Northern Australia and Resources Minister Matt Canavan says mining will be just as important to the national economy and regional Australia’s economic prospects in the next 50 years as it has been during the past half-century.
The Queensland Senator and Nationals cabinet minister will articulate his argument about mining’s century-long benefits in a speech at the National Press Club of Australia in Canberra next Wednesday.
The event will be co-hosted with the National Rural Press Club of Australia (NRPC) which re-launched last year to enhance debate and communication on topical issues concerning rural and regional Australia, like mining and farming, in the nation’s capital.
His address will confront similar topical news-items like the Adani coal mine and political attacks on the resources sector, despite providing economic strength for the nation and rural communities.
Senator Canavan’s speech will focus on his view that the long mining boom isn’t over but a short term focus on what’s happened during the past 10 years has hidden broader economic trends that have benefited Australia over the past half-century.
In the last decade an unprecedented boom has overshadowed the 50-year growth trend; partly due to China’s hefty stimulus spending after the Global Financial Crisis.
While that steep growth period won’t be repeated, Senator Cavavan believes the longer trend of economic growth will continue based on consistent increase in demand for Australian commodities, associated with economic growth in Asia.
“There’s this unfortunate view that it’s just an easy process to dig rocks out of the ground, put them on a boat and send them overseas to get paid lots of money,” he said.
“It’s a difficult game that we’ve had to work hard at, to become the world’s leading resources country, in my view.
“We’ve done that because we’ve made a lot of important policy changes like removing restrictions of exports of mining and commodities.
“We’ve had world leading innovative companies that have kept at the cutting edge and we’ve remained competitive by keeping the costs of production in Australia at or below world averages, which puts us in a competitive position.
“But if we’re complacent, that growth may not continue so we’ve got to work hard at maintaining our competitiveness and making new mineral discoveries which is difficult in a country that’s already been well explored and maintaining the political support for our industry which is already under political attack from several directions.”
Senator Canavan said mining provided millions of Australians with an opportunity to have a job, start their own business and experience “dignity in their lives” by being part of a world leading industry that doesn’t rely on government hand-outs and subsidies.
He said mining also provided a service by way of cheap energy and resources which helped fuel the world’s economy.
“Mining was important during the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Industrial Age but it’s actually perhaps more important in the Information Age in ways that we can’t always see,” he said.
“In your iPhone there are 25 minerals or metals that make up that phone and 16 go into a solar panel.
“But only 11 go into even a modern steam turbine – the evocative instrument of the industrial age only has 11 different minerals in it.
“However, modern products are much more diverse and complex and rely on a broader range of minerals than products from the older economy so there’s going to be continuing demand as demand for mobile phones and solar products also grow.”
Why the NRPC?
Senator Canavan said he was addressing his views at the NRPC event because the professional networking group also aimed to enhance communication and drive debate on significant rural issues that are often misunderstood, by those outside the regions.
He said there was no bigger divide between the views of people living in the city and people living in the bush currently, than on the issue of mining.
There’s increasingly a divide between the experience of people who live in the country and fundamentally understand industries like agriculture and mining or forestry and fisheries and those who live in the city, he said.
“There’s a reservoir of good will towards farmers in our community which provides a level of protection for that industry and perhaps that protection is not there for the mining industry where there’s always been a bit of a love hate relationship,” he said.
“That makes the mining sector a bit more vulnerable to misinformation and attacks that thrive off a level of ignorance.
“So it’s really important that I, as politician from these rural areas, try to communicate why this is so important to our regions but also to the broader community.
“Those who want to attack the sector and take it down can tap into a level of misunderstanding that exists in cites and that’s where the NRPC can help bring these issues and that understanding to the forefront.”
Senator Canavan said some community members including many politicians were either actively ignoring or not listening to views that existed, outside of major cities, on issues like mining.
“The Adani mine has 60pc support, in the areas where it’s actually located but that doesn’t seem to matter to those that just want to oppose it and railroad over those particular views,” he said.
“I think we’d all benefit a little from more listening and less lecturing on issues like this; especially from those who live in or work in the industry.”
Senator Canavan said more weight should also be given to opinions that are better informed by those living with the direct impacts of a particular proposal.
“Typically you’re going to get better information, better government and better decisions the more you listen to local people and local decision-making,” he said.
“It’s a basic principle of government that you should put decision making down to as local a level as possible.
“I don’t think it’d be right to put undue weight on the opinions of Queenslanders on how the Melbourne tram system should be designed – that’s a decision that should be taken by and informed by the people of Melbourne.
“In terms of the coal industry, especially regulating things around the Great Barrier Reef, there’s a lot of local knowledge.
“Yes, the views of other Australians should be taken into account, but there needs to be a reflection of the fact that the people who actually live there tend to have a pretty good understanding.
“And unless you think north Queenslanders have a malicious desire to damage the environment, why shouldn’t their views be given great weight in this decision making process?
“The people of north Queensland don’t have malicious intent and absolutely want to protect the environment because we live near the Great Barrier Reef and want to see it thrive and survive.
“But we also clearly understand a lot of the rubbish that’s sprouted down south is misinformed and doesn’t really understand the situation on the ground in north Queensland.”
Canavan NRPC/NPC event