Thursday, 14 September 2023

Ladies and Gentlemen I am delighted to join you this morning.

I’d like to thank Tania Constable, as CEO of the Minerals Council, and Andrew Michelmore AO as Chair, for inviting me here today to speak.

I’d also like to acknowledge my Parliamentary colleague Madeleine King, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia.

And of course, I’d like to acknowledge the support that the Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton – who will be speaking later today – has demonstrated for the resources sector.

History is becoming increasingly subjective. Last week it was reported that the Walkley awards is reconsidering its sponsorship by fossil fuel companies. 

The founder’s role in establishing Ampol means that the contributions of our industrial society to advances in standards of living, education, health and food production will now be papered over, and denied. 

This selective rewriting of history and the good the industry has accomplished does no one any favours.

So I thank for the work you do; the work you have done and the work you will do – the contributions to building our modern society, in the workplace and economically, through safer workplaces, and well paid opportunities for a diverse workforce; taxes and royalties paid, contributions to regional communities as well as investments environmentally, and partnerships with traditional owners all of which often goes unseen and underappreciated by wider society.

Congratulations on the strength and dynamism of your industry which supports so much of our way of life.

It is hard to believe it’s been a year since we last gathered for Minerals Week and I spoke about the important role Australia has to play in global growth and energy transformation as well as food security through the supply of mineral fertilisers.

A year ago we spoke about the priorities, opportunities and risks for mining in Australia.

In the last year there has been significant and rapid change in Australia’s resources and mining landscape, heightening the reality of those opportunities driven by global forces and the risks driven by domestic ones.

Proposed and enacted changes to environmental laws, workplace relations, carbon pricing, Indigenous cultural considerations, royalties, export and price controls have been numerous and unending – the goal-posts always moving.

There have been international market jitters, sponsorship controversies, shareholder activism, vexatious litigants, adverse court rulings, illegal protests and concerted anti-mining media campaigns.

It is a credit to the resilience of Australian miners that throughout they have continued mining and continued providing the bedrock for a prosperous national economy.

I have recently been in Western Australia visiting many of you and your operations across the State, from the Pilbara to the Kimberley, from the Mid West to the South West, and from the Goldfields to the boardrooms of Perth.

I have seen your operations first-hand and heard from workers on the ground about both the opportunities and challenges you face. Whether it be the vast iron-ore mines, the gold and copper pits or rapidly expanding lithium projects, many of the challenges you face remain the same.

Last year I warned of overzealous regulators who would strangle industry expansion in unworkable red and green tape, and of governments that greedily eye the sugar hit of a tax-grab, or alarm international trade partners with successive market interventions.

Concerningly, over the last twelve months we have seen this warning become our reality.

As we’ve heard, a one year delay in approvals to mining projects costs the Australian economy $51 billion.

That’s not $51 billion off the bottom lines of big companies. No – that’s nearly $2000 per person of wealth that could have been generated for every single Australian, but wasn’t, making everyone poorer.

While we can see the opportunity available to us as a sector and as a country, as demand soars for our high-grade commodities, the ever changing goal posts and uncommercial iterative approval requirements are making the decision to invest in Australia more difficult.

In my travels speaking to people around the country, it is clear there is a disconnect between perception and reality of the role resources play in our day-to-day lives and what is needed to keep project investment flowing.

Aside from the wealth generation that Australians have become accustomed to, most people would be astonished by the importance of minerals in everyday items – both simple and advanced.

While recognising Australia’s Critical Minerals will be in demand for low-emissions technologies, their importance extends far beyond a single focus, playing a vital role in industries such as defence, aerospace, transport, automotive, medical, telecommunications as well as advanced manufacturing.

In June, I wrote to the Minister to urge her to consider expanding Australia’s Critical Minerals Strategy and list – to include additional minerals that are vital to both food security and developing advanced technologies, including potash, phosphate, aluminium, alumina, bauxite, nickel, copper, and zinc.

While the inaugural 2019 Critical Minerals Strategy highlighted the scarcity of key minerals as a factor in supply chain risk, recent history has shown that non-scarce commodities are now also subject to the risk of significant supply disruption.

Australia has the potential to play a significant role globally as these strategic resources are becoming increasingly critical to advanced technologies and emerging industries around the world.

As miners and businesses across the whole supply chain place a greater focus on the electrification of their operations, there has also been a disconnect between the headline and the reality of the significant transformation required.

The important caveat – that much of this transformation relies on technologies that are currently immature or as yet non-existent, and unlikely to exist before arbitrary 2030 targets – has not reached the public consciousness.

Without us all facilitating a broader understanding that this is a long-term and expensive project that cannot be wished into existence overnight, the Energy Minister has been allowed to fill the vacuum and sell the public a fantasy that we can extinguish the need for conventional energy right now despite our looming energy shortfalls.

The reality is that coal and gas remain a necessity for energy production both in Australia and around the world.

We must ask ourselves – do we want to adopt the European model of importing our energy needs, or do we want to adopt the US model of securing our own energy. Renewables alone will not suffice.

By 2030, metallurgical coal demand is expected to grow by 24 per cent, and thermal coal by 23 per cent. By 2040, global LNG demand will have doubled.

If Australia were to withdraw from exporting our high-quality coal and gas, global emissions will rise and our regional strategic partners will become increasingly reliant on less desirable sources for their economic and energy security.

The Coalition has also made no secret of its desire to start a national conversation about nuclear energy.

