Address, 2019 Queensland Resources Council Annual Lunch

Transcript
01 Nov 2019
Brisbane
Prime Minister
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Macca, it’s tremendous to be here with you and so many of you. So many Queenslanders, I’m sure many from far beyond the borders of Queensland as well. Can I particularly acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we gather today, the Turrbal people, and their elders past, present and emerging. And can I thank the resources industry for employing and giving a livelihood and a future and a vision for our Indigenous people right across Queensland. Can I also acknowledge any veterans who are here, as is my habit, or any of you who may be serving in the Defence Forces and simply say to them on behalf of a grateful nation - thank you for your service. And, again, can I thank the resources industry, particularly here in Queensland, for employing so many of our veterans. Those who have acquired tremendous skills in their service of our country, and are finding themselves now continuing to do great work in the resources industry here in Queensland. Can I acknowledge in my state and federal colleagues who are here, Peter Dutton, John McVeigh, Andrew Wallace, Terry Young. Great to have them here. They are an important part of our big Queensland team, both within the Cabinet and more broadly across the government. They are doing a terrific job. Can I also acknowledge and welcome Deb Frecklington. Deb is doing a tremendous job, leading the LNP here in Queensland. I said last night - forgive me, it was a party gathering - I said, ‘How good is Queensland? How much better would it be if Deb Frecklington was Premier?’

[Applause]

I, of course, acknowledge the chief executive of the QRC, my very good friend and colleague Macca, as I know him, and I'm sure all of you know him. I thank him for the service to this industry. It has extended over a long period of time, both in government and out of government. And he really does have a deep passion for the resources sector and particularly here in Queensland. But can I also acknowledge Georgie Somerset is here, who leads AgForce. I will talk a bit today about our traditional sectors and how important they are. I think it is great, Macca, that you and Georgie are here together, because it is important both sectors, and how much they actually work together across our community, across Queensland, and indeed right across the nation. 

Now, what I hoped to speak to you about today - some of which has been reported in the papers - that's alright - welcome to the Courier Mail. Good to see them here.

[Laughter]

In our sector of the resources industry, it has almost the doubled the value mining exports and mining’s share of our GDP. And here in Queensland, mining and energy have added almost $670 billion to the state economy over the last 10 years. I can't sum up this sector's contribution here better than what has already been done and the figures that are released today and that you have available on the placements in front of you. One in every $5 for Queensland's economy, one in every seven jobs. There was a lot of talk a few years back about the end of a boom,  obviously they were referring to the mining investment boom. And whether that would mean a hard landing for our economy. Of course, $80 billion in mining investment taken out of our economy at a very sensitive time and we have been dealing with that for some years now. The fact is minerals and energy export earnings are now at record highs. In the last financial year, it is estimated they topped $275,000 million or roughly 60 per cent of Australia's total exports of goods and services. They are expected to add another 7 billion in the next year. So nothing more clearly defines a Liberal Nationals Coalition government than our strong, full-throated support for traditional industries like mining. How good is mining for Australia?

[Applause]

The backbone of so many communities in regional Australia, the source of jobs, economic livelihoods, and dignity - dignity - for thousands of hard-working Queenslanders. The sources of taxes, royalties, so vital to the government services that we all rely on, and as Queenslanders rely on right across this great state. Funding for teachers, nurses, police, infrastructure, all this and more depends on a strong, competitive, mining industry, not just in Australia, but in this state, in particular, here in Queensland. And more recently, the gas industry has provided an important alternative source of income for so many Queensland farmers, including those doing it tough through the drought as Ian referred to. 

The Coalition, we have always believed in playing to our strengths, not undermining our strengths as a nation. And unquestionably the resources sector is a foundational strength of the Australian economy. Now, we're not just saying it now, as Ian pointed out, we've always said it. We've always believed it. We've always backed it up with policies that recognise and value the resources sector. I see our opponents in Labor have been on a bit of a tourist run lately. All of a sudden can't wait to get the high vis vests on and visit some coal mines. But I can assure you if they ever get back into power with the policies they have for our mining industries, then the tourist attraction is all that the mining industry is going to be in the future. It will be an historical relic. It will be a museum, not a powerhouse of economic resource and prosperity for this great state. The great myth that still resides in certain quarters is Australia's mining is the past, not the future. Somehow not sufficiently sophisticated or complex enough for modern economic sensibilities that you will find in the goats cheese circle of some parts of our capital cities.

