Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

Kieran Gilbert
Trade delegations in Mumbai, critical minerals and India’s commitment to renewable energy. 

KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, thanks for your time. A big visit for the Prime Minister and yourself with this trade delegation. How much scope is there for growth in this relationship from your perspective as Resources Minister?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Thanks, Kieran. It's great to be here, great to be on your show. But also, you know, great to be here in India this week. The growth potential of our trade relationship with India is enormous. They’re our sixth largest trading partner, a population of over a billion people, soon going to be the third world largest economy. So a remarkable opportunity for Australian trade in so many ways. But in resources, the thing I'm really focussed on, along with Minister Joshi, the Minister here in India, is critical minerals. It's how we make the most of our natural endowment in Australia and work with like-minded partners. India is a vast, vibrant democracy, part of the Quad grouping. So, a natural fit when it comes to working together on the extraction and processing of critical minerals.

KIERAN GILBERT: And when we talk about that, let's just explain to viewers critical minerals, we're talking about not just lithium - so lithium is one of them in batteries and so on. But there are many others, dozens of rare earths and critical minerals that will basically help shape the future. Who supplies these things?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Absolutely. Lithium is one everyone knows about, and that's understandable. We all know we've got lithium-ion batteries in our phones, and they make up EV batteries. So, it's a very important critical mineral. And Australia happens to be the place that has the most of it in the entire world. So, once again, like iron ore, it's one of these natural endowments of our amazing geology that we have the opportunity to make the most of. So, but the other thing is, cobalt will be very important for elements of batteries. And rare earth elements form products that go into high-powered magnets, which they also need in the electric vehicles, but also in wind turbines. So, these are things - lithium is a great example of a critical mineral that was once in the dumpster pile for tin mines, which is what Green Bushes is in the southwest of Western Australia. And now we go through these tailings, we find things that once weren't valuable, but now it's the thing the world not only wants, but needs to get to a net zero position.

KIERAN GILBERT: So, yeah, that's part of that net zero commitment. So things like, as you said, wind turbines and other elements like that. But then if we upscale our goal here and not just dig out the resource, but take it further up the production line, that too can be lucrative. How much are you focussed on that?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Very much so. And it's been our government's policy, we want to make more things here. Processing and the refinement of minerals is also a manufacturing industry. So, it's moving things along that value chain. So it's not just the ore that we ship out, we ore, we process it, we do cracking and leaching or other processes that get us further along the line, but then there's further along the line from that to precursor materials for batteries. So, there's a lot of steps in the process to build a battery and we don't do many of them at all. And that's what we need to do, concentrate on the extraction, which we're very good at and have been very good at for centuries, the extraction of minerals and other products and we're good at the processing. We need to go further along that value line.

KIERAN GILBERT: In terms of that extraction, though, there's still work to do, isn't there? And I believe Geoscience Australia has got a fair bit of work to do in terms of finding out where the supplies, the stores of this stuff is, because we don't know where - how lucrative it could be for this country.

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, Geoscience Australia work on this for a significant amount of time. They're probably ahead of the game than most of us in terms of what they look for. They're indiscriminate with their exploration. They look for anything and when it becomes of value, they look even further. And now, obviously, critical minerals is a really important part of their, what we call pre-competitive exploration work, which identifies potential and then private companies come in and dig a little bit deeper, do a bit more exploration to find the actual important, commercially viable part of that deposit.

KIERAN GILBERT: You touched on it before though, that India is a key member of the Quad and an ally, so it's different to China, which to this point has had a stranglehold in this space. China was ahead of the game, wasn't it, when it comes to critical minerals. But others, like Japan, like India, are looking for a supply not from China.

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, everyone needs to diversify their supply chains. It's something we've learnt from the Pandemic that if you rely on one thing from one place too much, you can be left high and dry. Same goes for critical minerals and because it will be imperative for a net zero world. And that means it's part of the renewable mix that we need these minerals to go into all the things we need for decarbonised world.

KIERAN GILBERT: For decarbonise, fine and that's part of the vision that Modi has and obviously your government. But at the moment coal is still the largest and by a long way export to India from Australia, isn't it? And my understanding is that during the week at that forum that you attended with CEOs, the message from the Indian membership at that discussion was we will need that for the foreseeable future, your coal.

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Yeah, and I've been very consistent. Each country has to choose its own pathway to net zero emissions. It's got different conditions. We have a relatively low population. Here in India there's a billion or more people and many of them still live in situations of energy poverty. They're not even on the grid. Many also don't have access to safe cooking fuels. So the Indian Government rightly wants to make their life better, and that will depend upon some of the fossil fuels we export. Equally, the Indian Government is really committed to moving the whole economy to a decarbonised state. They've got a commitment for 500 megawatts of renewable energy by 2030. For a country like India, that is an astounding ambition. But I've been in meetings this week in India where everyone is putting their shoulder to the wheel to achieve it. So, it would be wrong of us to deny countries like India the energy sources they need to keep their people safe, keep their people able to cook safely, able to have the lifestyle we're accustomed to.

KIERAN GILBERT: Well, and there were business representatives from Australia representing a market cap of around $900bn. So, it was a big delegation that we sent; Rio Tinto, BHP, Twiggy Forrest among them. Was Adani represented from the Indian side? Because Adani is probably, if not the largest, it is certainly one of the largest Indian investments in resources in our country.

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Yeah, that's right. And they're also a significant part of the Indian economy. But I'm not aware that they were here.

KIERAN GILBERT: And is there a reason for that? Is it part of the complexity in the politics around the fact that it was hard to get that up in the first place, that project?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: No. As you would know, there's been much reporting about the status of a few issues around Adani which they are quite rightly going through with their government and the relevant authorities. I have no doubt it's got nothing to do with their investment in Australia.

KIERAN GILBERT: Would you say there's goodwill towards Adani from Australia or between the two parties?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, the mine you're speaking of in Queensland has created a lot of jobs. So in that community, it's very well received.

KIERAN GILBERT: And is there scope for further growth in that?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: I've not heard of any proposals where they're seeking to extend that mine.

KIERAN GILBERT: But for Australia, it's still going to be a major export, isn't it, for the- 


KIERAN GILBERT: Not just metallurgical coal, but thermal coal. As you said, countries like India still have to heat and cool their population.

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: You're absolutely right. But when there is a difference between, you say, the metallurgical and thermal coal, and metallurgical coal, which is for making steel from iron ore from all around the world, is the principal export. So - and until we can get the technology right around green steel using hydrogen, and India is very much invested in pursuing that. As is Australia. As is Japan. That is the way you make steel to build cities. Thermal coal is a very small proportion of the imports of coal to India and they're seeking to change their mix; that increase in renewables, also, a change in the use of gas is a lower-emitting - still a fossil fuel, but a lower-emitting hydrocarbon  source.

KIERAN GILBERT: Resources Minister Madeleine King. I very much appreciate your time here in Mumbai. Thanks.