Former Liberal Treasurer Peter Costello has delivered a passionate defence of the mining sector, saying it has been “treated shabbily” in Australia and questioning why learning about the industry is not part of the curriculum in Australian schools.
In a lecture to the Minerals Council of Australia in Melbourne, Mr Costello bemoaned that students learning about the mining industry would be more likely to learn of the sector’s environmental impacts as opposed to its economic benefits.
And Mr Costello took aim at Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s emphasis on “innovation”, saying the preoccupation with creating the next Facebook or Uber ignored the enduring economic prowess and innovation witnessed in traditional industries like the mining sector.
The former treasurer said technology companies had consistently been overvalued and overhyped, culminating in the dot.com bubble bursting in the early 2000s, while so-called “old” sectors like mining and agriculture had continued to contribute to economic growth and exports.
“The tens of billions of export dollars it earns the country is not going to be surpassed by tech startups any time soon and certainly not in our lifetimes,” he said.
“The senior members in the Government understand this. The talk might be tech but the money’s in the mining.”
Mr Costello, now the chairman of the Australian Future Fund, described mining as Australia’s “truly great competitive international industry.”
“In this industry we lead the world,” he said.
“[But] far from enjoying the hero status that normally would go to an industry overcoming the odds to be a world-beater, mining has been treated rather shabbily in Australia,” he said.
Mr Costello said the mining sector is not discussed in the current curriculum.
“Students in modern Australian schools are more likely to learn about mining as a threat to the environment than an industry that underpins living standards,” he said.
Mr Costello said government hostility to the mining sector peaked with the Rudd-Gillard Labor government’s mining tax which ended up collecting barely any revenue before it was scrapped by the Coalition after its election victory in 2013.
“The Resources Super Profits Tax was the weirdest tax ever conceived by a government in this country. In the end it collected nothing of substance,” Mr Costello said.
Mr Costello put the mining sector’s poor public image down to the sector’s pragmatic approach.
“Miners tend to be practical people. They focus on getting things done and getting output. Their opponents are rhetorical people. They focus on stopping things getting done.”
He urged the sector to continue advocating its case “over and over”, especially in the wake of multiple legal cases launched by environmentalists against Indian company Adani’s proposed coal mine at Carmichael in central Queensland’s Galilee basin.
Adani has described the litigation as “politically motivated, activist-driven legal challenges, which only serve to deny the benefits of jobs and investment to Queensland and to Australia.”
Mr Costello was delivering the second Australian Mining Industry Annual Lecture, which the Minerals Council describes as an initiative to “promote the role and contribution of the minerals industry in Australia”.
The mining sector is worth $150 billion per year to the Australian economy. The Australian Bureau of Statistics says the mining sector was the largest contributor economic growth in the last year. The economy grew 3.1 per cent and mining made up 0.8 per cent of that.