Ian Macfarlane 2021 QRC Annual Lunch Speech

Thank you, and good afternoon, it’s great to be here with you all today.

We begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today.

I would also like to pass on my condolences to the family and work colleagues of Central Queensland mine worker Clark Peadon, who tragically died on Sunday while at work.

Safety is our industry’s number one priority and we must do better. We will continue to work closely with the government, unions and resources companies to do everything possible to ensure every worker comes home safely at the end of their shift.

Can I acknowledge and welcome:

  • Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk
  • Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner,
  • Deputy Premier Stephen Miles
  • Treasurer Cameron Dick
  • Minister for Resources Scott Stewart
  • All representatives local, state and federal government
  • QRC Chairman Brent Gunther and the QRC Board
  • QEC Chair Kim Wainwright
  • QRC Life Members
  • Agforce President Georgie Somerset and CEO Michael Guerin
  • QFF CEO Dr Georgina Davis
  • Distinguished guests
  • Ladies and Gentleman

Also, a very special welcome to our newly announced national winner of the Exceptional Woman in Resources Award, Maryann Wipaki from Glencore Qld Metals. Maryann is also the QRC/WIMARQ Exceptional Woman in Resources Award winner for this year, so it has been an incredible year for you Maryann. We all know these things don’t happen without years of hard work, and I’m glad you’re able to join us today.

If my life had gone according to plan, and according to my wife’s plan, right now I’d be lying on a beach at Mooloolaba thinking about who was picking up the fish and chips tonight. But as they say, the best laid plans … instead I find myself at the helm of an industry that no matter what is thrown at it, just keeps going, and just keeps getting better. And there’s something very inspiring about that, and it’s never short of challenges.

First, we have a global pandemic.

Well, this was not part of the job description. But in true form, the resources sector has adapted, quickly, and we’ve been doing everything we can to keep our operations going, and to keep people working, earning and supporting their families and communities. While it has to be said, there’s a bit of luck involved too, I am very grateful to the companies here today; to the people working in our sector who’ve followed the protocols; and to the Qld Government, the Department of Resources and Qld Health for the incredible group effort that has taken place to keep our sector operating. Not all industries have been so lucky, and we are very conscious of that.

Then there’s the global climate change debate.

Being such a high-tech industry, the resources sector has been listening to the science on climate change for many years. Despite what some detractors might have you believe, the resources sector is a leader, not a laggard on the technology needed to keep our industry strong in a low emissions economy. The QRC supported the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and we support the ambition for net zero emissions by 2050.  We understand and welcome the role our sector can play in delivering on emissions reductions goals while keeping Australia’s economy strong.

Queensland resources companies have been walking the walk, increasingly investing in and trialing low emission technology and renewable energy options and looking at other practical responses to the problem every person on this planet is facing – the impact we have on our environment.

And through all this, the resources sector has been able to keep moving forward because global demand for our products is strong, combined with the fact we have very good products to sell and have a world-class operating environment.

Bearing in mind Queensland’s coal industry makes up 70 percent of our industry’s $84.3 billion contribution to the state economy, the stakes for getting our industry’s response to these challenges right couldn’t be higher.

In the end though, the reason our sector has been able to manage what have been globally significant challenges is really down to one thing:  at its core, the resources industry is made up of very practical people. Our mining, minerals and gas industry is made up of engineers, geologists, scientists, technicians, tradespeople, truck drivers, miners, accountants, planners – the list goes on. Of course, there are lots of other professions that are essential to make the resources sector tick, but at its heart, its core, are lots of people who know how to make things, how to operate things, how to fix things and how to report on things – and then know how to do it all over again, only this time even better.

That’s why I believe in the ingenuity and resilience of the resources sector, and I know I am joined in this room today by about 850 people who feel the same way.

There have been tough times in our industry before, and there will be again, but I know a solution is always just around the corner, because that’s how we operate.

As I said before, there are big things happening in our sector and that’s why the job of the Queensland Resources Council has never been more important. The QRC represents the very best of the resources sector and our members are prepared to invest in the long-term development of this industry and to leave it in better shape than when they joined it.

Our members believe in creating pathways into employment for young people, and in improving workforce diversity and inclusion. They support a continuous focus on safety improvements, exploration development, improved environmental outcomes, effective policy engagement with government and investing in resources communities. In some respects, peak bodies like the QRC are the original Environment, Social and Government engagement mechanisms for resources companies, before ESG was part of our language.

Which brings me to our sector’s biggest challenge right now, aside from Covid-19 and climate change. It might surprise some people to know that the biggest challenge we’re currently facing in Queensland is a significant shortage of skilled workers.

There are currently almost 1500 jobs available across Queensland’s resources sector, mainly for skilled workers, and more than 1100 of them are paying over $100,000 salary a year. It’s pretty much the same every month. But, as I’m sure you know, there are jobs going in every other sector right now too, because border closures have had a major impact on the availability of skilled people in Australia. That’s why the work of the QRC’s Queensland Minerals & Energy Academy is so important to the future of our industry.

Over the past 12 months, the QMEA team has worked with its now ninety schools, and delivered 200 engagements across Queensland in 41 different locations – that’s almost one workshop for every day of the school year. These are hands-on and virtual workshops involving mentors from QRC member companies. This has led to engagements with over 5,000 students, which is a record for the QMEA, and has taken place in amongst the disruption of Covid. Our Resources Minister Scott Stewart has even attended three of our workshops, and Training & Skills Development Minister Di Farmer, who unfortunately could not be with us today, has attended one too. We’ll make a tradie or an engineer out of you yet Minister.

