Bill's Speeches

MINERALS COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA

LEADER'S ADDRESS AT THE MINERAL WEEK SEMINAR LUNCHEON

 

MINERALS COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA

 

CANBERRA

 

WEDNESDAY, 3 JUNE 2015

 

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I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and I pay my respects to their elders both past and present.

 

It’s great to be with all of you, for another Minerals Week.

 

The advocacy, ideas, passions and inventions of the people in this room will have a profound impact on our future.

 

Powering, building and creating cities, developing countries and lifting people out of poverty in far flung corners of the world.

 

I’m from “Marvellous Melbourne” a city built on a resources boom, a city that grew from the gold rush and fostered hundreds of businesses and success stories that still stand….it’s a reminder of what we can all achieve, what resources can deliver and what we can do when we work together.

 

Minerals Week has become a fixture in the parliamentary calendar – and that is unquestionably a good thing.

 

Good for you, for your industry and for all of us who serve the nation.

 

Any time new perspectives come to Canberra, new voices from outside the echo chamber, new ideas drawn from lived experience…is a good day for our democracy.

 

And I believe the benefit runs the other way too.

 

It’s true, Australians have always nurtured a healthy scepticism sometimes even a cynicism, about politics.

 

It’s easy to assume legislating decisions is straightforward…and making change is just a matter of putting pen to paper.

 

But, almost without exception, everything is a slower, more complicated and more difficult balancing act than anyone really imagines.

 

I don’t think it’s too much to hope that the more you see of parliament, the more closely you are involved in framing policy the better our decision-making will be in serving you and the country as a whole.

 

I don’t want you – or indeed any Australian - to think the Parliament is some sort of out-of-touch citadel you trek to only to voice your disappointment, your disapproval or concern.

 

My goal is for Labor is to be part of an open, ongoing, respectful conversation.

 

Thorough consultation and informed policy decisions, delivering the best outcomes.

 

Right through my time in public life, from workplace relations, to helping people with a disability and carers to education and financial services, I’ve lived by a simple ethos: listen to the people who know, be guided by the best experts.

 

Learn from the people who do the best work in the world.

 

Let’s make our decisions, on the basis of the best information.

 

Labor is lucky to have a resources spokesman like Gary Gray, who, as you all know, has such a deep affinity for your sector.

 

And we’re all keen to be more involved and engaged.

 

The Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen, our Assistant Shadow Treasurer Andrew Leigh and our Trade spokesperson Penny Wong have all been to the Pilbara in the past nine months.

 

I’m interested in visiting more of your sites, getting back to the Pilbara and to Roxby Downs and Moranbah and many other places.

 

Because I always enjoy getting out and meeting the people who make our economy tick: the farms and factories, construction sites, gas plants, railway ports, oil rigs and mines.

 

The skilled, hard-working Australians creating national wealth.

 

I know, this Minerals Week you come to Canberra facing greater uncertainty than you have for many years.

 

The mining industry, related industries and people who work in them are doing it tougher than they have in the recent past.

 

We almost always use ‘historic’, as the adjective for the decade-long mining investment boom now coming to an end.

 

And it is justified.

 

Consider this, seven decades ago, the United States embarked on an unprecedented program of economic development, to help rebuild a European continent shattered by war.

 

The ‘Marshall Plan’ – one the United States’ greatest contributions to the world - in today’s dollars would be worth around $140 billion.

 

It’s a name, even now, synonymous with vision and massive investment.

 

Yet between 2007 and 2013 $270 billion in investment flowed into Australia’s resources sector.

 

Almost double the money it took to rebuild the European continent, flowing into one sector, of one nation’s economy.

 

It’s no wonder we endured stresses and strains along the way.

 

It’s no wonder rapid expansion occasionally meant infrastructure projects experienced delays.

 

It’s no wonder our skills, workforce and construction couldn’t always keep up with demand.

 

I will be grateful, for the rest of my time in public life, for the contribution mining made in that time.

 

And it’s no wonder that the transition out of this, the current step down in investment, is being felt in your sector – and the broader Australian economy.

 

Between 2012 and today, Australia has experienced a fourfold contraction in investment.

 

This is almost a $100 billion withdrawal from our national economy.

 

You know this, you are at the forefront of this change…I nearly said ‘at the coalface’, but I don’t want the hard-rock guys to think I’m playing favourites.

 

You have all felt the effects of transition.

 

But I can assure you, not for a moment do I imagine that mining is transitory, or short-term.

 

Mining has a long and proud history in this country. It will always be a legitimate, fundamental part of our economy.

 

I recognise we will not see the historic highs of the past decade repeated this year, as if by magic.

 

But today’s national accounts reveal that the Australian economy is being driven by net exports.

 

This is because of - not in spite of - our minerals sector.

 

Minerals are still over 40 per cent of our exports by value.