[Laughter]

This is complete economic fiction. But worse, it is a dangerous fiction. It overlooks what we need to know to be the facts and what are the facts. Australia's mining industry is at the global frontier when it comes to productivity. Technological innovation, attention to safety, environmental management. I was recently in the United States, this was one of the many issues the President raised with me, how successful our resources sector had been, particularly in relation to the safety of our people who work in the resources sector and saw Australia as a place to be learned from when it came to the resources sector. An industry categorised – characterised I should say - by rigorous planning, robust science, and sensitive exploration, an industry that values its workers and their futures, and including the long-term sustainability of communities. There's engagement with our Indigenous peoples and their incalculable cultural legacy for all Australians. There's the strong contribution of the sector towards environmental protection and rehabilitation. For example, the Bush Blitz partnership between BHP, the Australian government and Earth Watch. Since 2010 the program has discovered more than 1,600 new species of plants and animals across Australia. 

This is a sector that takes a view of our natural wealth far broader than just a single bottom line. Deep commitment from our government, my government, to see the success of our resources industry continue. That's why we have put a great deal of thought and policy rigour into the future of the sector. In February, we released our national resources statement. This is a dedicated reform agenda for resources, developed a year - after a year of close consultation with industry. Our goal is to have the world's most advanced innovative and successful resources sector, one that delivers sustained prosperity and development for all Australians. And I want young Australians to know this. I want them to know that they can choose a career, a life, a livelihood in the resources sector in Australia, in Queensland, in Cloncurry, wherever you happen to be. I hear a lot about progressivism at the moment. It sounds like a lovely word, you can cuddle up to it, it’ll give you a nice warm glow. I will tell you what it means in hard political reality. Those who claim the title want to tell you where to live, what job you can have, what you can say, and what you can think and tax you more for the privilege of all of those instructions that are directed to you. I am very concerned about how this new form of progressivism - a Newspeak type term - intended - intended - to get in under the radar, but at its heart would deny the liberties of Australians and particularly in this state of pursuing the life they want to live, the town they want to have, the jobs they want to pursue, and the futures that they have decided for themselves. 

So, our statement sets out clear goals for the next decade and beyond. We want to deliver the amongst globally attractive and competitive investment destination for resource projects. There's nothing more frustrating than hearing about delays to investment and jobs due to long approval processes and the Commonwealth government has played its role in those frustrations. This week, we announced a review of the EPBC Act - an important opportunity to look at how we streamline regulatory processes while still protecting our environment. The Productivity Commission is examining the wider regulatory environment in the resources sector to ensure it is both efficient and effective, meeting the needs of the industry and the community. It will report back to government in August next year. These initiatives sit alongside the deregulation agenda being led under the Treasurer's direction, Josh Frydenberg, and being run by my Assistant Minister, Ben Morton from WA, aimed at tackling regulatory barriers to activities, including vital infrastructure investments. At the same we want to develop new resources industries and markets, we have invested over $100 million in the ‘Exploring for the Future’ program. This is about getting world-class geoscience science information and a new understanding of available resources, particularly across Northern Australia. 

Our forthcoming national hydrogen strategy and collaboration with the United States on critical minerals will also open up new opportunities for this sector. Later this month, Queenslander - most importantly in this room - and Resources Minister Matt Canavan and the Trade Minister – forgive him he is from South Australia but he’s going to do a fantastic job together with Matt on this - will attend a high level dialogue in the United States to deliver a detailed joint US-Australia joint action plan on critical minerals agreed during my recent visit to Washington where we met with the President over this very issue as one of the most important items we discussed. We want to encourage new technologies and approaches, especially when it comes to getting better environmental outcomes. Australians have led the way on mining innovation for years now. There are huge opportunities to create the next generation of technology, not just in extracting and processing, but in measuring climate impacts, and in mining that other massive underexplored stream, data. 

