Q&A session with Paul Kelly at the National Bush Summit

Paul Kelly
Mining and resources sector, Gas industry.

PAUL KELLY: Minister, thank you very much for that evocative and substantial speech. One of your responsibilities as Resources Minister is to propagate the interests of the resources sector. Now, you’ve just told us that 86 per cent of Australians live in the capital cities. We’re very much in terms of our culture an urban civilisation. What can we do and what can you do, in particular, to create a greater awareness in the capital cities and in urban Australia of the extent to which their national income and their services derive from the bush, from the regions and, above all, from resources? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Thanks, Paul. Well, what I think we find in Western Australia, in particular, is that a lot of people in urban areas do participate in the industry through fly in, fly out. And while we want to have more people living in the regions near where a lot of those resources facilities are, that simply cannot always be the case. So I think in some cases in Western Australia there is a bit better understanding of the value of resources than there might be in other places, just because so many people work in that industry. 

PAUL KELLY: Well, I think that’s right. I think that’s right in terms of WA, but what about the rest of the country, in particular, the east coast? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Yes that is a challenge, I agree. But then when I first went into parliament I made certain I understood other parts of the resources industry. So the coal industry of northern New South Wales and Queensland is much, much different to the iron ore industry I’m more familiar with in Western Australia, where whole villages, as they call them there are interconnected with the industry, where public rail lines and public transport share the same rail as trains carrying coal. And there’s an important interrelationship between those towns and the coal mines, the exporting facilities and the whole community. So those little pockets, they get it, too, but I do accept what you’re saying – that there are other parts of the country that maybe don’t understand this as much, and that’s what I alluded to. And I guess it is up to me and it’s up to my colleagues to make sure we go and visit these places if we can so we can talk more positively about them. It’s not talking them up; it’s just telling the truth. 

PAUL KELLY: But I think one question here is: are your colleagues with you? I mean, we know that you’ve had difficulties in terms of the government, in terms of the party gathering and harnessing their support for the resources sector. How do you feel about your colleagues in the party? Are they behind the resources sector? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Look, they’re a hundred per cent behind the resources sector. You know the Prime Minister and the Treasurer particularly as a Queenslander is very much behind the resources sector and knows full well the value it brings. And the whole cabinet went to Port Hedland recently and, I mean, I tell you what, seeing the Port of Port Hedland is a real eyeopener for one who hasn’t been there before. It was a very important initiative of our Prime Minister. I do think it would be wise for – and I don’t care what party you’re from – more parliamentarians seeing more of the resources sector is unequivocally a good thing. 

PAUL KELLY: I want to take you to I think one of the most interesting statements you’ve made in your time as Resources Minister. Looking at the future of the industry, you’ve said the road to net zero runs through the resources sector. Now, many people see mining and resources as a problem when it comes to net zero. What you’ve said is it’s part of the solution. How does that work? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, it’s just simply the facts. Objectively there will be more mining, not less, to reach net zero. We know to reach net zero we need to have battery storage. We need to have renewable energy which requires wind turbines or solar panels. And there is magnets on the wheels for electric vehicles as well as the batteries. All of these things, and many more things that we take for granted – the mobile devices everyone’s got – you know, all require mining. Mining of critical minerals and rare earths, different to what we think of with the massive iron ore kind of mines such as Mount Whaleback which makes steel which build the cities of China and Japan. But these are the things we will absolutely need and not just us – the whole world needs them. 

PAUL KELLY: But I think one of the interesting things about this is - this is obviously a concept that you’re deeply focused on and profoundly aware of. But I think most Australian people aren’t. They don’t really understand the debate about critical minerals. They don’t really understand the extent to which mining is going to be important for net zero. Do you think this has got the potential to change Australian attitudes towards mining and resources? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Yeah, I think it does. But anything like a new industry like this needs to be well explained. Foisting concepts and ideas on people has never really got anyone very far and it’s not helpful. So my efforts are in trying to explain it better, I suppose, Paul, to highlight that this is - the reality is we will need more mining for these rare earth elements and critical minerals. How we do them will be in accordance with environmental best practice, and the good news is that is what countries like the US and European Union really want. They want to have a reliability of supply which also meets social and governance standards that we all come to expect. So we have a good story to tell in Australia in the fact that we mine responsibly and sustainably and we do it for the long term for the benefit of all the community, whether it be the workers, the local Indigenous traditional owners and otherwise. So it’s a really good story to tell, and it puts us above most other mining places in the world. 