 

And, tomorrow and the next day, whatever the global headwinds bring:

 

Australian iron ore will still be building modern China.

 

Australian coal will still be lighting the homes and cooking the meals of hundreds of millions of people in India and Japan .

 

Australian copper will still be used in the circuit boards of the computers and machines of the future.

 

Australian mining companies will still be bringing jobs, infrastructure and investment to communities right across our continent.

 

There will always be a symbiotic relationship between government and resources.

 

Between a workforce and its leaders.

 

Between our towns and company operations.

 

Between the nation and the infrastructure provided.

 

And also between innovation and invention, ideas that spring from the people who get the best out of our resources but still value the importance of touching the earth lightly.

 

The challenge ahead of us, as policy-makers and industry leaders is to match the national economic shift underway with a shift in our national mindset.

 

We are living through an unprecedented economic rise in Asia.

 

And the Commonwealth has to look at everything it can do, to manage the transition, to catch the next wave.

 

We can’t imagine good times will just turn up again.

 

The future depends on the decisions we make.

 

We have to diversify, learn new skills, embrace new technologies and think about new ways of working.

 

The choice is clear and simple: we get smarter, or we get poorer.

 

The leaders in your sector made the right choice years ago.

 

Indeed, one of the great untold stories of Australian mining in the last decade has been the story of mining’s ceaseless and relentless pursuit of better productivity, through innovation.

 

A recent UBS report estimated that reducing costs and driving productivity improvements has clawed back an estimated $20 billion in margins as the price of iron ore fell.

 

The cost of production at some sites has been halved – ensuring Australia’s competitiveness in a global free market.

 

Through innovation and investing in your people – your greatest assets – you have stayed ahead of the curve, of breakthroughs in automation and the use of real time data.

 

There is a new paradigm: low wage economies are not the ultimate competition for Australia. Automation, innovation and invention are the opportunities for Australia.

 

And you are an industry continually upskilling and investing in people and collaborating with our universities and scientists, and we need to see more of that.

 

Just look at the Australian Resources Research Centre - a collaborative effort bringing together experts from the Western Australian State Government, CSIRO and Curtin University with the petroleum and mining industries to exchange information and explore new ideas for the betterment of the sector.

 

Or Rio Tinto’s Processing Excellence Centre in Brisbane, which uses real time data and analytics to maximise productivity and improve performance in mining sites across Australia, and as far afield as the United States and Mongolia.

 

Australian skills being projected across the globe.

 

But for all the important advances and investments being made by your firms.

 

No responsible government can simply ask private enterprise to carry the innovation challenge alone.

 

Governments have a fundamental obligation to prepare for the future.

 

Labor has already begun outlining our plans for productive infrastructure: unlocking our cities and linking our regions - and our plans for the skills and knowledge of the future.

 

When I talk about infrastructure, I see it as a lever the Commonwealth has within our capacity.

 

We need to agree, outside of the hothouse of Liberal and Labor:

 

  • What are the necessary projects?


 

  • How do we make the idea bankable?


 

  • How do we put rigour and transparency around the numbers?


 

  • How do we get generational decisions, not short-term decisions.


 

This is not a pipedream.

 

We’ve accomplished this with monetary policy and the Reserve Bank. I believe Infrastructure Australia can be the Reserve Bank of infrastructure policy.

 

Let’s compete on visions for infrastructure: productivity, competition, creating jobs and helping people getting to and from work.

 

We can’t be hostage to a three-year cycle of winner-takes-all and start again.

 

The other lever, I submit, at the Commonwealth’s disposal is skills.

 

  • In my Budget Reply, I said every Australian child should study coding, computational thinking, in school. The language of the 21st


 

  • More science, maths and IT teachers who are qualified in their subject, passionate about it, supported to teach it well and to inspire a new generation of inventors and innovators.


 

  • And debt-free degrees for 100,000 science, technology, engineering and mathematics students: a workforce ready to lead innovation.


 

And there is one more, extremely important thing Labor is ready to offer.

 

Certainty.

 

I understand, people bring their individual politics, but business will always want certainty.

 

Certainty as an alternative government – and certainty in government.

 

Let me be straight with you today:

 

Neither the Resources Super Profits Tax, nor the Minerals Resource Rent Tax are Labor policy, any longer.

 

Forget the fear campaign.

 

I do get the Liberal impression, that the government, like a football team that won a grand final a couple of years ago would like to replay that match.

 

We’re not going to play that game – we’re interested in what the future looks like.

 

Forget the fear campaign, forget the misinformation.

 

We’ve listened and we’ve learned.

 

We’re not going to fight the 2016 election, on the same ground as the 2013 election.

 

Both Labor – and your industry – are capable of change.

 

We are both better, and broader, than some of our critics would have us believe.

 

And I am committed to us working together.

 

I want a strong and honest relationship between Australia’s oldest political party – and the Minerals Council.

 

I’m confident we can find a great deal of common ground.

