Thank you for the opportunity to address this year’s Minerals Week Seminar.
The key topics for the seminar—mining industry sustainability, community engagement and innovation—are high on the Australian Government’s agenda for resources policy.
When I spoke at the Melbourne Mining Club in December, I indicated I was working on a forward-looking policy document.
In developing this, I flagged I would seek support from state and territory resources ministers on a strategic reform agenda and a collaborative approach with industry and academia.
I will come to the outcome of this shortly.
But first, I want to emphasise the substantial contribution of Australia’s resources sector.
It drives wealth creation, living standards and employment, and adds to the social fabric.
The sector’s contribution to national GDP grew by about 3.5 per cent between 2005 and 2018.
Our resources exports increased by $176 billion, almost 150,000 more jobs were created, and the average annual wage for the sector went up by almost $57,000 over the same period.
But there is no guarantee that this stellar performance will continue into the future, and we need to ensure our policy settings are targeted to remaining a global resources powerhouse.
Positioning our resources sector for future success
The past year has seen a significant amount of policy work on the resources sector’s future.
First, I commissioned a Resources 2030 Taskforce to take stock of Australia’s resources policy and to position our resources sector for success over the next decade and beyond.
Second, I met with my state and territory colleagues as part of the first-ever COAG resources roundtable, and we agreed on a strategic resources reform agenda focused on five areas.
These are competitiveness, exploration and new developments, innovation, communities, and the workforce, and they are informed by the Resources 2030 Taskforce recommendations.
Third, the Australian Government began to develop a National Resources Statement that was also informed by the taskforce’s recommendations.
Today, I am delighted to release this statement—Australia’s first National Resources Statement in some two decades—which is the culmination of more than a year of consultation.
Why a National Resources Statement?
This new national policy framework is vital for planning and stability in the resources industry.
It will help us to leverage our strengths and remain at the forefront of world’s best practice.
It will give investors, workers and the community the confidence to make informed decisions.
The National Resources Statement sets out the Australian Government’s vision, strategic goals, and guiding principles for national action and future policy decisions in this sector.
In short, our vision is for the resources sector to “remain simply the world’s best”.
More specifically, we aim “to have the world’s most advanced, innovative and successful resources sector that delivers sustained prosperity and social development for all Australians.”
We have developed five strategic goals to underpin the achievement of this vision, which are:
- to deliver the world’s most attractive and competitive destination for resources investment;
- to develop new resources, industries and markets;
- to invest in new technologies and approaches, especially to deliver better environmental outcomes;
- to create well-paid, secure jobs; and finally
- to support communities to ensure they receive benefits from the development of Australian resources.
It is important that these goals are accompanied by a series of policy principles to guide our efforts.
First, Australia's national resources wealth belongs to the Australian people and should be developed for their benefit.
In particular, the development of resources should contribute to public revenues and provide business and employment opportunities to remote Australia and to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Second, new policies and regulations should be based on robust science and account for the needs and interests of the broader community, especially the communities where the resources sector operates.
Third, foreign investment remains an important vehicle to develop Australia's resources.
And fourth, we must embrace technological change to remain competitive, responsive and improve environmental outcomes.
These principles reflect the sector’s traditional strengths of attracting investment and creating jobs, as well as the growing importance of new technology and community acceptance.
They must help guide our actions if we are to realise our vision of having the world’s most advanced, innovative and successful resources sector that benefits all Australians.
This brings me to our action plan.
Australia has a very vibrant community of resource operators, support services and scientists who work tirelessly to help maintain our position as a world-class resources nation.
Whether it’s exploration, development, METS or research, I know the sector is in good hands.
But as the Resources 2030 Taskforce report tells us, there are some key areas in which we can do better to ensure Australia can address challenges and seize emerging opportunities.
Our action plan is focused on five key areas:
- delivering the most globally attractive and competitive investment destination for resource projects;
- opening up new industries and resources regions;
- better focusing the sector’s innovation and R&D on long-term, sectoral growth;
- developing and retaining the world’s best workforce; and
- delivering better outcomes for stronger and more engaged communities.
Collaboration between communities, industry, government and academia is vital to all of these.