Our strategy to encourage high school students to consider a career in resources is working. Students who attend a QMEA-affiliated school are more likely to study a career pathway or take up a trade which opens the door to a job in the resources sector. Of QMEA students who graduated in 2020 and followed a post-school study pathway,  24 percent did so in the Engineering and Related Technologies field, compared to 15 percent of students from non-QMEA schools. The QMEA is also making progress in attracting a greater percentage of female students, and Indigenous students to consider a resources career. The world is literally these young people’s oyster, because our sector offers amazing careers paths that can take people almost anywhere they want to go. This room today is full of people who have worked for the resources sector internationally.

The QRC is also pushing very hard for more women to join our sector. The QRC’s success in this area has been incredible. We have now reached almost 20 percent female participation in our industry, which might not sound like anywhere near enough compared with other sectors, but believe me, we started with a low base. But that is all changing. The QRC has just launched a 30 percent female participation by 2026 target, and we are the first resources industry association in Australia to do this.  You only have to attend our annual International Women’s Day breakfast in March or our Womens’ and Girls’ mentoring program events to be blown away by the talent, enthusiasm and skills women bring to the resources table. We just have to make it a bigger table.

We also have to make it a table that welcomes more Indigenous men and women into our industry. The resources sector is already the highest private sector employer of Indigenous people in Queensland, but we can always do better, and the QRC will continue to promote opportunities for Indigenous people to bring their unique skills, experience and cultural backgrounds to the resources table.

Which brings me to the annual economic contribution of the resources sector to Queensland.

In spite of everything that’s been thrown at us, the resources sector has contributed a record $84.3 billion to the Queensland economy over the past financial year, which is up $2 billion on the previous period. It means one in every six Queensland jobs is supported by the resources sector.

Just let us take that in. One in every six jobs. Obviously, the ratio is much higher in the room today, but you take my point.

In total, the resources sector now supports the jobs of an incredible 423,000 people across the state, which includes 56,000 people directly employed and working full-time in resources.

The resources sector is also the state’s largest export industry, contributing almost 80 percent – or $44.6 billion – of the state’s total exports in 2020-21.

Our sector’s largest contributor to the state economy by commodity is coal, which makes up 70 percent of our industry’s contribution, followed by metals at 16 percent, oil and gas at 11 per cent and other contributions like electricity generation, silica and kerogen making up the balance.

The resources sector also contributed $2.5 billion in royalties to the state budget over the past financial year which is used to fund essential government services such as schools, hospitals, roads and police stations.

So with all that good news, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Is there a future for the resources sector?

I can understand why people might think there isn’t, given what is written every day in the media, but I’m happy to say to the hundreds of thousands of Queenslanders who rely on our sector for a living – whether it’s through their job, or a business that provides goods and services to resources companies – that a technology-driven transformation is underway, and the future of resources is bright.

Over the next decade, our sector will consolidate its role as Queensland’s economic powerhouse, as companies rapidly incorporate renewable energy, energy storage and low emission technologies into their operations.

The resources industry has a leading role to play in the state’s transition to a low emission economy. Climate change is a critical global challenge which must be addressed by all parts of society, and the resources industry is absolutely committed to being part of the global solution.

I don’t have to tell the companies in this room that our industry is already working hard on transition plans to lower emissions and reduce energy costs by improving energy efficiency, adopting renewable energy solutions, investing in co-generation and implementing demand management.

The world is moving towards a new era of sustainable mining to meet the challenges of climate change, and there is no going back.

The good news is there are technologies being developed to help lower the resources sector’s carbon footprint that simply didn’t exist five years ago, and even more will be discovered.

New, renewable energy options are emerging, and the potential for hydrogen to play a major role in meeting the world’s future energy needs is being watched very closely.

Queensland is the envy of the world because of our unique mix of traditional and renewable resources, which offer a pathway to a lower emission future, long-term job opportunities and economic security.

Queensland has substantial deposits of coal, gas and minerals which will be increasingly essential in the production of green technologies and products such as electric vehicles, batteries, wind towers, solar panels and a range of electronics.

We also have deposits of in-demand critical minerals, particularly in the state’s North, that are being used in the latest defence, medical and renewable energy technologies. These new economy minerals will be a new strength that adds to the depth of our powerhouse resources sector, and a new way for Queensland to lead the world.  We look forward to working with the State and Federal Governments on the blueprint to develop this region, through planning for exploration and value-adding industries, and through investments in infrastructure from pipelines to transmission lines.

We have the resources, we have the right attitude and we will increasingly have the technology to drive transformation across the resources sector, so there are good times ahead for Queensland.

That’s why I’m looking forward to hearing more from Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today about the work underway to create a new, 30-year development plan for our sector.

As many QRC members will be aware, it’s been a busy year of consultations around the drafting of a Qld Resources Industry Development Plan, which was requested by the QRC prior to the state election and committed to by Treasurer Cameron Dick as a priority for the State Government.  Great to see you here today Treasurer, that day in Mackay when you announced this plan was a very auspicious one for our industry.

We have high hopes of a successful outcome for this plan, which aims to increase Queensland’s attractiveness as a global investment destination by removing barriers, streamlining regulatory processes and maximising opportunities for our sector – and for Queensland – to have a very bright and sustainable future.

Thank you everyone for coming today. We all know working in the resources sector is no picnic, but to keep things in perspective, I think the hardest job in the world – apart from being a farmer – would have to working shiftwork in a mine in summer, even tougher if you’re underground, and away from your family and friends.

All respect to the men and women who are doing that today, and every day. You are the backbone of our industry, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure you, your community and our industry have a sustainable, successful and safe future.

Thank you.