Critically, we're determined to preserve and create well paid secure jobs in Australian mining and to ensure there is a pipeline of skilled workers to take them up. Young Australians, as I said, need to know there is a great future in mining. That's why we have committed $30 million during the recent election to a new Central Queensland University School of Mines and Manufacturing. This builds on our comprehensive $585 million skills package and the important work undertaken by Steven Joyce, laying out a road map for the modernisation of Australia's vocational education and training sector. We need to train the people for the jobs we know that you are going to create and industries right across this country. It is a grand national project. Michaelia Cash is leading this vital reform effort on behalf of our government, working with all stakeholders, including state and territory governments. I want to thank all state and territory governments, including here in Queensland, for the way in which they engage with us on this matter of skills reform. A critical focus is ensuring employers and individuals ‒ those who demand the skills ‒ are in the driver’s seat of the national training system. There are many fine training providers, public and private, but the reality is we will not succeed with the same old supply-driven model of training.

As part of our VET modernisation agenda, the Government has announced pilot Skills Organisations in two industries of high skills demand: human services care and digital technologies. The first of these obviously highlighted in the most recent devastating but, sadly, not unsurprising report - interim report - we received from the Aged Care Royal Commission. The skills organisations that we are establishing will give target industries more say in developing targeted training products and the opportunity to trial new ways of working within the VET system. It's an amazing notion. Hold on. Someone will get trained in the skills they need to do the job that the employer wants to give them. I know it's a crazy notion. But that's not what the system is doing at the moment, and that is what the system must do. That is the marker I've laid down in terms of what the measure of success is for our VET sector. I want parents to know that when their kids go to training they are going to get the skills that they need to put them in a job for the rest of their life. It is a system that will continue to train and retrain them over the course of their professional lives, which means they can fulfil their hopes and aspirations for the future. And I want businesses to know that there's a pipeline of people right across their working lives that can continue to adapt and transform and to be able to make meaningful and significant contributions to their businesses. So that's why I'm pleased today to announce a third skills organisation pilot in the mining industry. We know that mining is a high-skill, high-wage industry, and this is a further statement of our confidence, of my confidence, in mining's future. It also recognises mining's critical role as a creator of job opportunities in regional and remote Australia, especially for Indigenous Australians. As I said, we want to be the world's number one investment destination. That is about much more than what we have got in the ground. It's about our whole business ecosystem. And, indeed, the wider cultural context in which is resources industry operates. But there are some challenges we need to overcome. Sensible policy settings, the quality of our resource endowment, the skill and innovation of our workforce and the support of local communities are necessary but not sufficient conditions for the success of the resources sector. 

There are new threats to the future of the resources sector that have emerged. A new breed of radical activism is on the march. Apocalyptic in tone, brooks no compromise, all or nothing. Alternative views not permitted. A dogma that pits cities against regional Australia. One that cannot resist sneering at wealth-creating and job-creating industries, and the livelihoods particularly of regional Australians, including here in Queensland. Agriculture, mining, oil and gas production. Sectors that just happen to produce more than 70 per cent of our export income. Sectors that invariably rely on the industry and enterprise of blue-collar workers, as they would have been known. Sectors that have been abandoned by Labor that was founded in regional Australia to represent those workers. Labor's Deputy Leader recently said this, Richard Marles, that traditional Labor voters felt the party looked down on blue-collar workers, especially in coal mining regions of North and Central Queensland. Well, I wonder where they got that impression from? After all, it was Mr Marles who himself said the collapse of the coal industry would be a good thing. It was the Labor Treasurer of Queensland, Jackie Trad, who basically said it was time for everybody to get out of the coal industry and go do something else. We're not interested in closing down the mining industry, but building it up. The scale of condescension we have seen could hardly have been higher. But I'm pleased to confirm that as the recent federal election demonstrated, the majority of Australians understand and value the importance of the resources sector, the contribution it makes, and the need to have balanced policies that can secure both our economic and our environmental future. The vote on May 18 was an affirmation of an Australia where the contribution of rural and regional Australia and the great industries that it hosts, particularly here in Queensland, including mining and of course agriculture and others, is respected and recognised. But despite the election result, we must be vigilant in responding to these new extreme versions, in all of its manifestations of environmentalism.

