Australia’s mining industry is one of the nation’s great success stories and the Australian Government is doing all it can to ensure it remains so.

At a time when the sector is going through significant changes and facing increased competition overseas, the government has put a significant amount of policy work into securing the sector’s long-term growth.

Last year, the Federal Government established the Resources 2030 Taskforce to take stock of the country’s resources sector and identify areas needing reform.

The taskforce made a sweeping series of recommendations, including promoting Australia to overseas investors, driving innovation, developing more efficient environmental regulations and developing the future workforce.

At a state level, the Western Australian Government released its Future Battery Industry Strategy in January, signalling its intention to become a global leader in the production of battery minerals like lithium, cobalt and vanadium.

Now the Commonwealth has released the first National Resources Statement in over two decades.

The strategy builds on the work of the Resources 2030 Taskforce, laying down a number of initiatives and policies which work towards future-proofing Australia’s resources industry.

In a statement, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan said the government’s vision was to keep Australia at the top of its game and pave the way for decades of prosperity.

“Our resources sector makes up eight per cent of our economy and exports are predicted to reach a record $250 billion in 2018–19,” he said. “It also employs around 1.1 million people directly and indirectly and is the largest employer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“Clearly we are in great shape but we cannot take our success for granted. Taking action now means a stronger and more robust resources sector into the future.”

Welcoming the release of the National Resources Statement and backing the government’s policies, the Australian Resources and Energy Group (AMMA) said it was particularly pleased with the focus on developing skills and workforce capabilities.

AMMA Head of Policy and Public Affairs Tom Reid said the strategy recognised how Australia could bene t from maintaining a diverse workforce with the right skills for future work.

“AMMA welcomes the National Resources Statement putting the spotlight on the significant contribution made by the sector to Australia’s prosperity,” he said.

“A strategic, nationally coordinated approach to skills and workforce development is crucial to ensuring a diverse pool of people can access the incredible opportunities available in the resources and energy industry.”

To attract greater investment and minimise the costs for big resources projects, Mr Reid said AMMA members strongly endorsed the development of bilateral agreements and more “one-stop-shops” to streamline environmental approvals and regulatory processes.

“It is quite clearly taking too long to bring projects from the feasibility stage to approval,” he said. “The often overlapping state and federal approvals processes is a big part of that.

“Excessive red tape and uncertainty around environmental regulation continue to hold back our nation’s competitiveness and ability to secure investment for and build new mega-resources projects that drive jobs and national multifactor productivity.

“It is imperative resources project proponents be able to complete approval processes on a sensible and internationally competitive timeline.”

While describing the plan as comprehensive, Mr Reid said a notable omission from the key priorities was workplace relations reform, which remained critical to unlocking the industry’s productivity and global competitiveness.

“It is impossible to seriously talk about the jobs and skills of the future without engaging in a meaningful conversation about workplace relations reform,” he said.

“Australia’s competitiveness in the future global economy requires a globally competitive future work system

that properly balances workplace protections with productivity and efficiency considerations.

“No matter how difficult, our national policymakers must rise above present-day political point-scoring to create a work regulation system fit for the future.”

Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston was more critical of the strategy, claiming the Federal Government had overlooked WA’s role in the national setup.

“The Federal Liberal Government fails to mention or acknowledge the huge contribution Western Australia makes in the mining and oil and gas sectors; our state contributes around half of Australia’s total mining exports,” he said.

“We’re also world leaders in the technology space, with 60 per cent of the world’s mining software made here in WA.

“The Federal Government is so out of touch it has failed to properly consider the WA Government’s Future Battery Industry Strategy which we launched in January.”

Labor’s strategy

The coalition is not the only party with a plan for Australia’s mining sector.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said if Labor won the Federal Election in May it would establish an Australian Future Mines Centre in Perth to kick-start the discovery of new mines across the country.

The centre will be funded through a $46 million Australian Research Council Special Research Initiative, with Labor providing $23 million and the balance to come from state governments, universities and private sector partners.

With the time between discovery and export of minerals potentially spanning decades, Labor said in a statement it was critical to act now to secure Australia’s future export market.

“Because two-thirds of potential deposits reside under deep cover, we need to pair technology like machine learning and big-data analytics with new scientific approaches to discovering these deposits,” it said.

“These deposits are the mines of the future and we need to do more to find the critical commodities that will power our future mining exports like rare earth elements, copper, gold and lithium.

“The centre will also deliver on the need for an industry data strategy and explore options for innovation and collaboration across the sector.”

Labor has also promised to allocate $2 million towards funding 100 mining engineering scholarships for Australian university students.

Speaking at the Minerals Council of Australia’s Minerals Week Seminar, Shadow Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Jason Clare said the scholarships would help build a skilled mining workforce.

“At my old university, the University of New South Wales, 120 people enrolled in mining engineering five years ago,” he said. “Last year only eight people did.

“It’s the same story at other engineering schools. We are now at the point of courses potentially being shut down.

“Imagine that: mining courses being shut down in a country where mining makes up more than 50 per cent of our exports. It doesn’t make sense.

“That’s why if we win the next election we will fund 100 new mining engineering scholarships – half of them for women – to help turn around this decline.”

While the AMMA supported many elements of Labor’s plan, Mr Reid said he was disappointed the party would not publicly support the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine project.

“Frankly, there is little point in the ALP publicly declaring a zest to discover new mineral reserves when it won’t support those already identified and committed to by investors,” he said.

“Our political leaders should not be playing favourites with Australia’s extraordinarily diverse commodity reserves, particularly when coal is now our most valuable commodity export and directly employs 50,000 Australians.”

 

Within the new national policy framework, the Federal Government will:

• Boost greenfield exploration by looking into expanding the Exploring For The Future program which uses the latest exploration techniques to search for new minerals in Australia’s unexplored areas.

• Promote Australia’s resources sector overseas by marketing its skilled workforce, abundance of natural resources and robust environmental standards.

• Develop Australia’s workforce, collaborating with the Minerals Council of Australia to determine the skills future workers will need.

• Create a national strategy on critical minerals to meet increase demand for these commodities and help to grow downstream industries.

• Boost community engagement and share more wealth with regional communities.

• Determine a way to streamline environmental approvals and regulatory processes.