will need for its energy and defence programs.
In Washington I co-chaired the first meeting of the Australia-United States Taskforce on Critical Minerals with our American counterparts and the Government announced another $2 billion in support for the critical minerals industry, taking total support for the sector to over $5.5 billion.
Just a few weeks before Washington, I was in Brussels, Paris, Berlin and London where I met with leaders all seeking improved access to Australian rare earths and critical minerals for their own energy transitions.
At these meetings I was able to discuss Australia’s new Critical Minerals Strategy, that I released in June, which sets out a vision to grow our critical minerals sector and importantly, to attract future investment.
The strategy identifies where the Australian Government can be most effective – as well as fiscally responsible – at enabling future growth across the sector.
Welcomed by our international partners is our commitment to develop a new critical minerals research and development hub to encourage our already world-leading research capabilities.
Indeed, the first US-Australia critical minerals taskforce meeting agreed that our nations would apply a focus on how we can work together on research and development to uplift critical minerals production and processing to support energy manufacturing and defence supply requirements.
And to ensure we are targeting all our support with laser like precision, we are currently undertaking a review of the critical minerals list.
This will be the first adjustment to the list in almost two years.
I will have more to say on this new list and how it will work very soon.
Gas’s role in supporting economic growth and net zero
While the much of the excitement around energy and power is currently on critical minerals and rare earths, we should not forget that we will very much need the support of our broader traditional resources industry to pave the road to net zero.
We can’t build wind turbines and solar panels without iron ore. Manufacturers in Asia can’t make steel at scale without coking coal from Queensland and New South Wales.
And we can’t process those critical minerals without gas.
We will also need gas to support our energy network for a long time to come as coal generation drops out.
This state is the most gas dependent economy in Australia.
As the Australian Energy Market Operator noted in its 2023 Wholesale Electricity Market Statement of Opportunities in August, new projects requiring over 1,300 Megawatts of power were considered as ‘probable’ for coming online in Western Australia in 2025-26 financial year.
Much of that increased power demand will need to be met by gas.
It is also often forgotten that our exported gas plays a critical role in providing energy security to our region.
Energy security is no small thing. It has been a key factor in the peace and prosperity we have enjoyed in this part of the world for the past many decades.
As I have said a fair bit recently, if we are not supplying LNG to our neighbours, it does not necessarily follow that they will stop using it. They might simply look elsewhere for those supplies. And if they do Australia’s voice in our region would be diminished.
I understand that the gas industry is concerned about the pace of approvals and the uncertainty around consultation processes that recent judicial developments have raised.
Work is underway in Government to address these issues.
I understand that investors and communities need certainty.
The Government accepts the situation we are in right now does not always provide that certainty.
But this cannot be a one-way street.
I know there is frustration at the time reform takes.
Equally, there is frustration at the time it takes to bring projects to production.
There is no denying it takes a long time and long-term planning to bring projects from discovery to production.
Indeed, Woodside first identified the resource of the Browse gas field over 50 years ago. And Scarborough was first discovered in 1979. One before I was born and the other, the year I started in primary school.
Over the years since, and particularly in the last 10 to 20 years, Browse – Australia’s largest untapped gas resource – has been caught up in delays amid uncertainty in demand, difficulties over processing agreements, corporate decision-making, community misgivings around the James Price Point hub plan and its subsequent cancellation, and a challenging community of joint venture partners.
This project is important to the future gas supply of Western Australia, and our regional partners, as it always has been.
It would be unfair as well as untrue to suggest that the delay in bringing the Scarborough and Browse fields to production is the fault of governments alone.
Over the decades since the discoveries of those fields, corporate decisions to put off capital expenditure have occurred for various reasons, and in the meantime expectations of the community have changed.
As one would expect, over the decades, government laws and regulations, governments and regulators themselves, have changed as well.
The Government now is working to ensure there is clarity for everyone – everyone – around the consultation requirements for all offshore projects.
There has been a lot of opportunity over the decades for there to have been comprehensive consultation with the local community and traditional owners, and I wish more had been done in that regard.
Industry must do better in its consultations and engagement. They must be of the highest order, particularly when it comes to engagement with Traditional Owners.
No one needs to wait for government to tell them to do the right thing.
As well as conducting a review to make sure our offshore regulations are fit for purpose, the Government is also working on its Future Gas Strategy to map out the role of gas in our economy into the future as we drive toward net zero.
As the consultation paper for the strategy makes clear, Australia must manage its evolving roles as a trusted gas exporter and a responsible climate actor with transparency, integrity and a strong evidence base.
Western Australia is fortunate to be blessed with outstanding natural resources.
The people at the centre of our mining and energy sectors – the researchers, investors, entrepreneurs, and businesspeople – are smart and capable.
The global mining and energy landscape is dynamic and highly competitive, but the world is fast coming to understand that everything they need for this energy transition is all right here.
The road to net zero runs through the Australia’s resources sector. But the start of that road is right here in Western Australia.
I look forward to working with all of you as we forge new industries here in WA that grow our economy and meet the world’s changing energy needs.