PAUL KELLY: But are we up to it? I mean, you’ve been very frank talking about the enormous challenges involved in this. And geology is not enough. If we are to develop and mine these critical minerals, refine them and then move to the next stage of manufacturing, this is really an economic and industry revolution for this country. We’ll need the technology, the capital and we’ve got to be internationally competitive. We’ll have lots of rivals. Are we up to the job? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: We’ve proven we’re up to the job. This country has done this before, and we’ve done it really well. You only have to look at Hancock Prospecting for what that development led. But also a lot of this absolutely requires governments to be involved. As you said, geology is not enough, although, gee, it’s a great start. Bob Hawke, you know, stood with the Premier of China to ensure the deal was done to help Rio Tinto’s first big mines happen in the north. That was a really important step. John Howard also stood with members of the Chinese government to ensure there were good gas offtake agreements to make sure the North West Shelf progressed. So these are efforts we have made continuously over many years. And I’d reflect also on the former Premier of this state, Sir Charles Court, and the work he did to make sure Japanese investment came in after the war to literally rebuild Tokyo through Mount Whaleback basically, the BHP mine at Newman. So these are important works that governments do and individuals within governments take steps to ensure that these relationships exist so that we can do exactly what we need to do not just for Australia’s prosperity, which is very important, but for our region’s prosperity. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again. 

PAUL KELLY: Well, still on critical minerals, I was discussing this issue with Kim Beazley at the weekend, and he was very focused on the strategic implications of Australia’s capacity to develop critical minerals because they will be fundamental in terms of security, technological and military issues over the next 20 to 30 to 40 years, particularly in terms of the rise of China and deterrence against China. One of the suggestions that Kim Beazley put forward was that Australia should be thinking about building the critical minerals project into the Pillar 2 of the AUKUS agreement. Now, I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to focus on that, but I’m wondering what your response is to that idea. 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, I’ve certainly read Kim’s work in his recent [indistinct] publication, which was really enlightening, and it’s great that Kim, as a former member for Brand, continues to contribute to this important discussion given, you know, his extraordinary expertise and experience. But the truth is, critical minerals will be - are totally essential to clean energy technologies. And these are the things that all the world needs and wants to reach net zero. So having the supply chain to make sure we have options, that other nations have options, that AUKUS nations have options around their supply chains is very important. And that’s why the Prime Minister is working with President Biden on the compact on the climate and critical minerals, and that’s the work I’ll be doing later in the year – going to the US to progress that. Because we do need greater US engagement but particularly investment in making sure we can have more of those processing facilities here. Because we’re good at extraction, no doubt about it. But getting that more investment into refining and processing, and that’s really what the critical minerals story is about, it’s not going to be pretty. There are going to be more refineries and there are going to be more processing plants. But that’s absolutely what the story of critical minerals is. We need to do that to make sure we can have battery storage, renewable energy, all the things we need to decarbonise. 

PAUL KELLY: Okay, a final question: let’s talk about gas to finish up, because there are very significant differences within the government and within the Labor Party about gas, the role of gas and its future. So can I just ask you: for how long do you think Australia will be an exporter of gas, and how do you see gas? Is it a fossil fuel on the way out or is it an indispensable and invaluable transition fuel? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, it is a fossil fuel, there’s no doubt it contributes to global emissions. And this government has introduced laws to make sure that any operator of gas fields and so forth, you know, come in under the safeguards mechanism. So that’s an important step that everyone is taking. And I might add it was the gas companies themselves that committed to net zero emissions well before the Commonwealth of Australia did, so we should respect their efforts to decarbonise as well. And also their investment in abatement technologies like CCUS but also wider programs for offsets. Our region – we need gas. WA is – the growth in gas in this state is driven by minerals processing. Basically the critical minerals, but other minerals as well. So there is a need for gas in this state to power the minerals processing we’ll need to have the technologies to decarbonise. And that’s why the offsets and the CCUS are so important because we need one thing, gas, to get the other. Critical minerals. So, you know, that’s this state’s story. But then there are other nations that have also committed to net zero by 2050 before this country did that have chosen a pathway through LNG, and that’s South Korea and also Japan and Singapore and others. And they’re important partners. They’ve helped us grow these industries, the regions around them, the jobs that are in the suburbs like where I live in Rockingham and all around the state. So gas will be a part of the future. But it will also be part of a decarbonised future, because that’s what the gas companies have committed to and what this government is committed to. And to be honest, I think we’re all actually on the same page – there are just disagreements on how we get there. And I don’t mean between government and gas cos; I mean between some activists around the corner, you know, around the way. But the thing is, we do want to get to net zero. Gas will be part of that story. 

PAUL KELLY: Minister, thank you very much for your presentation, for your involvement in this Q&A.