Ladies and gentlemen, there should always be a place for peaceful protest. Of course. It is one of our democratic principles. But in Queensland and elsewhere, one variant of this new absolutist activism, anarchism, is testing the limits of the right to protest. The right to protest does not mean there is an unlimited licence to disrupt people's lives and disrespect your fellow Australians. There is also a related and coordinated campaign to disrupt the commercial operations of resource companies by trespassing on their property, by vandalising property or by seeking to delay construction of essential infrastructure. There is no place for economic sabotage dressed up as activism. But there is a third and even more worrying development. An escalating trend towards a new form of secondary boycotts in this country. This is a trend with potentially serious consequences for our economy, and particularly our regional economies. Environmental groups are targeting businesses and firms who provide goods or services to firms they don't like, especially in the resources sector. They are targeting businesses of all sizes, including small businesses, including contracting businesses here in regional Queensland. Businesses providing well-paid jobs in Rockhampton, Mackay, Bowen and Townsville. It is a potentially more insidious threat to the Queensland economy and jobs and living standards than a street protest. Some of Australia's largest businesses are now refusing to provide banking, insurance and consulting services to an increasing number of firms who just support through contracted services to the mining sector and the coal sector in particular, which is the nation's second-largest export sector. I think some of our largest corporations should listen and engage with their quiet shareholders, not just the noisy ones. 

When Australian corporations deny services to other Australian companies under pressure from these activist groups, there are only two inevitable outcomes. One, Australian business does less business, and the other, Australian business is forced to acquire goods or services from an alternative overseas supplier at a higher price. I accept that the government, of course, cannot force one Australian company to provide a service to another. But will this trend extend to other sectors that have a significant carbon footprint? Will we start to see similar boycotts of on and offshore gas projects and power generation? When are they coming after the abattoirs? The airlines? Is that the sort of economy that they see in the future? And we're prepared to allow to occur? Is that the sort of country we want? Of course not. Let me assure you, this is not something my government intends to allow to go unchecked. Together with the Attorney-General Christian Porter, we are working to identify a series of mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices that threaten the livelihoods of fellow Australians, especially in our rural and regional areas and especially here in Queensland. Now, we will take our time to get this right. We will do the homework and we're doing that right now. But we must protect our economy from this great threat. 

This isn't about democracy. People have the right to protest. But Australia is a country where we respect each other and we seek to do no harm to others in our community and undermine their livelihoods and their choices. We're a tolerant, engaging, inclusive country. And we're not one that has truck with others seeking to enforce and dictate and impose their choices on others by seeking to undermine the industries upon which those other Australians depend on for their livelihoods. So, be assured, we are on the job on this. I look forward to making further announcements on this as we progress further. 

So, ladies and gentlemen, the resources sector is one of Australia's great national assets and strengths. As a country, you don't walk away from your strengths. You don't get intimidated out of your strengths by some people gluing themselves to goodness knows what.

[Laughter]

You play to your strengths. You recognise your strengths. A strong and growing resources sector is an essential element of my economic plan for Australia's future, and the jobs of Australians, both today and the future, that depend on it. The resources sector has given life to regional cities and communities across our great nation. From Ballarat, the Bowen Basin, Broken Hill, Mount Isa, Karratha and Kalgoorlie. It has shaped the contours of our development, the design of our inland railways and almost every port in the country. It has provided long-term benefits for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities throughout the country with local jobs and opportunities for development. It's been a plain stay of the Australian economy for almost two centuries. It has helped us through many difficult times, including the global financial crisis a decade ago. I want you to succeed and I want you to succeed big. I want Queensland to succeed and I want it to succeed big. And for that, you need a strong resources sector. Because that means a stronger Australia. Thank you for your attention.

[Applause]