Interview with Kelly Gudgeon, ABC Pilbara

Kelly Gudgeon
Pilbara summit, the role of Northern Australia in net zero strategy, Protection of Aboriginal heritage sites.

KELLY GUDGEON: Now, yesterday and today there are a lot of people from the big end of town in Karratha. They’re here for the Pilbara Summit and talking about topics from clean energy transition, economic development and investment and how the Pilbara fits into all that. And while she’s not physically here at the conference, Federal Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Madeleine King is addressing the conference as well today. She joins me now. Good morning to you, Minister. 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Hi, Kelly. How are you going? I’m really sad I can’t be there today, but I’ve been travelling across the country and just couldn’t make it up to Karratha this morning. 

KELLY GUDGEON: No, but you are actually addressing the conference this morning. So, all of those big topics are being discussed at the summit this week. Things around that clean energy transition, economic development, how the Pilbara sits in all that, and, as I said, you are addressing the summit this morning. What will you be saying to the delegates there?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, I’ll be pointing out what I’ve pointed out right around the country – is that the resources sector of Australia, in particular Western Australia, is going to be at the heart of our path to net zero emissions – not just Australia’s but the world’s. So, for Western Australia and the Pilbara, we will be the engine room of the transformation to a clean energy future. And that’s for a number of reasons. Firstly, the vast reserves of iron ore right across the Pilbara will be vitally important for the steel that goes into wind turbines but also, we’ve got important deposits of critical minerals that will be needed for batteries and battery storage. That will be what collects all that wind power and solar power when, you know, the sun is not shining, or the wind is not blowing so we can keep that power going into our communities. So, it’s an enormous opportunity for the country, but particularly the Pilbara and wider Western Australia to be right at the heart of that road to net zero. The world can’t do it without us, and I think that’s a very important thing for the people of the Pilbara to be aware of. 

KELLY GUDGEON: Now, you mentioned the critical minerals there from the Pilbara, and you have – the reason you aren’t physically here is you only just got back from chairing the Northern Australia ministerial forum in Cairns. And those critical minerals were on the agenda there as well as discussions around defence industry spending and changes to the NAIF which will impact the Christmas and Cocos Islands, which we also go out to from here. So, can you talk about some of the things discussed at that meeting? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Yes, certainly. Well, the Northern Australian Ministerial Forum, it’s the third one we’ve held since coming to government in May last year. And I was in Cairns last week and before that, the meeting was held in Kununurra and before that in Darwin. It’s so important for the ministers from Western Australia, which is Don Punch, and Glenn Butcher from Queensland and Nicole Manison from the Northern Territory and myself as the Federal Minister to get together in the great towns across the north to speak about what’s important to our communities. And we spoke about the changes to the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility which will now include the possibility of those low-risk loans into what we call the Indian Ocean territory, so Christmas Island and Cocos Keeling Island, and so that provides opportunities for different projects there to have government support so they can bring in other investment as well to get them going. And for the critical minerals part of that, as part of the federal government’s critical minerals strategy we are making sure that there is $500 million available in the NAIF facility for critical minerals projects. And that’s a very good thing for the north because that’s where we find most of these critical minerals. And that will be a great opportunity to progress some of these projects into their next stages. 

KELLY GUDGEON: So, are any of those projects kind of at a point where you can talk about them yet, particularly ones that might be in the Pilbara? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, there’s quite a range, and some of them have already been funded. And I might add, they’re not all in critical minerals as well. So, there’s nothing specifically I can go into today, and we also are still working with the business communities of Cocos and Christmas Island. And I know that the NAIF staff have been up there, like the CEO Craig Doyle has gone and visited, to talk to the community about what projects they might want to be able to put forward for NAIF. So certainly, those projects on the islands are very much in the beginning stages. But what I want to make sure is that the people working at NAIF are communicating with the Cocos and Keeling Islander people and the Christmas Island people so they can get projects up and running. 

KELLY GUDGEON: Now, just a few moments ago we heard from Richard Cohen from Rio Tinto. He spoke about the report Rio Tinto has released this week showing that no structural damage was recorded from a mine blast back in August which impacted an ancient rock shelter at Nammuldi mine near Tom Price. Yesterday, though, we heard that traditional owners who have inspected that rock shelter say it’s in a fragile state and has been impacted by blasting, adding they believe that Rio Tinto has taken unnecessary risks. As Federal Resources Minister, what’s your reaction to that? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Yes, I’ve seen the reporting of traditional owners, and it’s a very good thing that they’ve got in there and inspected those ancient rock shelters. As the Resources Minister I want to make sure that what we saw with the Juukan Gorge incident never happens again, and I know that’s absolutely what traditional owners want. And also, I might add, what Rio Tinto want to make sure happens as well. So, I’ve urged Rio Tinto to make sure they listen at all times – and when I say listen, I mean really listen – to traditional owners about their concerns. And I’m confident that’s what they’re doing. I know there’s going to be ongoing discussions between traditional owners and Rio Tinto, and it’s fair to say, you know, there shouldn’t be unnecessary risks taken in relation to the land which, as Ric from Rio Tinto who was on before said, you know, this belongs to the Aboriginal people of that area and they respect that, and I respect that. And we need to make sure all those voices are listened to. 

KELLY GUDGEON: You just said that, you know, you’ve asked Rio Tinto to listen. Rio Tinto have this morning also said they are listening. But are mining companies doing enough to protect Aboriginal heritage sites in your opinion? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, mining companies in Western Australia have been on a long journey over many decades in relation to working with and listening to the traditional owners of country. And it’s had a mixed past it’s fair to say. But I’m very proud of how the industry has moved itself forward and to some extent it’s been forced to do that. But in many other ways there’s been a cultural change deep within these organisations that has acknowledged that Aboriginal people are the owners of this land. And no matter what the native title laws are, no matter what other laws any government – state or federal – put in place, the mining companies themselves know that the best way to get better results is to listen to the traditional owners of the land and to work with them, not against them or not trying to find any loopholes but make sure they do the right thing because they will get better results all round. So, I’m confident that Rio are looking into this, and it is a good thing that traditional owners are raising their concerns. And they should absolutely keep on doing that because that’s the way we’ll learn more about these shelters and about the best way for mines to be managed so they don’t put them at risk. 

KELLY GUDGEON: Now, you mentioned just about laws there, and I know that the state government’s cultural heritage laws are a moving feast at the moment. But what about Federal Government? Are you able to say where that process is up to in relation to federal cultural heritage laws? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: The minister, Linda Burney, is still working on this. We’ve got a raft of reforms across environmental approvals as well as cultural heritage approvals. So, Minister Plibersek is working on the reforms for the EPBC Act, so the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, and Minister Burney is working with her as well on the cultural heritage reforms. So that is still a work in progress. And the main thing is that we need to consult with the whole community – so the owners of the land, the rest of the community that might be affected as well as industry. And it is my view and that of the Government that the more we consult and listen the better off we’ll be in the end result.

KELLY GUDGEON: Minister, we have run out of time. Thank you for your time this morning; I appreciate it. 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: It’s a pleasure, Kelly. I can’t wait to get back up there. 

KELLY GUDGEON: We can’t wait to see you. Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Madeleine King speaking there. She’s one of the speakers today at the Pilbara Summit.