Remarks to Sustainable Mining Summit, Embassy of Sweden

  • Speech, check against delivery

I begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today, the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to Elders past and present and emerging.

I also pay my respects to any First Nations people in the audience today.

Thank you very much to the Embassy of Sweden and Business Sweden for the invitation to speak.

I would also like to acknowledge Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Victoria, His Royal Highness Prince Daniel and Minister for International Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, Johan Forssell, of Sweden.

Australia and Sweden have a long and shared history.

On opposite sides of the Earth, but close.

Our first university-trained scientist, Daniel Solander, came to Australia from Sweden with our great botanist, Joseph Banks on Cook’s 1770 journey.

That trip – apart from his and Banks’s extensive botanical endeavours (Botany Bay is named for the pair of them) – made him the first Swede to circumnavigate the world.

There are buildings, monuments – including a huge public housing tower in my neighbourhood – named after him.

Against a backdrop of 60,000 years of First Nations botanical knowledge, custodianship and agriculture, Solander was our first Western scientist.

Together we face a challenging set of circumstances, contending with a whole variety of complex, systemic challenges, many of which will take time and collaboration with close partners to solve.

Climate change, a global shift to zero carbon energy products and the task of reindustrialisation.

On these issues and more, Australia and Sweden share common values and interests as democratic and open societies committed to the rules-based international order and free and open trade.

In an environment where security and trade are inextricably connected, we cannot afford to be complacent.

Rather, we need to be driven by our shared ambitions.

In the wake of the 2019 Federal election, I joined an Australian trade mission to Sweden, Finland and Denmark led by ALP President and former Treasurer Wayne Swan.

At the time my knowledge of Nordic politics, history and economic institutions was scant, and understanding of Scandinavian cooperative industrial relations and economic institutions shallow.

Conversation after conversation with industry leaders, academics and social democratic politicians circled around a consistent theme: that regional competition and geopolitics drives strategic and domestic policy.

And conversations with academics like the formidable Swedish industrial relations academic, Professor Olle Hammarström, underscored the importance of a strong industrial relations system and Scandinavian cooperation between social and economic institutions as the bedrock on which to pursue economic transformation.

Professor Hammarström’s contribution to the literature together with Sydney-based Professor Russell Lansbury (an industrial relations mentor of mine) has been critical in framing the industrial challenges that our two countries face.

They have been leaders in shared policy development from the 1980s and remain so today.

It is no accident that the key characteristics of Nordic economies are big social safety nets, cooperative industrial relations, effective sustained industry and manufacturing policy together with a confident open approach to free trade with the world.

It’s the result of a lack of complacency – seeing their region and the world as it is, not how they wish it were – and a determination to shape their strategic and economic circumstances in the interest of all their people

Just look at the firms that the Scandinavian economies have produced: firms with a big domestic employment footprint, big R&D capability and global reach, many of whom are represented here today.

Ericsson, Equinor, Metso, Sandvik, Scania, Nordea, Swedbank, Fortum, Novo Nordisk, Norsk Hydro, Carlsberg Group, Securitas, Alfa Laval, Volvo, Nokia and Electrolux, some of whom are represented here today

Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of big companies, high-value companies, in the resources sector.

Try to repeat the same exercise for Australia, the task becomes more difficult.

If you thought drawing comparisons between Australia and the Nordic countries was like comparing apples to oranges, remember – the combined population of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Finland is similar to Australia’s.

But the difference in export complexity is stark.

Sweden’s approach industry and manufacturing policy sits confidently alongside its strong and enduring support for free trade.

As small, open, trade-oriented countries, the Nordic countries take the view that they lose out if there’s an unequal playing field and tit for tat protectionism by the major economies.

An ambitious and comprehensive trade agreement between Australia and the European Union will further assist with this. 

To that end, we appreciate Sweden’s strong support, as the current President of the Council of the European Union, to conclude trade negotiations by mid-year.