 

In technology, energy, skills, training and infrastructure.

 

As well as workplace safety.

 

You know, and I know, too many Australians still die in the minerals industry.

 

Too many have already died this year.

 

Too many parents, partners, sons and daughters, siblings and friends walk out their front door one morning and never come home.

 

I’ve been down mines, I’ve been on rigs and I’ve been to LNG trains, I get the effort companies put into safety.

 

I know the workplace is also hazardous..

 

I remember Beaconsfield, as if it was yesterday.

 

I’ve been to Cessnock, I’ve stood in front of the memorial wall that bears the names of more than 1800 Australians, who have lost their lives in the Northern District minds.

 

Now, we’re a lot better than we were in the 19th Century. I know this.

 

But none of this means any death, any injury, at work is inevitable – or acceptable.

 

Even as we move to greater automation and more centralised operations, as employers, as leaders, as policy-makers our first priority should always be to be make every year safer than the last.

 

Just as, when dealing with FIFO workers in particular, we need to think about some of those issues which we might not have always seen as our concern.  I talk of depression, suicide and family violence.

 

And I know there is real leadership coming out of many senior managers in regional towns- especially in the Hunter valley.

 

Of course, a good workplace isn’t just about safety.

 

A focus on work-life balance delivers mutual benefit: enhancing your ability to attract and retain the best people, and a happier more productive workforce.

 

We only need to look at the now-famous example of the Newmont Boddington Gold ‘school shift’.

 

When Newmont restructured their roster so that haul truck drivers could work a shift from 9 til 2, clocking off in time to pick up their kids.

 

This allows you to appeal to a broader, more diverse workforce.

 

I am confident that the more time we spend thinking about employees as people with a family, as members of a community, the happier and better our workplaces will be.

 

And the easier it will be to retain good employees who want to live a life outside of work.

 

Your industry also makes a significant contribution to the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

 

As you all know, there is a terrible gap between the health, education and employment and justice outcomes non-Indigenous Australians enjoy as compared to the first Australians.

 

It is wrong, in this country, that an Indigenous man leaving school is more likely to go to jail than university.

 

This is our country.

 

These are not numbers that sit comfortably with the country we want to see in the community.

 

Closing the gap, delivering equal opportunity for our two Australias is a national priority – and a measure of Australia’s progress.

 

Last week, one of your industry’s great leaders added their support to the important national project of constitutional recognition of the First Australians.

 

And I hope to work with all of you, to reduce the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who end up in jail.

 

Because the jobs created in Aboriginal communities by our mining industry are an essential part of closing the gap.

 

It’s not just the offer of a job, it’s the training, skills and incentive that comes with it.

 

It’s the self-respect a job instils, so parents can be providers.

 

The example a good job offers young people, proof of the value of staying in school and out of trouble.

 

It’s the tangible pathway, the sense that an apprenticeship, or a uni place is not a remote possibility, but a genuine opportunity.

 

All of this works best when traditional owners, community leaders and commercial enterprises can co-operate to plan long term partnerships.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen

 

This week Australia lost a great pioneer in public policy and politics: Joan Kirner.

 

Our first female Premier in Victoria, our second female head of Government.

 

A famous champion of the rights of women.

 

Some of the most industrial towns are still also the most macho.

 

It’s never too late, to put a new focus on encouraging equality here.

 

We need more women in our businesses, in our management in our traineeships, apprenticeships and as graduates and managers and CEOs.

 

I've heard of this industry's legendary celebrations of the contribution of women in mining.

 

It’s overdue to see more women in the top tier of our resources businesses, and on our mine sites, adding their skills and capability to our success.

 

Imagine if we unleash the capacity of 100 per cent of our workforce, by breaking down gender barriers.

 

Briefly, in closing, I would like to say a word about marriage equality. Not because it’s the major issue for the Minerals Council, but because it’s an issue that affects your families and your employees.

 

I was proud to introduce a bill on marriage equality into the Parliament on Monday. It was excellent to 50 leading businesses, prominent businesses support the idea in a full page advertisement in last Friday’s Australian.

 

I hope some of you in this room will join with corporate Australia in supporting this cause, because this issue doesn’t stop at a particular industry.

 

I understand that Mining is a fundamental driver of Australian success.

 

The Labor party I lead appreciates the role mining plays.

 

You lead in many ways, you contribute in many more ways.

 

You employ Australians, you invest in Australia, you generate taxes – you do much which is good for Australia.

 

You play a leading role in many of the debates about our sustainable environment.

 

I understand the market has changed. I understand the challenges are many. But I believe in the success of mining.

 

I’m grateful for what you do and for the lives you help, both here and elsewhere.

 

I will continue to work with you and make sure your success continues.

 

I look forward to talking to you again in the future.

 

ENDS

 

MEDIA CONTACT: LEADER’S OFFICE MEDIA UNIT 02 6277 4053