Speech to the International Mining and Resources Conference
24 November 2020
There are certain things that define people and nations.
Things that are part of them, part of their very identity.
Things they sometimes even take for granted.
I’d suggest that mining and resources fall into this category.
The story of Australia is, in so many ways, the story of mining.
- the Goldfields of Ballarat and Kalgoorlie well over a century ago;
- to the extraction of lithium in Western Australia,
…it is mining that permeates every aspect of our economy, society and daily lives.
If we have been guilty of taking it for granted in the past, we certainly don’t today.
Because right now—in the middle of this global pandemic and recession it is our resources and miners who are keeping our economy going and leading the way to economic recovery.
In the last financial year resources and energy exports hit a record high of $290 billion:
- Iron ore exports broke the $100 billion mark for the first time.
- Our thermal and metallurgical coal exports amounted to $55 billion.
- And gold exports jumped 29 per cent to a record $24 billion.
- We were one of the biggest LNG exporters in the world.
- And we were the world’s largest exporter of uranium.
The sector is facing considerable challenges as geopolitics and COVID-19 affect world trade.
But the point I make is this—in the most difficult and testing of times, we are reminded of the absolute importance of mining and resources to our nation’s economic resilience and future prosperity.
Mining Equipment, Technology and Services
Of course, much of this success is facilitated by our world class Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) sector.
We are home to a staggering proportion of the world’s top, and most innovative, METS companies.
So it comes as no surprise they have adapted to the challenges of the pandemic.
And the Government’s investments—through the Industry Growth Centres, the CRC Program, the Entrepreneurs’ Program, CSIRO, and the Research and Development Tax Incentive—demonstrate our support and backing for the sector.
We particularly excel in areas such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics, automation and remote operations.
In 2018, Rio Tinto deployed the world’s first automated heavy-haul, long distance rail network at its iron ore operations.
And BHP is also accelerating truck autonomy across its Australian sites.
We are also using technology for automating dangerous work, monitoring fatigue, and real-time detection of collisions.
In terms of exports, I know Latin America is an important and growing market, and I am pleased to announce that Australia will be the inaugural partner for Peru’s 2021 Peru-min Conference.
Recovery and Opportunities
Coming out of COVID, the Government is determined to revitalise our national economy.
That is why we are acting boldly and decisively to facilitate even greater competitiveness in the mining and resources sector and across the entire economy.
We are strengthening vocational education and training through our $585 million Skills Package Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow.
The higher Instant Asset Write-Off threshold enables businesses to immediately deduct the full cost new eligible asset purchases.
Our Digital Business Plan will accelerate the digital capability of Australian businesses.
Of course, recovery is all about jobs—and the Australian resources sector is central to this, employing nearly 250,000 workers from the CBD of Melbourne to the remote outback.
To grow and make the most of the new opportunities skilled workers are essential.
And our National Resources Workforce Strategy will link Government, the resources sector, and education providers to supply the trained workers the industry needs.
I applaud the actions the sector is taking to ensure its workforce is highly skilled, capable, and ready for the future.
BHP’s recent apprenticeship pledge—which includes more apprenticeships, skills development opportunities and support for Australian METs—is a good example of this.
But it is no good to have highly skilled workers, if projects are delayed due to onerous regulations.
That’s why the Government has asked the Productivity Commission to review how we can reduce the regulatory burden on the resources sector.
Its final report is due later this year and in the meantime we are pushing on with the reforms to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Certainty, transparency and enhanced efficiency are the hallmarks of good regulation—and this will guide any further reforms we make.
Into the Future
Further exploration and investment will be critical for our sector and for Australia’s prosperity.
To encourage further exploration, we recently announced a $125 million extension to the Exploring for the Future program.
This next phase will focus on two resource corridors that are highly prospective for minerals, energy and groundwater resources.
Since 2018, a total of 17 resource companies, including global majors, have applied for exploration tenements in areas of Queensland and the Northern Territory where early EFTF activities were focused.
Twelve of these companies have publicly cited Exploring for the Future data as being integral to their investment decisions.
It is early days of course, but we expect similar results off the back of the program’s expansion.
Strategic Basin Plans
The Prime Minister has spoken widely about the importance of abundant, reliable and cheap energy and the government’s plan for a ‘gas-fired’ recovery.
Under this plan we have committed over $28 million to speed up the development in five Strategic Basins.
These include the Beetaloo Basin—which I’ve heard the press justifiably describe as ‘the hottest play on the planet right now’—as the first to be explored under the new funding.
For each basin, plans will be established to accelerate exploration and development.
They will identify:
- What resources opportunities are present
- How we can accelerate and optimise their development.
- And how this will benefit Australians—including jobs, trade and more affordable energy.
These plans will also look for mineral development opportunities and ground‑water reservoirs.
COVID has also highlighted the importance of critical minerals and improving the security of global supply chains.
Whether it is mobile phones and laptops, medical equipment or electric cars, rare earths are the essential component of so much manufacturing today and into the future.
It is our aspiration that Australia become a world leader in exploration, extraction, production and processing of critical minerals.
We have established the Critical Minerals Facilitation Office to coordinate and deliver on this goal.
It is also why we have identified critical minerals processing and resources technology as a priority area in the $1.5 billion Modern Manufacturing Strategy.
We will be working with the sector to develop roadmaps identifying roadblocks and growth opportunities—for both mining and processing—and I know this work will benefit immensely from the progress already made by METS Ignited.
I’d also make the point that for some time we have been active in this area:
- The Government is providing some $6.9 million to support an industry-led Blockchain pilot related to critical minerals.
- We are working with the states and territories on a National Critical Minerals Development Roadmap to bring new projects online.
- To attract investment we have just released the second edition of the Australian Critical Minerals Prospectus.
- And in the past few months we have signed agreements with key partners, such as Japan and India.
To learn more about our plans for critical minerals and how the Critical Minerals Facilitation Office can help, I encourage you to tune into the presentation from Ms Jessica Robinson, General Manager of the Critical Minerals Facilitation Office later today.
In these extraordinary times, as we emerge from the economic shock of COVID, we will look to the resources sector more than ever.
As always, this Government will work closely with you.
We will continue to encourage exploration and investment and provide the certainty and stability the sector needs to operate with confidence.
Thank you for all you’ve done during COVID, together we can recover and prosper.