QUEENSLAND RESOURCES COUNCIL 2023 ANNUAL LUNCH FORUM KEYNOTE ADDRESS
Ladies and Gentlemen I am delighted to join you today.
I’d like to thank outgoing CEO of the Queensland Resources Council Ian Macfarlane, and the QRC Board for inviting me to speak today, and commend Ian on his decades of support and advocacy for the resources sector, both in Government positions and in industry and corporate settings.
Mostly though I want to thank Ian for taking a strong stand on behalf of the resources sector broadly and coal specifically.
Because you know, as I do, that increasingly organised loud voices from activist groups have been left unchallenged by State and Federal Governments, and emboldened by increased funding to the Environmental Defenders Office.
I would like to acknowledge my two leaders, Peter Dutton and David Littleproud.
And my federal colleagues Keith Pitt, Andrew Willcox, Colin Boyce and Garth Hamilton.
I would also like to acknowledge State Shadow Ministers David Janetzki, Pat Weir, Sam O’Connor, and Amanda Camm.
State colleagues Lachlan Millar, Jim McDonald, and Trevor Watts. And Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner along with all Queensland mayors and local leaders from around our great state.
That long list will tell you that the Liberal and National Coalition’s support for the resources sector is unwavering, and to have Coalition attendees from all levels of Government is a testament to
And even though there is no ‘U’ in Labor, there is definitely ‘coal’ in Coalition.
STRENGTH OF SECTOR
It is great to be here today celebrating resources, and the launch of the Queensland Resources Council’s 2022-23 Economic Contribution Report.
This report highlights the immense strength and importance of the resources sector in Queensland, one third of the state’s economy, and this strength is replicated right across the country.
In my travels as Shadow Resources Minister, I have seen the diversity of opportunity that the resources sector provides.
From coal mines in Blackwater, to iron ore mines in the Pilbara; gas fields in Roma, uranium in South Australia, lithium processing in Kemerton, and copper and zinc in the North West Minerals
Australia is home to some of the most abundant, high quality resources in the world.
I have also seen the uncertainty and confusion of miners, and investors following government intervention in the market, in price controls and market interventions for gas, royalty increases for coal, and the recall of 18 EPBC approvals.
This is a completely new environment where Labor governments have changed from understanding the need for mining investment for jobs and wealth generation, to adherents of the precautionary principle, an innocuous sounding but sinister approach to development and prosperity.
They are now a genuine threat to Australia’s competitiveness for new jobs, new projects, and continued prosperity for the next generation.
We have enjoyed decades of growth and competitive advantage off the back of the resources sector.
From the first gold discoveries at Gympie that funded our fledgling state, Mt Morgan gold, the vast Copper, silver lead and zinc deposits at Mt Isa, the development of the Bowen Basin and more
It is resource royalties, taxes and well paid jobs that have “paid the bills”.
Today, Australia’s resources sector directly and indirectly employs over 1.1 million people across the country.
More than half a million of those are Queenslanders.
That is half a million Queensland families that are supported by companies that you represent, with salaries that are on average 50% higher than the average Australian wage.
But what else does the sector provide?
It contributed a record $116 billion, which is one third of the Queensland economy in 2022-23.
Resources companies have invested over $32 billion into local Governments, sporting clubs, charities and businesses in communities right across Queensland in this same period.
And billions more dollars spent in capital to access and liberate our resources and convert those tonnes into royalties, taxes and jobs that allow us, Queenslanders and Australians to enjoy some of the highest living standards in the world.
You should be proud of the investment and prosperity that your industry provides, and be vocal in your praise for the sector.
Because Australia may have ridden on the sheep’s back, but it was the pursuit of minerals that accelerated our development as a modern nation.
FUTURE OF RESOURCES
There is much public discussion about the expansion of the resources sector into new frontiers.
And it is true, the opportunity that critical minerals present is an exciting and important one.
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.
And Queensland is blessed with many of these strategic minerals that will become ever more necessary in the coming years.
However, we should not abandon our traditional resources as we look to capitalise on a future critical minerals boom.
Coal is still critical to our current energy production, and is vital in steelmaking.
Because if it’s not made of steel, it was made in a factory made of steel.
Gas is another critical energy source, both domestically and internationally, and is used in manufacturing.
And with the current cost of living crisis facing Australian households today – exacerbated by this Labor Government – consumers want to see sustainable solutions to easing their energy bills, not just a taxpayer subsidy for mismanagement.
Coal and gas are still – and will be for some time to come – part of that solution, as affordable reliable sources of energy for households and industry.
This remains true for Australia and many of our international partners across the globe, who want access to our high quality resources for their own manufacturing and energy security.
By 2030, metallurgical coal demand is expected to grow by 24%, and thermal coal by 23%. By 2040, global LNG demand will have doubled.
We have seen both the Queensland and Federal budgets propped up by the strength of coal and gas, and if we want to ensure continued economic prosperity, traditional resources must remain in
THREATS TO PROSPERITY
However, the opportunities of tomorrow are not yet guaranteed.
Despite the long and successful history of mining in Queensland and Australia, the sector’s confidence is being undermined by attacks on a number of fronts.
We have seen changing regulatory requirements forced onto the sector, with minimal consultation or regard for the long-term impacts on investment security and sovereign risk.
