03 June 2021

I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land here in Canberra, the Ngunnawal and Ngambi peoples, and the traditional owners of the land in my home of south-west Western Australia, the Noongar people of the Whadjuk nation.

I note that today is exactly 29 years since the High Court of Australia’s Mabo decision – a turning point for the recognition of Indigenous people in this country and their unique connection with the land. 

The Mabo decision changed – for the better in most cases – the way the mining industry engages with Indigenous communities.

I would also like to also acknowledge here this morning the Honorable Helen Coonan, the Chair of the Minerals Council of Australia, and Tania Constable, the Chief Executive.

Ladies and gentleman, it is an absolute pleasure to address you as part of Minerals Week. 

I was honoured to be appointed Labor’s Shadow Resources Minister in January – in addition to my role as Shadow Minister for Trade. 

As a proud Western Australian, I understand the massive contribution of the mining industry. I think everyone in WA knows someone who works in mining and resources. 
Mining has never been more important to our national prosperity. 

But as we know, not all Australians share this appreciation. 

Later this month, Federal Labor’s Shadow Ministry will gather in Port Hedland, the engine room of Australia’s iron ore industry and home to the world’s largest bulk export port.

These colleagues of mine – Members of Parliament drawn from cities and regions across the nation – will see the unique Pilbara landscape for themselves.

Some of them for the first time.

They will see some of the massive iron ore mines that produce billions of dollars in export revenue for Australia and they will hear from some of the thousands of workers who operate them.

They will learn about the Port Hedland Port supply chain, which contributes an  astonishing 3.4 per cent to Australia’s GDP (according to a report last year by ACIL Allen).

The message my colleagues and I will give to the people of the Pilbara will be the same one we send to workers in the Hunter, the Goldfields, the Illawarra, the Latrobe, across Queensland and all other mining communities.  

And the message is this – Labor unequivocally supports the resources sector, the jobs it creates and the communities in which it operates. 

We support the jobs of today and the jobs of the future.

Mining is the cornerstone of the modern Australian economy.  

It’s been that way for almost two centuries – ever since lead was first discovered and mined in South Australia in the 1840s. 

But well before European settlement, Indigenous people had been mining the land for ochre, for use in art and religious practices and stones of all sorts for hunting and processing of food. 

Over the past year, as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down entire cities and countries, the Australian mining industry managed to find a way to operate uninterrupted.  

The industry put in place changes to shifts and travel arrangements, and it enacted virus testing regimes to ensure workers were kept safe and healthy.

This is a testament to the ingenuity and hard work of the sector – and I thank you all for your efforts.   

I also thank you for your leadership role on decarbonisation in the mining industry.

I welcome the Minerals Council’s climate action plan that outlines the actions being taken towards a goal of net zero emissions globally and in Australia.  

As many of you know, Labor’s position is Australia reaching net zero emissions by 2050. 
The rest of the world is moving inexorably to this target. More than 120 countries, including 70 per cent of our trading partners, have already committed.

In fact, Australia is the only developed country yet to act.

Many members of the Minerals Council are already investing large amounts in renewable energy technologies to reduce emissions, and that is very important.

But they also understand that as the world decarbonises, entirely new opportunities will arise.

Australia has huge reserves of the minerals, such as lithium, copper, nickel, manganese, cobalt and rare earths, all of which are needed to make lithium-ion batteries, wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles.

We have been gifted an opportunity to ensure that we make use of these minerals here in Australia and contribute locally to the value of further production.

With the right policy settings and political leadership, we must be able to process them here and export value-added products like lithium-ion batteries, at least precursor products like anodes and cathodes.  All of this creates new manufacturing jobs in our cities and regions.

Labor’s proposed National Reconstruction Fund will have a strong focus on value-adding in the resources sector. 

The fund is a $15 billion capital pool that an Albanese Labor government would use to drive investment and create well-paid, secure jobs. 

Projects would be assessed by an independent board, with companies eligible for loans, equity co-investment or guarantees.

We can generate new investment – and we can continue to create jobs and export revenue through the minerals we have mined in Australia so successfully. 

Our iron ore and metallurgical coal will remain the key ingredients in making steel, which will be needed to manufacture wind turbines.

A single wind turbine contains about 270 tonnes of iron ore and 200 tonnes of metallurgical coal, as well as around four tonnes of copper.

Copper is also used to make electric vehicles, leading to forecasts that global production of the shiny metal in the next 25 years will be larger than all the copper mined in world history.

In my electorate, BHP is building a refinery that will produce nickel sulphate, another product used in lithium-ion batteries. 

More than 75 per cent of BHP’s nickel is now sold to global battery material suppliers.
Nickel mined in Kalgoorlie and refined in Kwinana is probably in each of your mobile phones.

Having spoken to many of you in recent months, I understand that you are concerned about the serious issue of skills shortages.

We need a clearer strategy from the Federal Government to genuinely tackle these shortages and to create the foundations for the workforce of the future.

But today I’d like to mention two of the industry’s initiatives to increase participation and representation– one of which has been very successful and the other which still has a long way to go.

First, the mining industry has been one of the strongest employers of First Nations Australians. 

According to census data, Indigenous Australians account for 3.7 per cent of the mining workforce -- well above the average of 1.7 per cent for all industries. 

This is a great success story that has benefited our miners and helped to empower Indigenous people and improve quality of life.

The other initiative I mentioned relates to the under-representation of women in the industry.

Mining remains one of the most male-dominated industry in Australia, with women comprising just 16 per cent of all employees.

I believe the sector and the Government can do more to attract women to the mining workforce across all roles and management levels. 

The stereotype of mining as being all about burly blokes, big machinery and rocks is outdated – mining professionals these days work in a sophisticated, high-tech industry in both cities and the regions.

A key ambition must be to encourage more young women to pursue higher education in the STEM disciplines, which leads to careers in your industry.

Some companies have led the way in addressing the gender imbalance.

In 2016, BHP set an aspirational goal to achieve a 50-50 gender balance globally by 2025.  Still a long way to go.

Since then the company has managed to lift female representation from 17.6 per cent to 26.5 per cent. 

That’s an extra 2000 women within the ranks of BHP – more women in hard hats and high-vis on BHP mines sites and more women in corporate offices.

Rio Tinto is also working towards increased diversity, setting a goal of increasing women in senior management by two per cent each year and increasing its graduate intake to be 50 per cent women.

Other companies have also set targets on this issue as they too recognise and embrace the benefits of increased female participation.

But I would encourage the wider industry to follow the lead of companies like BHP and Rio, and to aim for gender balance. 

This, in turn, should enable the conditions that also create pay equity for women.

So perhaps alongside its commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, the mining industry could set the target of gender balance and pay equity by 2050?

As the first female Shadow Minister for Resources, I can assure you all of my full support for such an important ambition for the industry.

Thank you.