In particular, many resources areas remain the primary responsibility of states and territories and therefore require a strong cooperative partnership between them and the Commonwealth.
This is why I engaged closely with my state and territory colleagues in developing the National Resources Statement and why in December I engaged my COAG Energy Council colleagues towards reinvigorating a resources agenda.
I look forward to continuing this collaboration into the future.
The action plan builds heavily on the findings of the Resources 2030 Taskforce and I will now speak about each of its five elements.
First, resources investment.
Australia has a hard-won reputation as a leading destination for resources investment, yet we have typically not invested in promoting this strength compared to many of our competitors.
Our nation is known and often marketed as a land of agriculture and tourism opportunities.
It is high time we targeted our world-class resources sector for promotion to the outside world.
The government will work with industry to promote our strengths through a national resources brand that highlights our strengths, including our abundant natural resources, world-class industries, environmental standards, skilled workforce and strong mining services sector.
Exploration and Development
Second, exploration and development.
As you will know, exploration success for new Tier One finds has been lacking for a long time.
This has led to the perception that Australia is a mature exploration destination, even though more than 80 per cent of our continent remains under- or unexplored.
The government is already acting to assist industry to encourage the discovery and development of new basins.
We have invested $100 million in the Exploring for the Future program, which is using the latest exploration techniques to search for new minerals in Australia's underexplored areas.
The information provided by this program has helped to attract renewed interest from investors.
International and domestic investors are more likely to support the exploration opportunities if they are able to make well-informed decisions based on Exploring for the Future data.
We will look into the merits of expanding the program’s scope and extending it for four years.
This would extend its benefits to the southern half of the Australian continent and include targeted offshore areas to access new, deeper resources.
The opening up of new basins is always challenging given the upfront costs of developing infrastructure and the need for coordination between producers, investors and customers.
Governments can help facilitate and plan for such developments, especially to ensure that local communities maximise the benefits from new investments.
The Beetaloo Sub-Basin in the Northern Territory is an example of a region where government action can make a difference in helping realise great resource potential.
I’m pleased the Australian and Northern Territory governments have signed a memorandum of understanding to guide the development of the Beetaloo Sub-Basin.
Our plan is to work cooperatively with the Northern Territory to bring forward the development of the Beetaloo Sub-Basin as a potentially world-class new gas province.
Development of the basin would also assist in maximising the downstream value of the petroleum industry for the Northern Territory and the broader Australian economy.
Separately, the Australian Government is developing a national strategy on critical minerals to meet increased demand for these commodities and help to grow downstream industries.
The promotion of opportunities for investment in critical minerals must be part of our national resources brand.
And more broadly, we will seek to finalise our engagement between Geoscience Australia and the United States Geological Survey on the development of critical minerals.
Australia’s resources sector is already at the forefront of innovation, constantly striving to develop new technological solutions, perform better, and find new ways to do business.
The sector’s success has been supported by decades of public and private investment in leading-edge scientific and technical infrastructure in key universities, research organisations and government bodies.
Much of the current research effort is understandably heavily skewed towards addressing nearer-term issues.
Additional effort is needed to ensure we’re also addressing the long-term sectoral challenges.
This will help create new industries and secure the sector’s competitiveness and social and environmental sustainability in the decades ahead.
Through the COAG Energy Council, we will explore options to better leverage long-term cross‑sectoral R&D to drive whole-of-sector benefits and meet the future economic challenges faced by the sector.
This may include focusing on dedicated resources research entities like those seen in the agricultural sector to meet the long-term needs of the sector.
Data innovation is also important to the sector’s future.
Australia has data innovation know-how, helping us produce world-class mineral resources data that has enabled us to attract investment.
Data is central to de-risking exploration and the development of new basins.
Greater access to data will help align government and industry with the longer-term national interests needed for sustainable greenfield exploration programs.
This is why the government proposes to better use and manage information by, again, engaging with the states, territories and academia, through the COAG Energy Council, to develop a resources data strategy.
This will enable governments, industry, research organisations and communities to make better informed decisions on resources development
Workforce and skills
Fourth, workforce and skills.
Our resources sector would not be where it is today without its experienced, diverse and highly trained workforce, but the needs of the workforce are changing.
