Address to Minerals Council of Australia – Minerals Week Seminar









When I was at high school I wanted to be a doctor.


I did work experience at the local hospital. 


But to become a doctor I had to study physics and chemistry.


On the first day of Year 11 Physics the Head Science teacher walked into the class and gave us all a lecture. 


He told this was the hardest subject in the HSC and most of us were going to fail.


I thought if I fail physics I’m not going to get into medicine.


The next day I dropped out of physics – and chemistry.


My mum worked in the office at my school – Canley Vale High School. 


The next day the science teacher came up to the office and asked why I dropped out.


She said because you told him he was going to fail. He said “I didn’t mean him”. 


Whether it was meant me or not, it was a moment that changed my life. 


I became a lawyer not a doctor.


And then I really disappointed my parents and became a politician.


I’m not unique. Every year thousands of kids are making the decision to opt out of science courses like I did.


Choosing not to study STEM courses – at school, at TAFE and at University.


In the last 20 years the number of students at high school enrolling in STEM subjects like physics and advanced mathematics has gone backwards. 


In the workforce we have got fewer people with STEM qualifications today then we did 10 years ago. 


We are going backwards – at a time when more jobs require STEM skills than ever before.  


And if we don’t produce those skills locally here – we have to import them. 


This is a big challenge – particularly in this industry. 


At my old university, the University of New South Wales, 120 people enrolled in mining engineering five years ago. Last 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 percent of our exports. It doesn’t make sense. 


That’s why Bill Shorten announced yesterday that 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.


And it’s not just mining engineers. 


The skills needed in mining are in flux. Just like a lot of other industries a lot of jobs are being automated. Others are being redesigned. A lot of different skills are needed.


You need data scientists, experts in AI, robotics and machine learning – and they are just as hard to find. 


We’ve got a METS sector that is world leading – that is responsible for six out of every 10 lines of code miners use all around the world – and its struggling to find the workers it needs.


We need to get serious about developing the skills we need for the future – for this industry and others.


This what Bill Shorten was talking about yesterday.


I mentioned the scholarships.


We are also going to uncap university places and eliminate fees for 100,000 TAFE places where we have the sorts of skills shortages I am talking about.


We have also got to turn around the massive drop in apprentice numbers – there are 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees than there were five years ago.


To help fix that we will make it a requirement that on all Commonwealth funded infrastructure projects one in ten workers is an apprentice.


Vanessa Guthrie talked yesterday about the need for government, industry and our universities to make sure what students are learning is meeting what industry needs.


It’s a good point.


It’s the sort of thing we will look at in the review we have proposed of our post-secondary education system.


Skills is just one of the issues this industry faces


The Resources 2030 Taskforce report shines a light on this and a lot of others.


It’s a good report, full of some practical ideas.


And it’s a bipartisan initiative. 


I want to thank the Minister for taking up my idea of appointing former Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith to the Taskforce – and including skills in the terms of reference.


One of the areas the report focuses a lot of attention on is exploration.


It’s important we talk about this.


We haven’t had a big Tier 1 discovery in over a decade.


Booming prices and volumes in some commodities have masked a serious issue – we are going backwards in terms of global market share in commodities like gold, copper, nickel and zinc.


The sort of commodities that are going to be in big demand in the decades in front of us.


Our share of global gold production is about half what it was 20 years ago.


It’s the same story with nickel. 


Over the next two decades about 70 percent of our gold mines are expected to close.


But at the same time two thirds of Australia remains unexplored.


Places where there are the potential mines of the future.


But at the same time two thirds of Australia remains unexplored.


Places where there are the potential mines of the future.


They are likely to be a lot deeper than the deposits we have found to date and require technology like geo-physical instrumentation.


What the Academy of Sciences calls a downward looking telescope.


There is already a lot of good work happening here – industry is doing a lot of work. 


So are Geoscience Australia and the CSIRO. 


And we have got the UNCOVER initiative. 


World leading work.


What the Resource 2030 Taskforce report says is we need to better coordinate the work we are doing to find the mines of the future. 


It recommends an overarching body to bring all of this together.


If we win the next election we will do that.


We will set up the Australia Future Mines Centre.


It will coordinate exploration work, lead the scientific research and new technology being developed to explore under deep cover.


We are putting $23 million of taxpayers’ money into it.


We want to work with you on the design and operation of the Centre, and I we want industry to co-invest.


But this is not just about new mines and new jobs. 


It’s about new industries.


Think about this – it’s estimated that there will be about two billion electric vehicles worldwide in two decades time.


One electric vehicle contains about 40 kilograms of copper.  Four times the amount of copper in a conventional car.


It helps explains why it’s predicted that we will mine more copper in the next 25 years than we have in world history.


The batteries in those cars also need lithium and cobalt and nickel.


We are already the largest supplier of lithium.  But we could do a lot more.


We could do more than just produce lithium spodumene or lithium hydroxide.


We could potentially produce precursors and cathodes and anodes.


I welcome the announcement the Government made yesterday about prioritising critical mineral projects in the next round of CRC grants.


States like Western Australia are developing some good strategies to help make sure we make the most of the battery revolution and there are things we can do to help here.


Like using Austrade to attract more investment into the industry, the NAIF to get projects off the ground and bodies like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to link the supply chain to the massive renewable energy economy.


Another example is hydrogen.


I know I am straying off mining but this is important.


About half of those two billion electric vehicles I talked about will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells.


This could be another industry worth billions and employing a lot of Australians – if we make the right decisions now.


We have got a lot in our favour – the skilled workforce, we have got a lot of expertise from the LNG industry, a lot of the infrastructure and we are closer than our potential competitors to our potential customers – countries like Japan and South Korea.


That’s why a couple of weeks ago we announced a billion dollar plan using funds from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and ARENA to help make this happen.


Finally I just want to talk about potentially one of the most important recommendations the Taskforce made – and that’s setting up a Strategic Ministerial Advisory Group.


It sounds just like another Government Committee.


But as someone very senior in the industry told me – this will help make sure that the recommendations in this report don’t just sit and gather dust and that the enthusiasm we have at the moment doesn’t run out of puff.


I think it’s really important that the work the Taskforce did and the Government’s response are not a one off. 


It’s the sort work that should be done regularly and elevated to the level of an Resources White Paper – something developed across government, involving industry, unions and local communities every five years or so.


There are now only about 100 days till the next election. 




And unlike most Oppositions we haven’t just sat back and hoped the Government would self-implode.


We have announced a lot of polices – because there is a lot to do, and we want a mandate to do it.


Some of it you might not agree with.


Some of it I am sure you will like.


Like what we have said on the Diesel Fuel Rebate.


The important point is this. 


I understand how important this industry is. 


How critical it is to our economy.


It’s got its fair share of challenges. 


But it’s also got an incredible opportunity to be even more than it is today.


And if we win the next election I want to work with you to help grasp that.