Doorstop at Geoscience Australia, Canberra
JOURNALIST: Minister, you said the road to net zero runs through the resources sector. A moment ago you said this is a relatively new industry in terms of critical minerals. Can you give us an idea as to where we’re at with critical minerals against, I guess, those already established resources sectors in coal and gold and things like that? Are we at the very sort of birth of that industry or has some progress been made, how much more progress should be made?
MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, I would say – and I know people in the lithium industry would say – we’ve been working on this for some time. But it is developing. There’s no doubt it’s not as established as iron ore, but iron ore is an extraordinarily high volume commodity that Australia has extracted. And it was developed, so was the gold industry, on the back of international investment from Japan and China and other countries. So iron ore has been the mainstay of the economy for some time and will continue to be a very significant part of our economy well into the future.
The iron ore of Western Australia has built the great cities of the world – rebuilt Tokyo and helped building cities in China. So we owe a lot to the iron ore industry. Obviously it’s much more developed than lithium.
What we’ve seen in past years is how difficult changes in prices and volatility has been in the lithium market. The Wodgina mine, the mineral resources mine in the Pilbara, you know, that was in care and maintenance not many years ago. And now it’s riding the wave of the lithium boom. So these are the pressures that lithium and other critical minerals are under, a changing market and also a market that is dominated by one country in particular.
JOURNALIST: The release of this strategy has been very keenly anticipated in the sector. There were a number of industry groups that have wanted to see things such as subsidies or tax breaks or things that they think would help support develop the industry. Can you explain to those who might come out today and be critical of this, why those weren’t part of this strategy?
MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Yeah, and I accept there’s a long list of requests from industry and different parts of the industry for subsidies or grants or incentives, and I hear a lot from industry all the time about what they think is best. And I accept people have good ideas and that we do need to take further action in that regard. However, the important thing is that a government sets out a framework that we can follow and we reach those destinations in terms of those other actions in an orderly fashion. So we’re not handing out the baubles of cash that people have become accustomed to, perhaps; we’re setting out a framework and a strategy so that government can make decisions in an orderly fashion in relation to supporting this industry. And this strategy will inform future budgetary commitments of the Albanese Labor government.
JOURNALIST: Okay, so no baubles of cash today, but [indistinct] strategy so that the industry could expect those types of things in future?
MINISTER MADELEINE KING: We will certainly be working with industry and making sure any support, government support, to the industry aligns with this framework in what we’ve set out today. So, yeah, there is obviously more for the government to do. I don’t shy away from that. But it’s important we have a strategy that guides us in what we spend so it’s responsible spending; it’s not the sort of – well, it’s not a shopping list. You know, we don’t want to just pick favourites; we want to make sure we follow this through so that the spending is wise. Because we can’t compete with the amount of capital the US has put into this industry through the Inflation Reduction Act. That’s why the compact with the Biden administration is so important, so we can use our, you know, remarkable natural endowment and take advantage of that and work with the US to make sure we get their investments in this country. And that’s what we do.
JOURNALIST: Minister, AEMO warned today that investment in new clean electricity supply is not happening fast enough to replace ageing coal-fired power stations. What more can the Federal government to speed up that process to ensure we aren’t left in the dark while [indistinct] net zero?
MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Yeah, I’ve seen that report today, and I think what AEMO’s conclusions in that regard just demonstrate, you know, how we’ve been let down by 10 years of inaction on energy policy. So the government and Minister Bowen is working very hard to make sure there is investment in new energy and in making sure that the grid is maintained and everyone, you know, gets to keep the lights on and keep warm over winter.
So it is a challenge, and, you know, it’s been made a greater challenge because of those many years of inaction. But we are working with the state governments to make sure the investment is there. And, equally with international investors to make sure we do build that transformational energy infrastructure for the community.
JOURNALIST: We know, too, that (indistinct) regulate [indistinct] crack down today on [indistinct] vulnerable customers from rising power prices. Are you also looking at the broad picture, being resources, Minister, but is that almost a bit of a white flag, almost a concession that the power prices and energy prices continue to outrun the government, outpace the government?
MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, as you know, our government took action when the staggering increases of gas prices came to our shores last year. And that has worked to reduce power prices or at the very least bring a halt to some of those dramatic increases in that. State governments are wrestling with this issue as well and we’re working with them. You know, there’s no concession – we will fight to make sure we, you know, on one hand drive down inflation but help the people that need help most in relation to power bills and so forth. And that is the package of our affordable energy that went through last year that, of course, the opposition voted against.
JOURNALIST: And half a billion dollars in additional funding as part of your strategy announcement this morning. Can you expand on that a little and tell us what that half a billion dollars will go towards? Is everyone getting new projects off the ground or is that for supporting existing projects?
MINISTER MADELEINE KING: That’s earmarked out of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, and it will be projects that align with the strategy. So there are a number of priority areas in the strategy, so it could be any part of that to be honest, as long as it aligns with the framework. And that indicates what future spending is supported by the government will be. It will need to align with this framework to get us where we need to be – the critical minerals powerhouse that we can be and, quite frankly, we’re doing a good job right now, we just have to do better to support our neighbours and ourselves to get into that net zero emissions position.
JOURNALIST: Just on a separate topic, there’s a debate going on in your home state of WA about the introduction of the Aboriginal and Cultural Heritage act on July 1 [indistinct] development sector. Are you concerned that if the rollout of those laws doesn’t – isn’t handled properly that it could compromise support for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament?
MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Look, I don’t think so. The cultural heritage laws of WA were revised, and urgently needed to be revised, after the destruction of the Juukan Gorge. So WA had in place – and the WA government will admit this – an outdated system of cultural heritage protection, and they moved quickly to make sure that that kind of event couldn’t happen again legally under the WA regime.
My understanding is in the development of the cultural heritage laws there’s been a great deal of consultation with industry and I can understand entirely the government’s desire to make sure those laws come into force as planned. And I think it’s a demonstration of the Western Australian Government listening to Indigenous people. There’s not a resources project that can happen in Western Australia without First Nations’ involvement. You know, that is a state that has been – has had a chequered past to be honest with First Nations people and the ownership or otherwise of Indigenous lands and native title claims. But the mining and resources sector in WA has lifted its game substantially over the past decades and is very much listening to Indigenous stakeholders and landowners and making sure they are listened to in the development of mines. And I think when we saw the Juukan Gorge disaster, we saw that when that goes wrong it can go really very disastrously wrong, and it will never happen again.
So those that are concerned, you know, everyone’s entitled to have their concern and register that, but I think they should concentrate more on working with the Western Australian government in making sure this happens.
JOURNALIST: And just in terms of how the Voice support, [indistinct]?
MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Sorry, I don’t – I think the wider community, especially in Western Australia and right around the nation, but I guess [indistinct] is supportive of the Voice. Again, industry in that part of the world has been listening to Indigenous Voices for a long time. Under the Barnett government there was the Land Use Agreement Compensation agreement reached with the Noongar people, which was a really significant step for relations between the WA government and First Nations People. So I think there will be support for the Voice. The Cultural Heritage Act, you know, there’ll be discussions about that, but I don’t think it will weaken the support one little bit.