Senate debates

Thursday, 30 March 2023

Ministerial Statements

Resources Sector

5:14 pm

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Minister for the Public Service) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Minister for Resources, Ms Madeline King, I table a ministerial statement on resources.

Photo of Susan McDonaldSusan McDonald (Queensland, National Party, Shadow Minister for Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

Australia may have ridden on the sheep's back, but it was the pursuit of minerals that accelerated our development as a modern nation, and it is the strength of our resources sector that continues to underpin our economic growth in the 21st century. The resources sector employs over 1.1 million Australians. This sector paid over $37.2 billion in wages and salaries last year—straight to Australian households. It is set to deliver $459 billion in export earnings over 2022-23, strengthening our budget and delivering funding for roads, schools and hospitals right across the country.

This sector made up 14.5 per cent of our gross domestic product, paid over 40 per cent of the $68.6 billion in company tax and paid $16.7 billion in royalties to the states and territories in Australia in 2020-21. This sector underpinned our COVID-19 recovery, and the government acknowledges this sector is propping up the budget bottom line. This sector, which was strongly supported by the coalition, has greatly benefited all Australians and it has the potential to remain an exciting and prosperous industry for Australia.

Australia is blessed with bountiful resource deposits—from coal, iron ore, gas and oil to vast pockets of critical minerals and rare earths, many of which are found in our everyday lives. Critical minerals are found in our phones, cars and banknotes. They play a crucial role in defence technology. They are even found in fertilisers that help feed the nation. Coal, gas and other traditional energy commodities are vital in manufacturing and continue to underpin our electricity grid, providing secure, reliable and affordable energy for households and businesses across the country.

On a human level, the resources sector invests heavily in regional Australia. It is one of the highest-paying sectors in Australia. In fact, mining jobs are among the highest-paid jobs in Australia. Many of these jobs are found across regional Australia, providing a lifeline to these communities.

Australia's high-quality coal and gas also play an important role not only domestically but in other countries around the world. Australia's coal is of one of the highest qualities in the world. We produce it more efficiently than most, meaning more energy and fewer emissions. As China and India increase their demand for coal, for both steel creation and energy generation, and as Japan and Korea demand more gas to fuel their transition it is in everyone's interest that our high-quality resources are the first choice for our partners around the world. Were we to shut down our coal and gas production or refuse to step up to meet demand around the world, those countries that need our resources would have no choice but to turn to lower-quality, higher-emitting resources from other countries. Moral grandstanding about Australia's coal and gas resources may make some in this parliament feel better—like the Australian Greens, like the teal greens and the Independent greens—but shutting down our industries will have the opposite effect that they hope for. If Australia withdraws from exporting our high-quality coal and gas, global emissions will rise.

Nearly everything that allows us to enjoy a First World lifestyle would not exist without mining—from high-tech manufacturing to the food on our plates and from energy generation to the steel frames that hold up our homes. Yet those who attack our resources sector cannot tell us where they would source those vital inputs that support our way of life. Gas plays a pivotal role in the production of fertilisers, like ammonia or urea, which in turn sustain the food security of billions of people around the world. Coal is vital in many non-energy industries, including steel and cement production, as well as coal-to-chemical processes, rare-earth extraction and carbon fibre production, to name just a few. Some 780 kilograms of metallurgical coal is required to make a single tonne of steel and over 200 kilograms is needed to produce a tonne of cement.

Whilst many in this chamber tout the end of coal, it would appear that they have forgotten that wind turbines require hundreds of tonnes of steel in the production of every turbine, as well as cement for the base. Additionally, thousands of different products have coal or coal by-products as components, such as soap, aspirin, solvents, dyes, plastics and fibres, including rayon and nylon. This just shows how disconnected from reality some in this parliament truly are.

The coalition has a strong record on delivering for the resources sector. On gas, our strategic basins plan program was bringing on new supply by unlocking new gas potential and accelerating development in key gas basins. The Beetaloo sub-basin is one of the largest undeveloped onshore gas resources in the world and could supply Australia's electricity markets for the next 200 years. It begs the question of why the government made concessions to the Greens to hamper the development of the Beetaloo when the Northern Territory Labor government explicitly supports its development. Who is being told what and what promises were made? Bringing on more gas supply and investing in pipelines, storage and infrastructure has remained a key issue the ACCC has raised to secure our future domestic demand. But the latest report by the Energy Market Operator, AEMO, confirms fears that we are being driven headlong into a gas and energy prices.

Despite the strength of the resources sector, poor legislation coupled with interventionist policies are creating an uncertain investment environment. 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. Direct market intervention is driving Australia's resource investment landscape towards a dangerous setting whereby companies and international investors are faced with increasingly difficult decisions regarding their future investments in Australia. Despite Australia's stringent environmental approvals processes and regulatory checks and balances, the funding of the Environmental Defenders Office, the creation of a Commonwealth Environmental Protection Agency and unachievable consultation requirements and review processes are causing more harm to our investment environment. With newly legislated emissions targets, the risk of environmental activists and bad-faith actors purposely tying up projects in the courts on vexatious grounds until they fall over will increase, as we have seen in other jurisdictions around the world.

