Media doorstop, IMARC conference, Sydney

Doorstop interview
Doorstop interview discusses carbon emissions, critical minerals, gas, skilled migration

JOURNALIST: So, how do you feel coming to this conference today?

MADELEINE KING: Oh, great. It’s a great conference. A lot of international visitors. We’ve seen Ministers from around the world and also ambassadors representing their countries here in Australia in attendance, so it’s a great opportunity for me as the Resources Minister of Australia to talk about the Australian resources industry to the rest of the world. It’s a great conference. As you can see, the expo around us is massive and just shows what we can learn from other countries, what they can learn from us.

JOURNALIST: One of the big discussion points of the conference is decarbonisation, things like that. How much is the Government prepared to support that in terms of monetary support, policy support?

MADELEINE KING: Well, you know, we’ve legislated to achieve net‑zero emissions by 2050. It’s a clear aim of this Government. We took that policy to the election and the Australian people supported it. So, we are determined to reach net‑zero emissions. As I’ve said very often, the road to net‑zero emissions will be through the resources sector. We have to extract more minerals not less to get there. We need to extract critical minerals so that we can build the technology that allows us to get to net zero – batteries, wind turbines et cetera. The Government has put in $50 million to a critical minerals development program, another $50 million to the Critical Minerals Research and Development Hub and we’re working on reviewing the Critical Minerals Strategy, which under – the former Government did not make the very important link between net‑zero emissions and decarbonisation and critical minerals. We are changing that. And we are also reviewing the critical minerals list of Australia.

JOURNALIST: Minister King, your colleague Minister Husic has again talked about the gas industry being tone deaf, having a glut of greed in terms of the prices they’re charging Australian consumers. It was notable in your comments just then there was no mention of either reservation or extra supply. Is there a particular audience you were speaking to; you didn’t bring up those issues?

MADELEINE KING: Oh, it is a particular audience and these domestic policy issues of Australia, we are still doing much work on this, and I don’t think it would really help to take this audience through the machinations of that. I really wanted to be here to talk about very positive side of the resources industry and particularly an emphasis on critical minerals. Having said that, it’s important to note there are a lot of different gas providers in this country. There’s a lot of concentration that’s been placed on the three exporters of Queensland, but there is a whole other retail and wholesale market as well that has different pricing as well and that, I think, in how we look at the gas market is going to be very important as part of our review of this and our future reforms as well.

JOURNALIST: The mining industry itself and refineries, processors, they’re also facing the inflationary pressure the rest of the economy has. So they’re seeing, you know, sure they have [indistinct] prices for [indistinct] but massive increases in operating costs from gas, storing [indistinct] fossil fuels to power the industry, so what kind of – you’ve been silent on that –

MADELEINE KING: Which industry do you mean?

JOURNALIST: Mining industry itself, mining, refining, processing, so what is the Government going to do to help support the industry in that respect, the immediate, rather than the decarbonisation stuff?

MADELEINE KING: I understand. To take critical minerals processing as an example, it will require fossil fuels to do that processing and in particular gas. At the moment, there is no replacement for gas to be able to process rare earths or critical minerals. It needs that heat generation and the volume, and what we see in States like Western Australia, where gas is a lot cheaper because of particular policies pursued over many, many decades, that will remain that source, and if I take the example of Lynas in Mount Weld in Laverton, they have sought to reduce their emissions by moving from diesel, very high‑emitting power source, through gas, still emits carbon, absolutely, but it emits much less. They will then move into, as others will, a series of offsets and abatement. And we know that gas will still be needed for many of these processes and what we also know is the gas industry itself is absolutely committed to net zero by 2050. We support that. They made that ambition clear before the Australian Government did, but it is important to know that that resource will still be needed for many of that manufacturing. So, how a Government sets out – and Minister Bowen is doing that through a review of carbon credit units and other offsets. That’s going to be a really important part of the puzzle not just for us but for the rest of the world as well.

JOURNALIST: Minister, do you support a price cap on gas?