Sweden accepts that industries can weather change – take shipbuilding for instance – and that countries need to reinvent themselves, and their technological and industrial capability.

The nation is currently in the process of doing so in the development of fossil free iron and steel industries in northern Sweden and green battery value chains.

Sweden accepts that creative disruption is necessary to drive the transition of existing industries and support economic growth.

Nevertheless, Sweden provides strong policy support and frameworks for the development of heavy industry, advanced manufacturing and technology.

Examples include:

  • Early adoption of digital infrastructure as a foundation of industry productivity.
  • One of the highest R&D spends in the OECD (3.4 per cent).
  • Social policy protections – health, education, welfare – that encourage risk and entrepreneurship.
  • Investment in renewables – the low-cost hydro and wind that have turned northern Sweden into a green industry powerhouse.
  • The promotion of the triple helix innovation model – that is, strong collaboration between government, industry and academia.

The trade union movement, too, has a big role to play.

The late Laurie Carmichael made an outstanding contribution to the trade union and social justice movements in Australia.

He believed that the social-democratic systems in Sweden should provide a blueprint for Australian unions, that active industrial policy could develop rather than hinder Australia’s value-added industries.

More than anyone outside the Parliament, Laurie Carmichael shaped the Hawke and Keating model of industrial policy.

He was right then, and the Albanese Government’s approach to reindustrialisation, building industrial capability, ensuring that our research, commercialisation, investment and industrial sectors work together to build national manufacturing capability is the right course now.

An end to a decade of complacency and government neglect.

Trade Minister Don Farrell set out our trade doctrine last year. He said Australia must diversify its export markets – too many eggs in one basket – but we must also diversify our product offering to the world.

An end to Australian complacency.

And there is enormous opportunity for us to do that together – in our national interest, in the interest of our firms and for good jobs for Australian and Swedish workers, and in the global and regional interest.

Traditional mining companies in Sweden and Australia can help decarbonise our mining sectors, giving us a key competitive advantage.

There is also strong potential for collaboration in R&D – for example in mineral and battery recycling – and in standards (for green iron and steel).

Australian mining companies such as Talga, Alicanto, Oz Minerals/BHP, are well placed to help Sweden strengthen its mining sector.

Our experience of permits, environmental approvals and consultation with traditional owners might also be of interest.

More specifically, there are clear links in the mutual interest of Australia and Europe in strengthening investments in critical minerals.

Just last month that state-owned Swedish mining company LKAB announced it had found deposits containing more than one million tons of rare earth oxides near Kiruna in Northern Sweden.

This find is likely the largest rare earths discovery in Europe outside Russia.

Critical minerals

Australia also boasts abundant reserves of critical minerals.

These include lithium, silicon, rare earths and platinum group metals, which are key components of low-emissions technologies such as batteries, solar panels and electric vehicles.

Unlocking Australia’s critical minerals potential will create significant economic opportunities across the nation and, ultimately, help make Australia a clean energy superpower.

The Albanese Government is developing a new Australia’s Critical Minerals Strategy.

This refresh will ensure the strategy best supports our priorities for the development of the sector.

The refresh will ensure the strategy reflects:

  • the important role Australia’s critical minerals can play in helping Australia and international partners achieve their emissions reduction targets
  • the importance of Australia’s domestic manufacturing sector, and
  • Australia’s ongoing commitment to the highest environmental social and governance (ESG) standards.

There will continue to be a focus on the importance of stable supply of critical minerals.

This means a development of new sources of supply and the establishment of robust, diverse supply chains.

These efforts will be accompanied by action to ensure that critical minerals are produced sustainably and comply with high ESG standards – an area in which Australia is already strong, and where we can play a role in working with our partners to help strengthen those standards.

Our focus on getting the setting rights underscores how strongly we believe critical minerals can create economic opportunities across the nation, including in Australian regions and for First Nations Peoples.

Like our Nordic counterparts, it will help us to seize opportunities provided by the net zero transformation and add value to our resources endowment.

Thank you.


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