MPI – Economy

Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Mr PITT:  I knew that if I waited long enough the opportunity would come, I knew if I waited long enough there’d be a purpose and I knew if I waited long enough it would provide something useful. It’s finally happened, and I’ve got to thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition: I’ve found a purpose for Twitter. The claims by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition about apprentices and trainees, I knew I’d heard before. An ABC fact check on Twitter classifies it as a four-letter word: spin.

The facts are these. There are roughly 220,000 trade apprentices in employment right now, the highest number we’ve had since 1963, since records began. As a former tradesman, and I guess I still am, I’m very proud of that. I think it’s a very wise investment in Australia’s future, in providing Australia’s youth an opportunity. We will continue to build the strong economy that Australia needs, into the future, because a strong economy is a strong future for all Australians.

In my own portfolio, critical minerals is a growing demand, a growing need, and we can deliver for the Australian people in that critical minerals demand. If we look at the resources sector overall, it has put on almost 40,000 jobs since the pandemic started. It hit a record level of $356 billion in exports of energy resources last financial year. It’s forecast to hit $379 billion this year. I’ll give you a hot tip: I think it’s going to smash it. I think it will absolutely smash all records. That is great for our economy. It’s great news for those looking for employment. It’s great news for people who want to pay their own way. We will continue to build in the critical minerals sector because it’s another strand of our economy. It’s another area where we can build opportunity and provide employment.

Mr Deputy Speaker O’Brien, I know that you, the member for Page, the member for Cowper and a number of other members, on both sides of the House, have had some real challenges with natural disasters in recent times, and the support that’s provided by the Commonwealth—the support we use to build the infrastructure and essential services that all Australians rely on, whether that is roads, schools, hospitals, dams or other linking infrastructure—needs to be paid for. And to make those payments, to ensure that we can continue to provide those services and that support, we need to build our economy. It needs to get bigger. We need to have greater opportunities, because it is the royalties paid by the resources sector and the taxes paid by the people employed in that sector and the companies in that sector that deliver these essential services through many levels of government.

In the critical minerals sector, we’re investing $200 million in the Critical Minerals Accelerator Initiative. We know that there is demand but we also know that there is practically a monopoly provider in this space. There is a monopoly provider in one country. That is in no-one’s interest. If we wish to build new opportunities, if we want to build new logistics and supply chains, if we want to ensure that the demand of the future is met—and we absolutely want to do that; I want to ensure that as much as possible comes from this country—we need to invest in these new projects and operations.

We have $250 million on the table through this initiative. This will ensure that we can build strategically significant early- and mid-stage projects to overcome those technical and market challenges. This is a difficult space. A lot of the IP is held by the monopoly country and those operating in that nation. It needs to be built. We need proof of concept. We have to ensure that it works. If we want to build from minerals downstream to metals and be into markets with like-minded democracies, whether the US, Japan, South Korea, India or others, we have to demonstrate that we can deliver what they need. There’s $200 million there.

We have $50 million committed to the virtual National Critical Minerals Research and Development Centre because we know we need that R&D, and we are working closely with CSIRO, ANSTO, Geoscience Australia and industry, and we’ve established a $2 billion critical minerals facility. We’ve already provided two loans from that facility for $239 million, for spherical graphite projects in South Australia and Western Australia, and $243 million from the Modern Manufacturing Strategy for four critical minerals projects.

That is how we’ll continue to strengthen our economy, build a stronger nation, pay for all the essential services and make our nation safe and secure into the future.

What those opposite are proposing is simply nonsense. We have a growing sector of the economy right across the resources sector. We have a growing sector of the economy in critical minerals and opportunities. We know that we will continue to invest in manufacturing. We are building the skills that this nation needs. Two hundred and twenty thousand trade apprentices is a great result. I look forward to seeing every single one of them finish their time and get into the workforce proper and continue to deliver for themselves and their nation.

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