Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Senator Canavan. Can the minister please explain how important stability and certainty is in Australia's resources sector and how Australia has registered its first account surplus in more than 40 years?
I thank Senator Davey for her question and recognise her longstanding support for our country's fantastic resources sector. Senator Davey is right to highlight the fact that, over the last week or so, Australia has achieved its first current account surplus in, as she says, 44 years—the last time a current account surplus was achieved here in Australia was in 1975—and the resources sector played a big role in achieving that. Just a few years ago our resource sector exports were below $180 billion. At the time there were people out there saying, 'This is the end,' and those opposite were saying: 'We don't need resources anymore. They're not important for our economy anymore.' Well, in the space of just a couple of years, our exports of resources and energy last financial year hit nearly $280 billion—so up nearly $100 billion in the space of just a couple of years. Given our current account surplus had just ticked over zero, that contribution was quite significant.
To run through what has happened in the last few years: our iron ore exports were below $50 billion a few years ago; they're up to almost hitting $70 billion in the last financial year. Our coal exports were at $35 billion a few years ago; they're now at $65 billion. Our gas exports have quadrupled in volume since we've had $200 billion of investment in our gas sector, and we now export $50 billion worth of gas. Just those top three—of gas, coal and iron ore—account for more of our exports combined than all other goods exports as a total. It's a huge contribution to our economy.
I know that Senator Davey knows very well how important it is that government support the resources sector, like the coal sector in her state. I visited some coalmines in the Hunter Valley with her in the last few weeks to reiterate that support. It's why we oppose the agenda of the Greens, who want to shut all this down and take away all this wealth from our country. And then what are we going to do? We're not going to have jobs and we are going to be much poorer for it. (Time expired)
Our growth in resource exports has largely been on the back of economic growth in our region—and long may that continue. We have successfully attracted investment from Japan, Korea and China. We should take pride in what we as a country provide to those countries in helping those nations develop their economies and take hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Hopefully we will continue to be able to do that. Hopefully economic growth does continue in our region, but we can't control that completely.
We know that India, for example, is the fastest-growing major country in the world at the moment. It has enormous prospects to continue to grow and develop, but there remain nearly 170 million people in India without access to electricity. I hope that our great coalmining sector can play a role in helping bring electricity, for the first time, to people in our region. One of the biggest things you can do to help people's health outcomes and educational outcomes is let them have access to electricity. India also has an enormous need to build apartments and housing. Our coking coal will be needed for that. I visited India in the last couple of weeks to stress those opportunities, to attract those investments and to create jobs here in Australia.
There continues to be very strong demand for our high-quality coal. That will likely continue given the fact that it is of high-energy content and generally of low ash, which is suiting the needs of countries in our region who want to improve environmental outcomes in their region, including around air quality—not just on climate change. So that demand will continue. The IEA, the International Energy Agency, predicts that demand will increase by over 400 million tonnes in this region in the next couple of decades—a huge opportunity for our country.
What we need, though, is certainty and stability in decision-making. We have an absurd situation at the moment where a coalmine in Queensland—the New Acland stage 3 mine, the New Hope mine—is being held up by the Queensland government. It's approvals are being held up because there's a court case going on, being brought by green activists. It's part of their playbook, and the Queensland government is enabling their playbook at the moment by saying, 'We can't make a decision because there's a court case going on.' There is no legal impediment standing in the way of the Queensland government making this decision. People are losing their jobs right now because the Labor Party, who might have been talking the talk since the election, are still walking the walk with the Australian Greens. (Time expired)