MIneral resources (sustainable development) Amendment Bill 2023

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (10:52): I am pleased to make a brief contribution on the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Amendment Bill 2023. In doing so I want to acknowledge the fact that we are standing in the most amazing house in the chamber, and this house and chamber was actually built on the back of the mining industry. At the time it was the gold mining industry. It could have gone up, but there is roughly $6 million of gold leaf in our chamber if we took the time to scrape it off, which of course we never would. It is here forever to preserve and admire, but I am just noting the importance of the mining and extractive industries over a period of time, not only to this house but to the wealth and the economy since those early days in the 1800s of our wonderful state of Victoria.

This bill amends the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 and just reflects a name change to the Mineral Resources and Extractive Industries Act 1990. It is looking to present a broader regulatory framework, and I will come back to the regulatory position. It also requires a number of consequential amendments, and it is there to bring some modernity to the mineral resources act. It is also looking at that general framework for the minerals and extractive industries and sets out transitional arrangements to move towards that approach from the work plan process.

Now, we do have a very proud history, as I have just mentioned, and minerals across the board in Victoria have played a very important role in our economic fabric for over 150 years. We know that mining companies across the board generate around $1 billion to the Victorian economy and support thousands and thousands of jobs right across the state and also certainly in my Eastern Victoria electorate. They injected $500 million into the state’s economy back a couple of years ago, in 2020–21. These are good jobs. This is a skilled workforce in an employment area where you are certainly earning a good wage and therefore creating that wealth in the regions in which you are working: $152 million in wages and salaries, $300 million spent on the purchase of goods and services from over almost 2000 Victorian businesses down the supply chain and, for the government, over $50 million in state payments, always a very important element of those state taxes.

We know we have seen a huge raft of new state taxes under the Andrews government. I think we are tipping the scales on 50 new or improved, apparently.

David Davis: Fifty new or increased taxes.

Melina BATH: Yes, new or increased. I certainly will not call them improved – new and improved headaches for the Victorian public. But our state is certainly an expanding, hopefully, supplier of mineral sands and rare earths, and when we look at the change that is occurring in our state in terms of renewable supply chains, we are in a state of flux, we are in a state of movement. Certainly renewable projects are in the pipeline. Wind turbines of significant matter, size and quantity out off the Gippsland coast, off Ninety Mile Beach, are to be developed and potentially implemented by around 2030, 2032.

We know that there are photovoltaic cells going up on people’s houses, solar panels and solar projects across the state and other very important mineral extraction for that. To do that, it has to come from somewhere. We had a renewable energies inquiry in the EPC, the Environment and Planning Committee, last term. I was on that inquiry, and I noted in doing some research that across the board Australia-wide – I could not drill down into those Victorian details – only 11 per cent of renewable componentry is actually manufactured on site in Australia. Hence we import roughly 90 per cent. If you look at it in terms of the global footprint, we are taking it from extractive industries overseas, transporting it across to Australia, no doubt on diesel ships, and then erecting it and installing it in country Victoria. This is important to understand when we look at the whole-of-life cycle and the environmental footprint – carbon dioxide and decarbonising are the words that are often used – and the importance of minimising that.

I live in Eastern Victoria Region. I am very passionate about my area, and certainly we know the Latrobe Valley under Labor is closing jobs down and closing industries down there. So we need to be looking at how we can advanced-manufacture some of those components for the renewable sector that is coming our way. You may have heard me speak yesterday in relation to the Latrobe Valley Authority and their so-called transition plan that came out. It was a lovely fluff piece of promotion about the Latrobe Valley Authority, and there was not one direct action. There were many worthwhile commentary pieces in there, but there was not one direct action, time line or road map. They spoke about them, but they did not actually give the community any certainty on them or investment for potential industries to come in or the expansion of existing ones. So I put that on record.

We are in a state of flux. We do need these raw ingredients, these various minerals, mineral sands, copper, zinc, gold, base metals, lithium and the like. We need these, and wouldn’t it be good if we could get the balance right in Victoria between the extractive industries and the mining and rehabilitation of the sites and issuing these with, where required, environment effects statements. When I first came in here – I came in 2015, but around that 2016 time – I was up in East Gippsland with my dear colleague Mr Tim Bull the member for Gippsland East. Many of the interested community were involved in the Fingerboards critical minerals project there not far out of Bairnsdale, and many people were saying that there needed to be an EES.

