Interview with Patricia Karvelas, Breakfast, ABC Radio National

Patricia Karvelas
Economic importance of resource sector, Hydrogen Head Start Program, Climate change.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: When we talk about tackling climate change in Australia, the hard truth is we generate enormous revenue from our abundant natural resources, like coal and gas, that contribute to global warming.

That conflict between industry and profits and the environment has no easy answers, and it's a pretty big tension. But the party's Resources Minister, Madeleine King, says many of us need a sharp reminder about just how critical these resources are to the nation's economy.

Madeleine King joins us this morning. Minister, welcome.

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Good morning, Patricia, how are you going?

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Good, thank you. Why do you say much of the country needs a wake-up call to remind us of the importance of the resources sector?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, I think for many people, the resources sector feels quite distant from their lives, and that's understandable, I don't expect everyone to know what goes on and where the vast mines of iron ore are extracted from the Pilbara, but nonetheless it's helpful to have an understanding of what underlies the prosperity of our nation, and it is our resources sector, and it has been since coal was first discovered in New South Wales in 1797. Also of course the Gold Rush, the Great Victorian Gold Rush, which extended out to Western Australia as well.

So this is a long story in Australia of a resources extraction and concentration which has underpinned our prosperity, first with coal, then with gold, but then, and then more recently, and now for decades, you know, the great iron ore story of the Pilbara, and also, of course, LNG, and now increasingly a new revolution in critical minerals and rare earths.

But it really is important to understand that you can't have all these resources and the prosperity that comes with them without the workers of this country that do all, literally, the work that extracts those minerals and those resources for the greater good for the world indeed.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: I don't think anyone would contest that there's been incredibly huge benefits financially, particularly for people, ordinary workers, and of course companies and profits from these companies, but there has been an environmental consequence because of it. Do you concede that that environmental consequence is now being borne out in real time at a point in time where we are, well, literally on fire in many places.

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, of course there's an environmental consequence when you literally change the natural use of the land, so farming would be the same. You would have seen, as you've flown to Perth, the miles upon miles of the Western Australian Wheatbelt, you know, it goes for vast, vast distances, and that's a change in that environment which, you know, affects that place, but also others. And when you mine iron ore, of course you're changing the environment, you literally have to dig things up, so, yeah, of course that is the case, but fortunately in Australia we do have a very strong and robust administrative system which makes sure that approvals are sought, consultation happens, in regard to all uses of the land.

So I'm confident in regards to environmental protections around all of the resources projects in this country.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you think resources companies have been painted as, you know, Public Enemy No. 1 in the Australian consciousness?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, perhaps in certain parts of the country, but not in my neck of the woods, you know    

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Well, in which parts of the country is it happening?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, I think that's - well, I think some people, you know, don't interact we resources sector so much, and so they have seen particular incidents which have really been disturbing as well. I mean the Juukan Gorge, you know, we can never forget the tragedy of that. And then people - and I understand why this happens, they apply that incident across the whole sector, but we also need to understand that that sector employs hundreds of thousands of Australians each and every day right across the country, and that work, the work that those people do, you know, has to be respected by everybody.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: But what do you say to members of your own party who are right now at your National Conference calling on the Prime Minister to be tougher on climate change and to follow the lead of the United States and invest big, big dollars in renewable energy?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: I totally support what the US is doing in investing in renewable energy, and    

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do we need to match it though for our own scale?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, this government has - we have, you know, made significant changes to the policy of the Commonwealth in the 15 months since we've been elected to change that dial after the 10 years of neglect from the former government. And we need to attract investment. It's very hard to compete with the capital of the US as the world's largest economy, we're making sure there is a framework in place to do that.

But also I would note, you know, the US has invested heavily in hydrogen, which Minister Bowen has recently made the announcement about the Hydrogen Head Start Program, but also an important carbon abatement projects like carbon capture, use and storage. So the US is doubling down into CCS, also doubling down into its investment in critical minerals and processing, which Australia will be a vital part of their supply chain.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So should we, on the figures though, we are nowhere near the kind of investment that the US is spending, you know, per capita. Should we be doing it?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, this government is seeking investment and putting in place that framework to make sure we do get - we need private investment in renewables, and that is ramping up, as you would have heard from Minister Bowen in previous interviews, and in the papers. But, yeah, we need to invest more, absolutely, but the government can't do all of the investment. We have fiscal challenges, we need to be a responsible manager of the Treasury, and we are, so that we don't, you know, go into another cycle that the former government left us with the, you know, trillions of dollars in debt. So we have to be thoughtful and careful and use our smarts and not always subsidies around these matters.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Around the world climate activists have really stepped up direct action against businesses, events and individuals linked to fossil fuels. What do you make of those protests? Are they fair?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: I support protest movements, so, yeah, I'd have no objection to peaceful and respectful protests. I know I've participated in some, you know, from time -


MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Yeah, well, I think as a uni student, you get involved in things, and I don't mind a march, but it is about being respectful, and I think, you know, we know we've seen the protest activity that's gone into the disrespectful and harmful space of invading people's privacy, and I think that is where things   where matters cross a line and people need to think a bit more about the threat they pose to individuals.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just on another issue, Madeleine King, and we're speaking to Madeleine King, the Resources Minister, and you're listening to ABC RN Breakfast, threatened industry action from workers at two Australian gas companies have sent wholesale gas spot prices soaring. Do industrial disputes like this threaten us globally?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, I think people need to understand that the nature of the work in this industry, it is - can be dangerous, we've got a lot of health and safety rules and regulations which make it safer, but you know, the people that work on offshore rigs and even in the facilities that are onshore, are doing very, very difficult work and difficult swings as well away from their families.

So you know, they fly in, fly out for two weeks on, two weeks off, you know, so they deserve every penny they get in my opinion. It's just work that many of us wouldn't contemplate. So I respect their right to negotiate with their employers and these companies to make sure they get, you know, fair compensation for the work that they do.

But how it affects the global market is very important and it does show the volatility around energy security around the world, which is inflamed, of course, by the war in Ukraine, but every time there's a shortage somewhere in a globalised economy, it flows on, and you know, I can understand the economic jitters, but equally I totally support the workers themselves.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So is your view that Woodside should pay up?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: I think respectful conversation should be had, and I know that is happening, there are meetings happening between the workforce and Woodside, and there have been other negotiations in regard to other facilities as well. So I'll let these people do their good work and progress that, but I do think we need to be understanding of the fact that this is tough work out in those rigs; this is a long time away from families, and you know, the workers themselves need to be respected in this as well.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us this morning, Minister.

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Yeah, thanks Patricia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Madeleine King, the Federal Resources Minister.