Press Conference with Member for Pilbara Kevin Michel in Karratha, Western Australia

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, thanks for coming, everyone. Well, I want to thank Uncle Vince for the acknowledgement of country, and, of course, it’s a great honour to be on this land.

Well, the world is undergoing a renewable energy and hydrogen revolution, and there is no part of Australia which can’t benefit from that revolution, and the Pilbara is going to be a big beneficiary of this revolution under our governments.

We’re announcing today the Pilbara Hydrogen Hub, a joint announcement, a joint funding initiative, by the Albanese and Cook governments. What this is about is co-investing in the necessary infrastructure, the pipelines and port infrastructure, to see Karratha and to see the broader Pilbara become a renewable energy powerhouse for the world. This is about hydrogen.

Hydrogen is a way of storing renewable energy and then keeping it for when we need it and exporting it to the rest of the world. And I see the Pilbara as being a key part of Australia’s ambitions to become a renewable energy superpower.

We’re announcing today the funding for what we call common user infrastructure for pipelines, for port infrastructure. Ports will benefit – Dampier, Port Hedland will benefit and, of course, Karratha. And what this will mean is a thousand jobs for this area – a thousand jobs to build and maintain and run the Pilbara Hydrogen Hub.

And this is about powering the rest of the world. You know, if you go to Germany, for example - the industrial powerhouse of Europe, they know they need renewable hydrogen and they know they can’t make it all themselves. You’ll find in Berlin people who know all about the Pilbara and know all about the potential and people who want to buy Australia’s hydrogen from Dampier, from Port Hedland, from Oakajee, from all across Western Australia.

So this is a very important announcement. This won’t happen without this sort of government investment. It’s a pleasure to work so closely with the Cook Labor government to make this a reality. Construction will start this year and it will be complete by 2028. Importantly, part of this hub is a new clean energy training institute to make sure that locals have access to the training and skills necessary to get all these jobs and more. And, of course, I know both governments are committed to ongoing engagement with the community to ensure access to the institute from locals, from First Nations people, from people right across the board to ensure that they have the training and skills necessary.

There’s more consultation to do with First Nations about particular issues and locations et cetera. But I know that those consultations will be held with great respect and with a view to making this place a reality.

So it’s a delight to be here with Kevin to formally commit and to announce the final funding agreement between the two governments. It’s been many months of negotiations and discussions between the two governments with the joint intention of making this hub a reality. And I’m very pleased to be joining with the Cook government and with Kevin to make it a reality today.

I’ll ask Kevin to say a few words and then we’ll take some questions.

KEVIN MICHEL: Thank you, Minister. So honoured to have you this morning here to make it reality to have the hydrogen hub in the Pilbara. This is another kind of thing, project, which will diversify the economy. It will also be a hydrogen training centre over here, which will definitely benefit the Pilbara people. And, as you know, we are the biggest mining producers in the economy part of Australia. Once again, hydrogen is going to lead the way and be another economy which is – we can depend on. So thanks again for your input and for the Albanese working with the Cook government to make sure this is a reality that we plan to do. Thank you.

CHRIS BOWEN: Thank you very much. Now, I’m going to take easy questions; Kevin’s going to take hard questions. Over to you.

JOURNALIST: In terms of the consultation process, how robust does that sort of look from here into 2028?

CHRIS BOWEN: I think very robust. And we’re dealing with experts in the councils, the commission who know this area better than I do. We’re drawing on Kevin’s local experience on who we should negotiate with and how. So this is coming out of good faith. Creating a thousand jobs is no small thing for this area and ensuring that this area is robustly armed to deal with the energy revolution.

The Pilbara has, you know, been producing energy for generations. The world’s energy demand is changing. The world is demanding new types of energy. But the one thing we know is they still need energy. And we want this area to continue to provide that energy to the rest of the world as it has for generations. But we’ll do so collaboratively, carefully, methodically and respectfully.

JOURNALIST: In terms of – I think you touched on it just a little bit before in the announcement – that the revenue that this will generate for the region and what does that re-investment into the community look like at this stage?