We’ve recently heard that despite a statutory 30-day timeframe for offshore oil and gas approvals, projects are waiting up to 560 days for a response from the regulator.
The Environment Minister is also proposing vast changes to the EPBC Act, a new federal EPA and cultural heritage laws, without any clarity as to when these changes will be implemented, and what they may entail.
Yet the continued shifting of the goalposts for resources projects, particularly changes that occur whilst projects are in the pipeline, have and will continue to negatively impact future investments in Australia.
We are facing critical gas shortages in the next few years, with no clear guidance from the Government as to how they will meet domestic demand and continue to honour export contracts.
And while State and Federal Governments continue to claim that Australia will become a manufacturing powerhouse with the expansion of our critical minerals industry, they continue to rush
towards energy sources that are unreliable and more expensive.
Resources and minerals processing is incredibly energy intensive, and due to the Government’s mismanagement of the energy market, I have seen projects forced to construct and fund their own
More must be done to ensure future energy security, and that is why the Coalition has been strongly advocating for all energy solutions to be put on the table, including nuclear energy.
It is hard to fathom a booming future industry when current resources projects are facing such difficulty with both energy and approvals requirements.
But what can Government do?
We know that severe Government intervention is not the solution to these issues.
What is needed from State and Federal Governments is stable policy, and unwavering support for your industry and the work you do.
This is unfortunately becoming less likely.
We are facing Queensland and Federal Labor Governments who appear to not even be able to acknowledge the work the resources sector does.
Think of the last Budget where the closest the Federal Treasurer – a Queenslander at that – could get to mentioning coal and gas was a reference to “the things we sell overseas,” “key exports,” and price fixing commodities.
Hardly the words of a Government seeking to encourage and support future investment in this income generating industry.
And the millions the Government spends on funding the Environmental Defenders Office to wage legal warfare on government decisions undermines any credibility or illusion of support for the resources sector.
INVESTMENT NOT GUARANTEED
But what message is not being heard by Queensland and Federal Labor?
First, that future investment is not guaranteed.
If they continue to wage regulatory and rhetorical war against your sector, it will ultimately culminate in one outcome, a reduction of investment and support for Australian resources.
The case also needs to be made to highlight what damage this would do to Australian households.
How much more tax would families have to pay to recoup the revenue lost if Queensland misses out on future mining projects?
How many downstream jobs will be lost – in logistics, transport, hospitality, maintenance? What are the larger impacts of reduced investment?
And I echo the message that Ian and the Queensland Resources Council are making – don’t kill the golden goose and risk our nest egg.
Because the seismic policy shifts from the Government are having an impact.
Shifts like dramatically increasing royalties on critical resources – like coal here in Queensland, or direct Government interventions, like in the gas market.
Higher royalties on an industry that halts investment will only deliver less for Queensland.
We can already see the impacts of the Premier’s royalties hike.
Conversations I have had with service providers have warned that exploration is dramatically decreasing in Queensland.
The Australian Resources and Energy Employer Association has also highlighted a sharp drop in investment and jobs as a result of the royalties hike.
We know that when Queenslanders are made aware of the risks, they want a reduction in royalties if it means more investment from mining companies.
But it is worrying that the Premier is deaf to these warnings, and it is imperative that you as an industry keep the pressure up.
Because if you relent, it gives permission to the Government to continue undermining your sector.
ENGAGEMENT & PR BATTLE
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.
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.
People think there is no future in mining. Too many of our kids are choosing to not go into the sector because of this.
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.
Each of us in this room today understands the critical importance of resources to Australia.
Yet this message is not being absorbed by the wider public.
If damaging industrial relations legislation, or subjective environmental changes, or increased royalties 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.
But you cannot just focus on the risks to the sector.
More must be done to emphasise the immense benefits of the resources sector on Australians.
Because it is as much the things you don’t say as those that you do.
At every resources event I attend the following messages are repeated:
- the diversity of your workforce;
- the investment in consultation with landholders and Traditional Owners;
- the environmental scientists employed.
These are important messages.
But when there is no celebration of the wealth generated for Queensland and Queensland families, you undermine the value of the rest of what you do.
It is important to celebrate the profits made that ensure mum and dad investors and superfund balances benefit from those dividends.
It is critical to understand that each project funds thousands of small businesses, and it’s Queensland small businesses that hire nearly half the people in this state, allowing their families to thrive.
It is vital to celebrate the fact that resources generates one third of the State’s economic activity.
We could even acknowledge that the billions of dollars of royalties paid allow for the Premier to subsidise another red carpet event or build another bike path.
But when you focus on the issues of a noisy few, and let them set the agenda, you lose the opportunity to talk about the importance of everything else you do.
And when those things are not said, it devalues them, and Queenslanders can be forgiven for not demanding protection for the industry that “provides Queensland’s nest egg”.
There are over half a million direct and indirect employees of the resources sector across Queensland.
That is a large contingent of voices who could be supporting your campaigns against legislation or policies that are impacting your sector.
Over half a 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 state could be irreparably damaged.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.
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 half a 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 half a million voices – almost 19% of Queensland’s workforce – must be empowered to change the public perception of the industry.
So, your story is a positive one. I believe in it. The Coalition believes in it.
We need more people to tell that story so that everyone can understand how crucial the resources sector is, and will demand government nurture and encourage our very own golden goose.