Ensuring our energy security at home will require a sensible and engaged conversation about how we can guarantee the reliability and importantly, affordability, of energy for all Australians.

So how best to respond to a society that now questions the role of resources when once the role of your companies was accepted with widespread enthusiasm?

Engaging politicians has benefits, but the real PR battle must take place out of the boardrooms and in people’s living rooms.

People need to understand both the macro-economic benefits to all of Australia, as well as the benefits at a more grassroots level.

Australian mining now supplies the world with the necessities of modern life, and, importantly, supports thousands of regional families and their communities.

Because mining isn’t about multi-billion-dollar companies, and it isn’t just about providing the raw materials that underpin our modern way of life – as important as that is – it’s also about the Mum and Dad businesses that grow into small and medium sized suppliers and contractors with local buy commitments.

Almost every dollar spent by mining companies in local businesses goes back into that community, bringing enormous social and economic benefits.

It’s about apprenticeships for local kids, and sponsorships of the local sports team. It is about investing in community infrastructure and leaving a positive legacy for regional communities and the generations to come.

It’s about white-collar workers at head office and maintenance workers on site, the restaurants that hungry FIFO workers return to, and the car dealerships that sell new twin cabs.

It’s about Indigenous communities benefiting from royalties, training and careers.

It’s about on-country opportunities for geologists, environmental scientists, miners, tradespeople or surveyors.

As the Minerals Council’s recent report highlights, Australian families are $14,800 better off thanks to our last mining boom – yet this is not understood.

Attitudes to mining may change if people could see how much more tax they’d be paying if mining investment and activities slow down – or alternatively, be shocked at the services that we have all grown accustomed to, that as a nation we could no longer afford.

But the reputations your companies enjoyed in decades past are under serious and numerous threats, and it’s not enough to assume people still just “get it”. 

You know this. Too many of our kids are choosing to not go into mining.  They say there is no future in it.

The Greens and Teals worked this out and have made huge inroads in influencing government policy and public attitudes to mining and resources.

These ideologues are quite happy to join the latest pile-on or boycott and denounce miners and energy companies, but fail to see the irony that that tweet, “like” or comment is only possible because of the minerals used to make their computer or device.

Activists can throw paint on a priceless artwork or glue themselves to a road but do they know what goes into making paint and glue?

What about the asphalt the road is made from? Or where did the taxes and royalties come from to build that road?

Technical discussion with governments on policy has its place, but it will be increasingly fruitless if people are persuaded to elect more politicians whose stated aim is to put you out of business.

That is why industry unity is critical. Many voices with the same message.

Each of us in this room today understands the critical importance of minerals to Australia.

Yet this message is not being absorbed by the wider public.

If damaging industrial relations legislation, or subjective environmental changes are threatening the continued operations of your companies or projects, and risking the continued employment of your staff, you must make that known.

And while well-run coordinated advertising campaigns are an important part of this message, we need as many voices as we can get to amplify the message in unison.

It is the responsibility of every person in this room, every person who knows the risks and the potential damage of poor reforms, to make sure their employees fully understand what the impact could be on their well-paid, secure jobs.

There are over 1.1 million direct and indirect employees of the resources sector across the country. That is a large contingent of voices who could be supporting your campaigns against legislation or policies that are impacting your sector.

1.1 million people who could be telling their family and friends that if damaging policies are left unchecked, investment in the project that provides their jobs could be at risk, and the prosperity of the nation could be irreparably damaged.

And while more than a quarter of a million of those people are directly employed in the sector and should have some understanding of the impacts, it is the other three-quarters of a million or more people who make their living in the resources sector supply chain – and who may not even know it – that need to be activated as advocates.

If there is one question I can ask you all to leave with today, it is this:

What are you doing to engage with your employees, your suppliers, and contractors, to arm them with the information and arguments they need to defend the industry at a grassroots level?

What are we all doing to make sure that those 1.1 million voices are not only informed, but are proud of what they do and feel confident to speak up, when they are at that Barbecue with friends or on the sidelines at weekend sport, to correct the mistruths that are spread through letterboxes by anti-mining activists.

Those 1.1 million voices – almost 8 per cent of the entire workforce – must be enabled to change the public perception of the industry.

A significant shift is needed to regain public trust and understanding of the importance of resources in our first-world lifestyle.

The average Australian is bombarded every day by anti-mining messages.

Our international reputation as a safe place to invest is in jeopardy because of negative rhetoric from the Government, green lawfare, market interventions, increased union activity, and changing taxation and royalties regimes.

Rarely do we hear much good about mining especially in non-mining cities like Canberra.

Enabling your employees, contractors and local suppliers to counter anti-mining narratives will be key to pushing back.

We should be pulling out all stops to make Australia – with its high quality resources, and high standards of employment, safety and environmental requirements – the most competitive investment destination.

This requires faster, predictable and transparent government approval times, a ready and able workforce, common use infrastructure such as roads, rail and ports, reliable and affordable energy, and a positive investment environment.

Australian mineral and resource extraction is a mature industry with decades of experience in environmental management, mine site rehabilitation, safety and community support.

It knows the challenges and meets them head on.

It sustains small and large Aussie businesses, it sponsors sports teams at all levels, it makes regional places better places to live, it provides training for young people and gives back to Indigenous communities.

It provides well-paid, secure, safe jobs for thousands of people, putting kids through school and food on tables throughout the land.

And it is vital in almost every element of our modern lives.

Your story is a positive one.

We need more people to tell that story so that everyone can understand.

Thank you.