CHRIS BOWEN: Kevin may care to add, but, you know, these jobs get obviously – you know, that is money generated which gets spent in the area. Economic activity in the area gets re-invested, and I know both governments will be working together to ensure ongoing commitments to the area.

KEVIN MICHEL: Look, it’s – a lot of money will be coming [indistinct] royalties, I think it’s 2029. Look, so we are around $50 billion we are expecting in royalties. But look, as you can see, the joint venture between the Federal and State Governments, the Albanese and Cook governments are investing so much money in the Pilbara. You can see all the works that are happening, the [indistinct], you know, with the projects that are coming. It’s because of the Cook and Labor governments joining together and making these things happen. And this is where it’s coming, from the royalties of the ports. You know, it’s amazing to see both governments working together and trying to do the best we can for the region.

JOURNALIST: Just some questions of the day, if that’s okay. Australia’s a big supplier of high-quality nickel, the fifth largest in 2022. What concerns do you have from a strategic and environmental perspective of cheaper but much more polluting nickel being sourced by China and Indonesia?

CHRIS BOWEN: I’ll just say this: that one of the great advantages that Australia has in this revolution is our access to critical minerals. Nine out of the 10 minerals necessary for a battery exist under our feet, particularly here. And so we want to ensure that we get it out of the ground, we process it, add more value in Australia and export it to the world.

Now, obviously the nickel industry is under enormous pressure everywhere around the world at the moment. We do want to see a continued nickel industry in Australia. We over the weekend added nickel to the critical minerals list at the commonwealth level. I know the Prime Minister and Premier with Minister Madeleine King are in discussions about what we can and should do. The Premier is coming to our cabinet meeting this afternoon. I’m leaving here to go to a cabinet meeting in Perth where the Premier is a guest of the Prime Minister and he’ll be talking about this. And we’ll continue to collaborate on what more we need to do. But there will be a nickel industry in Australia because we need nickel.

JOURNALIST: You just touched on it before – nickel is critical in construction of batteries and electronic cars. Should buyers of cheap nickel have greater regard for the environmental damage caused by the refining process as opposed to the cleaner hide-grade nickel refined in Australia?

CHRIS BOWEN: I think everybody buying everything should have regard to the environmental consequences of what they’re buying, and the different processes and laws and rules around it. And we have strong laws in Australia, as we should – as we should – but we also have a determination to keep those industries in Australia. We have a range of policies in place to support industrial development, and nickel is very important to our industrial future.

JOURNALIST: And you’re here in WA, as is the Prime Minister. Up north a boatload of people arrived last Friday, and they’ve now been sent to Nauru. What assurances can you provide to the WA Premier that there is adequate surveillance of our coastline?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, we have a very big coastline right around all of it, but we also have very good resources. Now, from time to time a boat will arrive. It happened under the previous government too – boats arrived in North Queensland not that long ago under the previous government. The important thing is how you respond to it. We’ve sent these people to Nauru in keeping with Operation Sovereign Borders to send the signal very clearly to people smugglers and potential victims of people smugglers that this won’t work.

Now, that should be the case under governments of all persuasions, and I think all politicians on both sides need to be very careful about what they say and the messages that sends to people smugglers. If they send, including Peter Dutton sends a message that Australia is somehow weak, that is heard and magnified in Indonesia, as Mr Dutton should know better than anyone.

JOURNALIST: Peter Dutton seemed to have concerns about boats when I think it was fact-checked that a number of asylum seekers arrived by plane when he was in power.

CHRIS BOWEN: Many thousands. Many thousands of asylum seekers arrived by plane when he was the minister. And, of course, we’ve had review after review after review – most recently Christine Nixon’s review – pointing out the errors and the negligence when Mr Dutton was the Minister for Immigration. So we’ll continue to run a good immigration policy, and Mr Dutton should support the policy. We don’t need his commentary from the sidelines given the mess that he left.

JOURNALIST: Thanks so much, Minister.

CHRIS BOWEN: Okay. Very good. Thanks, everyone.