Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese has made a pitch to one of the country’s most influential fossil fuel lobbies, the Minerals Council of Australia for a future resources sector focused on clean energy technologies.
The MCA is currently hosting ‘minerals week’ in Canberra, bringing Australia’s largest mining companies together with Australia’s political leaders. Among its former CEO and deputy CEOs are the current chief of staff for prime minister Scott Morrison, and his trade advisor.
Albanese addressed the conference on Wednesday as part of an ‘opposition leaders’ lunch, where he was candid about the future prospects for Australia’s miners and the need to reduce its focus on fossil fuels.
Throughout his speech, Albanese sought to emphasise that Labor supported the ongoing role for the resources sector in Australia, but said it had to pivot away from being one of the world’s largest suppliers of fossil fuels to establishing Australia’s key role in a clean energy economy.
That meant it had to seize a strong position as a supplier of materials needed to produce those clean energy technologies, such as renewables, energy storage and electric vehicles.
“As the world moves to a low-carbon future, demand for some resources will decline. But there will be strong demand for other resources, particularly those needed for growth sectors like electric vehicles and batteries,” Albanese said.
“That means there is a very bright future for exports in areas like aluminium, lithium, copper, cobalt, nickel and rare earths.
“Just as there is a bright future for solar and wind power, given our nation has abundant supplies of both. Opportunities abound. But what we lack is a Government prepared to collaborate with industry to exploit these opportunities.”
The Minerals Council, however, has been one of the main opponents of efforts to tackle climate change, taking a lead role in defending the coal, gas and oil industries and openly opposing efforts to introduce policies that could work to reduce Australia’s consumption of the fossil fuels.
While some state governments have supported new industries centred around the production of materials for battery production, and other clean energy technologies, the Morrison government has sought to prop-up fossil fuel producers, including its focus on post-Covid ‘gas led recovery’.
“Scott Morrison leads a Liberal-National Government determined to pretend change is not happening,” Albanese said. “This is a Prime Minister who two years ago ridiculed electric cars and said their use would destroy the weekend. Then, a few months ago, denied he ever said that.”
“A man leading a Government intervening to invest in projects which the private sector has dismissed as unviable. A Government which defied expert advice to waste $4 million on a feasibility study for a coal-fired power station at Collinsville, a project no-one thinks will eventuate.”
“Early last month, the board of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility recommended investment in a wind farm south of Cairns that would have created 250 jobs and helped reduce power prices. But Resources Minister Keith Pitt vetoed the plan, leaving the Labor Government in Queensland to step in to fill the gap.”
“This approach makes no sense,” Albanese added.
Several senior members of the Minerals Council have taken up senior roles in the Morrison government, including the former deputy CEO of the Minerals Council, John Kunkel, who now serves as Morrison’s chief of staff. Former chief executive Brendan Pearson is a senior adviser to Morrison on international trade and investment.
But Albanese said the Morrison government was failing Australia and the resources sector by inadequately responding to the transformational trends currently reshaping the global economy.
“Our nation has so much potential. We are rich in resources and we are positioned in the fastest growing region in human history. Change and opportunity are everywhere. But the Morrison Government is standing still,” Albanese said.
“Frightened of the present. Terrified of the future. Running dead on renewables. If you stand still in a globalised economy, one thing is certain – the world will move past you.”
Morrison will make his own address to the conference at a Minerals Week dinner to be held at Parliament House on Wednesday night.