I very much commend my colleague Mr Bull for pushing for that environment effects statement on behalf of local residents. That mine at the time was looking at extracting zircon and rare-earth minerals to use in the production of magnets in electric vehicles. Again, that is another whole part of the new wave that needs to be accommodated – and wind turbines as well as batteries and other sources of renewable energy componentry.

The focus of the concerns of the community there was certainly on the impact on water availability with the Mitchell River. The area is home to valuable agricultural production. I have certainly been to some of the farms out there. I have also been to the Mitchell River National Park, a state park, I think it might be, and the caravan park there. If you ever want to go and steep yourself in serene serenity at Mitchell park, it is a beautiful place to be.

David Davis: Serene serenity!

Melina BATH: Absolutely. You can also bring your dogs to the caravan park, walk down to the Mitchell River and float down there on a very hot day. I remember it was about 40 degrees when we went. It is such a beautiful place.

Back to the particular mine at the time I am speaking about, the East Gippsland shire was also opposed to this operation due to the potential effect on food production and farming. The Glenaladale area is certainly synonymous with farming.

In Victoria the government does need to get this balance right between extractive resources. We need those resources. We certainly need them to facilitate the various different projects that we see being undertaken across the state. Dare I say it, and I am not wanting to pump up the tyres of the government, but there is a lot of concrete being put down there and a lot of aggregate that is required. It has to come from somewhere, and that has to be done with a sensitive balance within this legislation.

The other really important thing that we understand is the financial gift that mining industries give back through taxes to this government. One of the great joys of being in this job is meeting fantastic people. I am slightly digressing from the bill, but it is really important to put on the record those very grassroots people in the PMAV, the Prospectors and Miners Association of Victoria. Many of them are actually retired mining workers who love their land and want to go out and prospect and mine. They have certainly been strong advocates for their industry and for their pastime to all levels of government over the many, many years. I thank them for their discussions with me over time.

One of the concerns that locals have, and I have had a number of emails on this bill in relation to concerns particularly from the Eastern Victoria Region and East Gippsland, comes from a gentleman. I will not read his name, but I will certainly read in that he comes from East Gippsland – he comes from Bairnsdale. He has written to me saying that he has worked for 30 years in the oil industry, in Bass Strait, and he has seen what happens in the resources industry when it is permitted to self-govern, self-regulate and self-police. He outlines his concerns about any removal of adequate stakeholder engagement prior to changes being passed and about accepting a written code of compliance. He has concerns about removing the current requirement for work plans to be adequately independently assessed by peers, the community and other interested stakeholders. He also is concerned about the human rights of landholders and communities. The thrust of his email to me is the need for open, genuine, adequate consultation in relation to mineral extraction in our state. Other members of the community have written to me certainly outlining similar points.

I am very pleased to have had a conversation with Mr Hodgett, the Shadow Minister for Energy and Resources, in this space, and he has already, in working with the government or challenging the government to come to a better position than it has, had that undertaking from the government. Indeed a letter has been distributed to him regarding the consultation and development of the regulations that underpin this bill. As we all know, the devil is in the detail, and the regulations can often make or break the positive holistic improvement moving forward in any situation but in particular in this bill and the mining reforms that it underpins.

The Andrews government certainly has a record of poor consultation, and I could make a list as long as my arm of the various industries, local community groups and education groups with which it has lacked transparency. One very real comment made to me only recently this week was from a stakeholder, not in the extractive industries, but it rang true: that the government needs to understand that notification is not consultation. They very often, as a rule, look to notification; they tell various stakeholders what is going to happen rather than actively engage with them.

Within this I have got some questions, and I have been having a conversation with my eastern Victoria colleague Mr Tim Bull about this bill. I will raise a couple of questions in the committee-of-the-whole stage. We need positive consultation. We need it to be a two-way street, and if that can be arranged and committed to – there is always a question there – throughout the regulatory process, then there are many merits in this bill moving forward.