MADELEINE KING: My perspective is - what I don’t support is ad hoc and kneejerk policy proposals that don’t really address what is a really complex problem. So, people can nominate lots of solutions and there’s lots of pieces in there, so I openly admit that pricing is absolutely one of them, the pricing and what we saw in the budget, which the former Government tried to hide, is an extraordinary crushing kind of increase in power prices and I absolutely accept that, but when we think about solutions, we have to look at the broader range of possible solutions. We have an opaque gas market. There are something like 40 retailers and there are 20‑odd producers, but who knows who’s offering what? That’s what we’re trying to get to the bottom of; the ACCC is doing that. I get lots of anecdotal stories as well about pricing. I get the stories about some really massive gas users being offered $30 a gigajoule contracts. Equally, for the following year they’re able to seek out contracts that are much, much less. Somewhere in between lies the truth and that’s what we’re trying to get to and that will inform our policy decision. I’m going to ask that someone else has a go, if that’s all right.

JOURNALIST: The Canadian Government just announced they’re going to force the Chinese [indistinct] lithium [indistinct] in the country. Are you – and yesterday, related to that, the head of Sinosteel Australia said he was concerned that the current relations with China were scaring away Chinese industry. Where do you – will you be asking Chinese – Tianqi has a big investment in lithium in Western Australia. Would you – are you comfortable with that? Will you be asking Chinese companies to divest as well?

MADELEINE KING: Tianqi’s investments in its refineries in my electorate, in Kwinana, it’s a very important employer. It also produces lithium hydroxide that we use in our own industries and a consumer of local goods as well. We have Foreign Investment Review Board rules that set investment rules in this country and that will remain as it is. We’ve got the COVID rules are in place, and they will remain as they are.

JOURNALIST: So, the critical mineral issue, you’re building – trying to get these supply chains with allies like Canada and the US, very obviously excluding China, but Chinese ownership of lithium, that’s fine.  

MADELEINE KING: What is fine is there are products. We haven’t got far along with that chain yet and that’s what the Government is determined to do, so that we can make more of what starts with the critical mineral ores into, you know, anodes and cathodes and possibly batteries, but we’re not at this stage yet. There is also private capital involved and they’re entitled to sell their products around the world as well.

JOURNALIST: There’s a capacity skills shortage in the mining industry at the moment and there seems to be a tension between unions and then the mining sector itself. The mining sector is calling on the Federal Government to allow more migration into the country. How does the Government balance those two?

MADELEINE KING: Well, there is a need for skilled migration. As I said, in the speech, the resources industry accounts for the second‑highest number of workers in Western Australia and a very high number of workers right across the country. There are skills and worker gaps in every industry, whether it’s mining and the indirect services that support mining. Skilled migration, even unskilled migration, will be part of that. But the important thing is that it is managed well and that migrants have a path to citizenship because that’s the right thing to do.

JOURNALIST: You’re investing more in visa processing; that seems to be the problem, that people cannot get visas through at the moment.

MADELEINE KING: The Minister for Home Affairs is absolutely looking at that, absolutely. Same as the citizenship ceremony backlog.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you mentioned social licence at the end of your speech. What do you actually consider that to be? Does social licence extend to prices that gas producers, for example, offer?

MADELEINE KING: What I was referring to is the whole resources sector needs to work really hard at telling its story around reputation, and there are reputation issues on many factors. You’ll see in the fly in, fly out industry in Western Australia horrific instances of women being raped in the workplace. These are reputational issues and social licence that I refer to as well. As for gas prices, I’ve been working with the gas industry. I think they’re pretty aware that they’re on the nose. So, this is the focus of their minds too. It will be up to them to prove what pricing they are actually offering and, as I said, some of our problem here is this opaque market where we’re not quite sure what is going on. The Government to determine look further into that with the ACCC and come up with sensible solutions, not ad hoc responses that just get us deeper into the well.

JOURNALIST: Minister, related to that, you mentioned also the importance of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament and backed the commitment from your Parliament. If that is installed and that Voice gives guidance on, say, not approving a mining – basically, are you prepared to deny a mining expansion if that Voice to Parliament is installed, that they say that it is not the correct decision?

MADELEINE KING: Right around this country, in any mining project or resources project, First Nations people have a say in the development. State Governments are very cognisant of those First Nations voices right now. So, they have a very important say in whether any process goes ahead – 

JOURNALIST: Is that, say, going to become more important than the money from mining in the future?

MADELEINE KING: No, the Voice is important itself across many, many, many parts of the whole economy and our social infrastructure. So, they’ll have obviously, and they already do, have a say in mining projects, as well they should, and they’ll continue to do, but they also have a say in many other things. And that’s the idea of a Voice to Parliament, to make sure that these voices are heard and respected and we will respect them. I’m afraid I do have to go. I’ve got a meeting.

JOURNALIST: Thanks, Minister.