ABC Pilbara with Kelly Gudgeon

KELLY GUDGEON: A feature of the Federal Budget that may have caught the attention of many of us here in Western Australia, and particularly in the Pilbara, is plans to spend $7 billion on 10 per cent production tax credits for critical mining projects over the next decade. The spend has been criticised by the Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, who has labelled it "billions for billionaires." But it's been welcomed by WA Liberal leader Libby Mettam. It's aiming to shore up processing and refining of the critical minerals here in Australia, and Resources Minister Madeleine King says it will help the emerging industries and sectors long term. She spoke to ABC Pilbara's Rosemary Murphy.

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: This is the single biggest investment in the resources sector from a Commonwealth Government, $17 billion over 14 years, that will seek to drive investment from junior miners and bigger miners alike into developing critical minerals refining and processing right here in Australia. So, that's what we want to achieve. We want to achieve making things here, making more things here in Australia. And for Western Australia this is a really strategic and important policy that will drive a new resources sector off the back of a really strong existing resources sector up in the Pilbara, of course, centrally based around iron ore and LNG.

ROSEMARY MURPHY: In terms of short-term support, what's happening there in terms of lithium and also nickel?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: So, for lithium and nickel, as well as other critical minerals, many projects get the benefit of the Critical Minerals Facility, or if you're in the north, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, which are low interest loans to drive this industry. And it's an important industry to try and get going and become more vibrant across the nation because of the need for these critical minerals in the transition to net zero. So, that's what we're doing now in critical minerals. And in a couple of years, there'll be this production tax credit, which will just - we expect to put this new critical minerals industry into overdrive, which is really positive for the north and for the Pilbara.

ROSEMARY MURPHY: Is there the workforce and the supporting infrastructure in the north to go with that?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Look, there's a lot of issues with workforce demand right across the country. We've got Jobs and Skills Australia that the Albanese Labor Government have created to make sure we address exactly that problem, to make sure there are the skills there and the workforce as well. For these kind of mining and processing projects, they do have a long run in, so there is time to do more planning around that. So, we expect there will be the workforce, and it will be in different parts of the state as well.

ROSEMARY MURPHY: And with the tax credit, it's been sort of a mixed response from the WA Liberals and the federal Liberals. What's your reaction to that?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: I think it's staggering that we find the federal Liberals just running totally against the resources sector of Western Australia. I was actually really surprised that Peter Dutton didn't reconsider his position on this production tax credit, which is a scheme that we have worked with industry to develop. It's not like I invented it overnight or something like that. So, I think the WA Liberals are right. They need to, you know, pick up the phone and call their counterparts in the Federal Parliament and ask them, like, what's going on? Because this is absurd. It's anti-Western Australian and it's certainly anti the resources sector of this great state.

ROSEMARY MURPHY: There was another Rio automated train derailment last week. It's the third in the region in year. How much of a concern is that?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Look, that's obviously really concerning. These rail trains, they're so massive and they're so important to the economy as well, the product they're producing. But mostly, of course, it's that they are dangerous. So, I think it's an absolute relief that nobody was hurt. And I can understand that there might have been some workers that were shaken by the incident. And, you know, obviously that is to be expected because it's a huge piece of infrastructure. So, I'm sure Rio are working at this, clearly need to do better in relation to their rail facilities if this is the third time this has happened. I know there's the Office of National Rail Safety, the regulator is running an investigation and I'll leave that to run its course. But clearly this is a concern. It shouldn't happen.

ROSEMARY MURPHY: And with the Pilbara Hydrogen Hub, how is the hydrogen being produced, especially initially?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, the hydrogen hub, that's a work under development and it's really an important part of our future, hydrogen. It's not yet at the technological place we'd like it to be, to be able to be fully green and fully replacing gas, but there - you know, that's the potential for the future. So, how it's powered at the moment, I mean, whether it goes through green or blue hydrogen is a matter for debate, and I understand the debate around that, but I think the main thing is we're pushing toward a pathway to net zero. And hydrogen, particularly green hydrogen, is going to be a really important part of that.

ROSEMARY MURPHY: With WA, the emissions are rising. Do you think the state will be able to get to net zero by 2050?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: The state is determined to get to net zero by 2050, and the Australian Government is determined to get Australia to net zero by 2050. And there's no doubt there's challenges along the way, and different states obviously have different pathways because of their needs. So, I know gas demand in WA is going to go up soon because we are moving out of coal fired generation. So, that does change our use of gas. I've seen the report that you're referring to is an important part of the debate and I accept that. We also know, though, that we need to have this LNG to power our critical minerals resources. And also the gas in Western Australia plays an important role in the decarbonisation of our friends and neighbours to the north, in Japan and Singapore and Korea. So, you know, we have to balance all these things up. But the overall, overriding imperative is to reach net zero by 2050.

KELLY GUDGEON: Federal Resources Minister Madeleine King speaking there to Rosemary Murphy.