Identifying the skills required for the future will be important to ensure our educational institutions can continue to support the sector.
We know technology is rapidly changing the way the sector operates and attracting and retaining a diverse and skilled workforce remains critical to its future success.
Continual learning will undoubtedly be the way of the future.
I welcome the skills-mapping exercise underway by the Mineral Council of Australia to determine the sector’s future workforce needs and help universities and VET providers adapt.
The government will support this effort by working with industry to advance this initiative.
I also intend to convene a roundtable with industry and academia to identify opportunities to boost tertiary and VET outcomes for the sector.
I have heard first-hand that many young people are not choosing to study in discplines that would lead to a career in the sector.
This puts at risk the pipeline of future workers needed by the sector.
It is vital that Australia develop and retain the world’s best resources workforce with well-paid, secure jobs if we are to remain a globally competitive resources nation.
Last, but not least, building stronger communities.
This has been a key challenge for the sector over the past 20 years.
The community, now more than ever, can make or break resource development projects
Coal seam gas developments provide a salutary lesson for Australia
I don’t have to tell you that reputation matters.
Good industry engagement with the community is essential for the sector’s long-term future.
The government will work with the states and territories to develop a strategy that builds stronger and more engaged communities.
As part of this strategy, we will explore the development of credible best-practice guidelines for community engagement, including with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
In this regard, we know the resources sector is a major employer of Indigenous people, driving their economic empowerment and strengthening communities in regional and remote areas.
However, we know that a few poor operators can sully the reputation of the industry quickly in the mind of the community.
Through the COAG Energy Council, and working with industry, we will take steps to improve community trust in the sector.
The starting point here will be a comprehensive evaluation of current community engagement and benefit-sharing practices by industry, governments and other bodies to identify best practice and information gaps.
This will guide future actions to secure stronger Australian communities.
These actions do not operate in isolation.
They provide a comprehensive blueprint for a collaborative, long-term reform agenda to ensure Australia has the world’s most advanced, innovative and successful resources sector.
COAG Reform Agenda
As I said earlier, COAG Energy Council Resources Ministers agreed last December to deliver a strategic reform agenda that focuses on the five strategic priorities of competitiveness, exploration and new developments, innovation, communities, and the workforce.
To give effect to these priorities, COAG will initially work together on six key actions.
I have referred to some of these actions already, and other actions include to:
establish a framework for the regular benchmarking of policies and regulation to assess current settings and highlight best practice across Australia and internationally; and
- develop an implementation framework for a Strategic Resources Advisory Group.
Jurisdictions will collectively decide how best to develop the benchmarking framework, including coordination of state, territory and federal regulation of resources development.
But we have agreed that looking for things that work well should be our focus.
This will support continuous improvement in our national competitiveness.
The Strategic Resources Advisory Group would be an expert body that could provide subject‑matter expertise and advice on key challenges and opportunities for the sector.
These actions are a start, and we will drive new, longer-term actions through COAG in future.
Much of the work of the COAG reform agenda is not about funding; it is about the need to work differently and collaboratively at all levels and, importantly, to take a long-term view.
Similarly, many of the actions in the National Resources Statement are about maximising the use of our existing resources and efforts to continuously improve and sharpen our focus.
New initiatives under the reform agenda will be progressed by various stakeholders, including states and territories through COAG, industry, and academia in collaboration with government departments to align with the goals and vision of the National Resources Statement.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Australian Government has taken the first steps towards securing the long-term future of the resources industry.
The National Resources Statement I have released today provides a new national policy framework to position the sector for ongoing success over the coming decades.
Achieving our vision to have the world’s most advanced, innovative and successful resources sector will require collaboration and leadership from all.
Many of you here have already made valuable contributions towards the excellent leadership that has propelled Australia’s resources industry to great heights.
Your continuing contribution will be pivotal to the leadership we need in putting into practical effect the actions we have outlined in the National Resources Statement.
We will all have to work together—industry, government and the community—to make sure Australia’s resources sector stays at the top globally and continues to provide well-paid jobs and economic prosperity for all Australians.
This seminar provides opportunities for the collaborative spirit we need and I look forward to hearing what others have to say about how we can ensure the success and benefits of the sector can continue for a long time.