Interview with Edward Boyd, Sky News

Edward Boyd
Northern Australia, critical minerals and rare earths industry, iron ore industry, nuclear waste storage.

EDWARD BOYD: Resources Minister Madeleine King addressed The Australian’s Bush Summit in Perth today where she talked up the strength of our mining sector. She also said many Australians in urban areas have lost sight of where our economic prosperity comes from. 

I caught up with her a little earlier and started by asking her how we can change this. 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, I guess it’s about talking about it a bit more. And, you know, people are busy. Like, I don’t expect everyone in urban areas to, you know, over their bowl of Weet-Bix have to research what’s going on in the regions of this place. But, you know, I think it’s good to have an understanding of where energy and our national prosperity comes from. So that’s just about explaining it better. And that’s, you know, my responsibility and that of the government’s – to talk more about our regions so more people can understand the basis of the national prosperity and the amazing stories that are out there as well right across regional and rural Australia. 

EDWARD BOYD: Yeah, can you just explain the significance of Northern Australia and the economic outlook it produces to our economy? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Sure. Well, Northern Australia, you know, it’s a big area – crosses three – two states, Western Australia and Queensland and Northern Territory right in the middle. It has enormous potential for development, whether it’s from increased agricultural practices but also we know it has the vast bulk of the resources reserves of this country. And as the global demand for critical minerals and rare earth elements just goes through the roof, there’s an extraordinary opportunity for Northern Australia to make the most of that. So with those kind of projects brings a lot of jobs, and that’s really important. Whether it’s jobs in construction but also the ongoing operation of mining operations, and then later the rehabilitation of these projects. So there’s a big opportunity in the north. And there’s always been opportunity in the north. The big challenge is making it happen. 

EDWARD BOYD: Yeah, on jobs, last week works at some of Australia’s largest LNG facilities in WA threatened strike action which pushed up gas prices in Europe. Does the action like this damage Australia’s reputation as a place to do business? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Look, there’s not many people that work as hard as those people that work in the offshore oil and gas sector. And the members of those unions – the AWU and others – you know, know full well how important their role is to our nation’s prosperity, to supplies of gas in Western Australia but also supplies of gas to our region. But equally there’s – I certainly haven’t done it and I don’t know many people that have – is four weeks on an oil rig out in the middle of the ocean is a pretty – that’s hard work, you know. It’s remote, you’re away from family and it’s – it can be dangerous. And whilst these facilities are all managed really safely, like, it’s challenging work. And I think it’s really important that the unions and the operators of these facilities sit down together and talk. And I know there are going to be further meetings, and I hope that all ends constructively. 

EDWARD BOYD: You launched the new critical minerals strategy a few months ago. How can you make it attractive for companies to build critical minerals infrastructure here when they can get much better subsidies in America, which has the Inflation Reduction Act? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: The Inflation Reduction Act is a really important public policy initiative by President Biden, and there is no doubt it’s important to the whole world, quite frankly, and it’s decarbonisation efforts. But what the rest of the world doesn’t have and Australia does have is unique geology. We have the greatest supplies of lithium. We have one of the highest reserves known of cobalt, and many others as well. The rare earth elements that are on our shores are really important part of this story. So that is our natural advantage and has been for, well, forever and millions of years of geology have made it so. It’s up to us now to work with our friends in America, the government and private investment to bring that investment on shore to Australia so that we can make sure those supply chains are secure for Australia and Australians, but also for our partners in the US. 

EDWARD BOYD: Yeah, just on that advantage, over the weekend Rio Tinto, it struck a deal to build a 600-kilometre railway line in the African country of Guinea, linking the Simandou iron ore deposit to the coast. How much of a threat is this Simandou iron ore project to Australia’s iron ore mines in the Pilbara? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: The Simandou project is really important to international iron ore supplies. But equally, you know, the iron ore industry of the Pilbara and Western Australia has been going for decades now. It is the most efficient mining operation on the face of this planet. And it will continue to be the most reliable supplier of iron ore into China and into other countries as well. So whilst the other projects are important, what we do know is that this country and this state and the Pilbara holds the vast majority of iron ore reserves in the world. And an industry built over decades of hard work by everyday workers but also great leaps in technology and development and extraordinary operation at the Port of Port Hedland mean that iron ore will continue to be a really important part of Australia’s export future. 

EDWARD BOYD: And a few days ago you made the decision to abandon plans to build the Kimba low-level nuclear waste facility in South Australia. So it Woomera now the likely place to store low-level nuclear waste? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Look, we – my department is looking into options. We need to be very thoughtful about this. The reason we had to – well, I decided not to appeal the Federal Court decision was there was a failure in process of the former government. There was apprehended bias demonstrated in the site selection of Kimba. And I know this decision has disappointed and will continue to disappoint many people that live in that area. I also know it is a relief for many others that weren’t supportive. It is really important, because this waste lasts for so long and is, you know, a really important, dangerous material to deal with, we really need to get it right. And if – it is my view that if we had appealed or pursued the site selection process as the current government had, we would be into further delays of multiple years, and that gets us nowhere other than more hours in court, and I think we need to go back, look at our options and drive this into the future. Because this government is totally committed to making sure there is a low-level radioactive waste facility for the nation. 

EDWARD BOYD: And just finally, Minister, today at the Bush Summit you’ve also urged the private sector to get behind the Yes campaign for the Voice. Just why it is important for business to back The Voice here? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, to be honest, here in Western Australia the resources sector is backing The Voice because they know that listening to Indigenous Peoples is important. It makes things happen better. It delivers value for money. It delivers good projects and good outcomes for industry, for workers but, more importantly, for First Nations people themselves. So I think what we all can learn around this country is we can take a leaf out of some of that work and listen to Indigenous people. We have – there is nothing to lose here and only everything to gain by listening to Australia’s First Nations people through a Voice to parliament. 

EDWARD BOYD: Well, Resources Minister Madeleine King, thanks so much for your time today.