SPEECH: MINING BENEFITS US ALL…AND WHAT ABOUT NUCLEAR ENERGY?
Address to the Annual Minerals Week Breakfast Panel, Canberra
07 September 2022
Ladies and Gentlemen I am delighted to join you this morning.
I’d like to begin by thanking you all for the work you do, which often goes unseen and underappreciated by wider society, and congratulate you on the strength and dynamism of your industry which supports so much of our way of life.
I’d like to thank Tania Constable, as CEO of the Minerals Council, for inviting me here today to speak.
I’d also like to acknowledge my Parliamentary colleague Madeleine King, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia.
MCA chair the Hon Helen Coonan, Members of the MCA Board, Ian Macfarlane), Her Excellency the Ambassador for Botswana, session chair Sandeep Biswas, and honoured guests.
I expect you are not here to listen to me give you a state of the industry report as it currently is, which of course you already know, but rather may be more interested in hearing about where the industry has the potential to go.
Both the opportunities to unlock future prosperity if we get it right, as well as the risks we face if we get it wrong and Australia turns its back and neglects the industry that underpins our very way of life.
In many ways the Australian story is a mining story. It is also an important part of my own story.
I grew up in a family with a deep appreciation for mining.
My grandfather, Sir George Fisher, spent 70 years in mining and was a founder and the first president of the Australian Mining Industry Council – now known as the Minerals Council of Australia.
Growing up in regional North-West Queensland and exposed to his passion for the good the mining sector can do in establishing strong regional communities – like Mt Isa – I saw first-hand the benefits a modern resources industry can bring, including well-paid jobs, community infrastructure, and regional interconnectivity with upgraded power, rail, and road.
But not everyone has that first-hand experience and knowledge.
As was identified by the Resources 2030 taskforce in 2018, “Australia will only be able to extend its global resources leadership if it improves public attitudes towards the sector”.
This remains the number one priority for the resources industry, because without community buy-in and support, the sector will continue to face increasing challenges.
Whether that be from over-zealous regulators who want to strangle the industry in unworkable red and green tape, or from governments that greedily eye the short-term sugar hit of a tax-grab on a successful industry.
Without strong community support, the industry will face many risks.
The good news is, there is a positive story to tell.
Resource extraction and mining remain an integral part of human existence and prosperity and will do so long into the future.
All of us here today know this, but it’s apparent that many people not only ignore this pillar of our lives and our economy, but actively scorn it.
It is unfortunately becoming an increasingly common reality that the next generation of Australians are full of misconceptions about the resources sector.
Australian mines operate under some of the most stringent environmental regulations in the world and set high standards in mine site rehabilitation.
In August this year, Chuwar Coal Mine, just 5km from Ipswich, became the first open-cut coal mine in Queensland to be deemed fully rehabilitated. It can now be used for agriculture and is a great example of industry-led action to not only meet strict environmental provisions but exceed them.
In Queensland, about a quarter of mines already use renewable energy, two-thirds of the state’s resources companies plan to invest in lowering their emissions in the next 12 months, and 40 per cent of them are already actively investing in low-emissions technology.
Australia’s mining sector has a powerful story to tell on our environmental record, our stewardship standards reached through innovation and R&D, technological advances, and importantly, collaboration – between companies, with government, and with the community.
It is only by all of us in this room working together that we can convince those who have become disconnected from the importance of the resources industry that mining is not just necessary, but rather that we are a positive, innovative, advanced industry that is a net-good for society.
I said earlier that the Australian story is a mining story.
Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia feature a nod to mining on their coats of arms.
Australia may have ridden on the sheep’s back but it was the pursuit of minerals that accelerated our development as a modern nation.
That is one of the reasons why the Coalition has always been a strong supporter of the resources industry and why we have time-and-again backed the sector.
We backed the sector to the tune of nearly $3.5 BILLION to help with every aspect of their business. From surveying and exploration, to new mine finance, R&D, training, rehabilitation and establishing and expanding more gas supplies.
These are just a few of the recent initiatives the Coalition Government invested in.
Because we believe in the future potential of the resources industry.
We have a world-class sector here in Australia that goes from strength to strength.
Growing global demand for mineral and energy commodities will continue to increase and, in many cases, accelerate.
By 2030, both metallurgical and seaborne thermal coal is expected to grow by around 24 per cent, aluminium by more than 45 per cent, nickel by 67 per cent, and lithium by 368 per cent.
By 2040, global LNG demand will have doubled.
By 2050, global copper demand will have doubled.
The question will be whether Australia supplies these commodities to the world, or whether someone else does.
This is both an opportunity and a risk.
The opportunity lies in providing a stable and attractive investment environment so that the 113 prospective mining projects that are currently at the feasibility stage have a reason to invest.
That is $52 billion of potential investment and tens of thousands of jobs in the pipeline.
Unfortunately, many of the benefits of these resources projects get lost in the debate over energy generation.