At a time when the pain of skill shortages has been felt across all industries, irresponsible industrial relations legislation puts the benefits that Australian workers reap from the sector at risk, despite the high wages and good working conditions they receive in the resources sector. And with worsening economic forecasts, the risk of tax grabs to plug holes in budgets is ever present. In Queensland the state government made a sudden tax grab last year by introducing a top royalty rate for coal of 40 per cent, making it the highest-taxing mining jurisdiction in the world. In one fell swoop the Queensland government put doubt in the minds of investors, including some of our closest international allies. Australia should not make the mistake of assuming that, because this sector has always been there to support us, they will continue to be there, no matter the burdens that are heaped upon them. This industry—this industry—matters to every single person in Australia. The government plays a key role in sending signals to business, society, schools and the media, both positive and negative, about the importance of mining to all of our lives, so it is disappointing to see the very week we stand here talking about the importance of the mining sector, a new carbon tax that will hurt the sector is being ran through the Senate with the help of the Greens. What signal does that send? The coalition will always back the resources sector—the jobs they create, the wealth they generate, the building blocks for a modern society that they provide, the communities they strengthen, the environmental work that they support. The coalition understands mining is part of the national fabric and it is crucial to Australia's future, both now and into the future.

5:23 pm

Photo of Dorinda CoxDorinda Cox (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to take note of the ministerial statement by the Minister for Resources. The minister opened this statement by saying there are very few bigger global challenges than addressing climate change, and that we will not meet our commitment of net zero without the resources sector. Whilst this is partly true, there's a very significant proportion of the resources sector that have contributed to climate change and continue to do so, and that's the fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel is holding this government and this country back from achieving real change and real climate action that is in line with the science. I'd like to draw your attention again to the IPCC report that was released last week. I've already spoken about it this week, and there are some key findings that I think the government needs to be reminded of. This report made it very clear that there needs to be no more new coal or gas projects opened up and that we must stop giving public money to fossil fuel projects.

The report stated that removing fossil fuel subsidies would reduce emissions, improve public revenue and macroeconomic performance, and yield other environmental and sustainable development benefits. Now, doesn't that just sound great? Imagine what we could do with the billions of dollars that governments have chosen to give to corporations that are reporting those record profits, and in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, which we've heard about all week in this place. When people are having to choose between paying their rent and feeding themselves, governments in this country continue to give billions of dollars to fossil fuel companies.

This latest IPCC report was, frankly, a scary reminder of just how much we have to do in order to have any hope of keeping ourselves under 1.5 degrees of warming, which we are on track to fly right past. So, for the minister to stand in the place and say that we need the resources sector to fight climate change, without addressing the fossil fuel industry and the 116 fossil fuel projects in the pipeline, is misleading at its best. But there's some truth in the minister's statement, and we will need minerals like lithium, silicon and others to build batteries, wind turbines and solar panels. And I acknowledge the conversations I've had with Minister King about the government's new critical minerals strategy, mainly ensuring that traditional owners are not left out of this conversation. After all, every single resources project in this country is on the unceded lands, every tonne that is dug up and sold is stolen wealth, and every cent made from these projects is stolen. We have to remember that.

And we have to remember First Nations people being locked out of our economy for many years and in many different ways and across every sector. This includes having projects go ahead on their lands without their consent, with few royalties paid—just not enough. First Nations people need to be the owners of these critical minerals projects on their lands and be deeply embedded every step of the way—drawing up environmental plans, exploration and production through to rehabilitation. This is the only way we can be confident that our cultural heritage is being protected and we can avoid another disaster like Juukan Gorge.

We will continue to do mining in some circumstances, particularly in places like my home state of Western Australia. But the conversation now needs to be about how we can do this with as few environmental water, cultural and climate impacts as possible. We need stronger regulations and we need a climate trigger, and I am happy to share in the fruits that we've negotiated with the government this week. The balance between the need for these minerals and the impacts of mining them is a tricky one to get, but we simply can't continue making the same mistakes that we've made previously. That's led us to where we are now. We continue to work alongside the government, and I continue to work alongside the minister, to make sure that balance is not forgotten.

We are in a crucial decade of change for climate action. We have had so much delay from previous governments that we now need to sprint away from fossil fuels in this country and towards renewable energy. We need more-ambitious emissions reduction targets that are actually in line with the science. And we need a government that's not going to accept the dirty donations and be captured by fossil fuel industries in this country. Thank you.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the Senate takes note of the report.

Question agreed to.