As it was recently put: “We’re obsessed with picking a winner, but we really need to be entering more runners in the race.”
That is why instead of picking winners and losers by creating tax regimens to punish certain industries, the Coalition instead supports technology-driven and technology-neutral solutions to achieving Australia’s net-zero emissions commitments while ensuring we continue to provide affordable and reliable energy.
The Coalition recently announced it would examine the potential for new and emerging nuclear technologies to contribute to Australia’s energy security and reduce power prices.
It is high time that Australia had an honest and informed debate on the benefits and costs of nuclear energy, particularly when the International Energy Agency’s global pathway to reach Net Zero Emissions by 2050 shows nuclear power doubling between 2020 and 2050.
In the same vein, the IEA has also made clear that there is no realistic scenario to achieving net-zero without Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage.
That is why the Coalition invested more than $300 million over 10 years in Carbon Capture and Storage projects and hubs – a proven and versatile technology that can cut emissions from energy-intensive industries and help create a hydrogen export industry.
And when it comes to the increasing quantity of renewable technologies being deployed such as solar panels, wind turbines and batteries, many critical minerals will play a fundamental role in enabling that production.
That includes minerals and metals that are not yet on the Critical Mineral list but are vital to the functioning of our future modern economy.
For example, wind turbines require double the amount of copper compared to traditional power generators per-megawatt.
Nickel is a vital ingredient of electric vehicle batteries, not to mention stainless steel.
Aluminium is a crucial component of solar panel module frames.
And antimony is commonplace in renewable technology, as a glass clarifier or a metal strengthener.
This does not even begin to cover the myriad other essential uses for these and many other vital minerals and rare earths in our modern economy, including for example, potash and phosphate, key ingredients in fertilisers which contribute to Australia’s agricultural production and regional food security.
There are so many opportunities I could talk about, but time is limited and I must address the more sombre and sobering issue of risks.
When I think about the risks the resources sector faces, it is clear that most of them fall under a broader category of complacency or ‘taking the industry for granted’. The assumption that it has always been there to support us and will always be there no matter the burdens that are heaped upon them.
In a world where capital can be fluid, and investment decisions are global, a stable and attractive regulatory environment is vital to keeping a future pipeline of development.
That is why it is concerning to see legislation done as part of a Greens deal that hamstrings Government investment in important resources projects – investments which would have sent a signal that we back our resources sector – whether through Export Finance Australia, the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility or Infrastructure Australia.
Even more concerning, is the claim by Greens leader Adam Bandt that as a part of a deal, the list will expand to include additional, yet to be named, agencies across Government.
With newly legislated emissions targets, the risk of environmental activists and bad-faith actors purposefully tying up projects in the courts on vexatious grounds until they fall over will increase, as we’ve seen in other jurisdictions around the world.
If the Greens were to get their way, adding a climate trigger to the EPBC Act during its review has the potential to grind all resources development to a halt.
And at a time when the pain of skills shortages is being felt across all industries, policies designed to hamper labour hire in the resources sector will undermine the ability to tap into a surge workforce when it is needed most.
With worsening economic forecasts, the risk of tax grabs to plug holes in budgets is ever present.
In Queensland, the State Government has made a sudden tax grab by introducing a top royalty rate for coal of 40 per cent, making it the highest taxing mining jurisdiction in the world.
And all of this without real consultation.
As Japanese Ambassador Shingo Yamagami pointed out, this will “have widespread effects on Japanese investment beyond the coal industry…not only with minerals but hydrogen infrastructure and a variety of cutting-edge technology.”
In one fell swoop, the Queensland Government has put doubt in the mind of investors, including some of our closest international allies.
At the end of the day, when they have raided the piggybank and there is no new investment, a 40 per cent royalty rate on nothing will still be nothing.
Under a Federal Coalition Government, we will never make large decisions that impact the industry without proper consultation. I cannot speak for the current Government, but we recognise the Diesel Fuel Rebate is not a subsidy, and any attempt to line the coffers by removing it would be an unjust tax on a key business input, and a devastating blow to industry confidence.
You have a great story to tell. Your work matters to every single person in Australia. You are not a “bad” industry.
I’ll continue to be a strong public supporter, and I look forward to being a voice of common sense in the mining and resources sphere.
Because mining is part of the national fabric, and it is crucial to Australia’s future.
The Coalition understands this, and we will continue to promote it.
We know that without mining, regional Australia suffers, and all of Australia becomes weaker.
We know that without mining, people in the big cities don’t have a first-world lifestyle.
We know that mining makes us prosperous, and prosperity gives us the ability to be first-class environmental managers.
I commend Minister King for her support of new gas projects, and I sincerely hope she is not the lone voice of sense and is able to convince others at the Cabinet table of the need for more mining and speedy approvals.
The Government plays a key role in sending positive signals to business, society, schools and the media of mining’s importance in all of our lives.
The Coalition will always back the resources sector – the jobs you create, the wealth you generate, the building blocks for a modern society that you provide, and the communities you strengthen.