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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12722

Ms LIVERMORE (Capricornia) (21:19): I am really pleased to join with my colleagues who travelled with me on this delegation to Canada and Mongolia in the last couple of months. I think you can get a sense from the contribution by the member for Riverina that this trip made a very big impression on members of the committee. I am sure that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, as a representative for a region that is experiencing some of these issues, will be listening with great interest to us talk about what we saw overseas and how we hope that will inform the deliberations the committee will be undertaking very shortly for our report for the parliament and our recommendations to government.

The committee received this opportunity as a result of the parliament's annual program of choosing a committee to undertake a trip to two Asia-Pacific countries. In choosing Canada and Mongolia to be the subject of our application to the parliament, we were hoping and expecting that there would be lessons to be learned from the shared experience in those countries of dealing with very fast growth in mining activity and the interactions that were happening between local communities, local populations, and those mining developments. I think we were all hopeful that this would be a very valuable delegation, but we were probably all surprised at just how much we felt we learned. You are never quite sure when you go to another country how much relevance there will be. You will see interesting things, but whether they will actually be relevant and contribute to solutions here in Australia is another question. I think we have come back with a strong sense that there are things that we will take from what we saw on our trip that we will bring into our committee report.

Before I forget—I do not want to leave it till the end because I would hate to overlook anyone—I say a big thank you particularly to Siobhan Leyne, who is the committee secretary, who did a terrific job in distilling our thoughts and our arguments for why our committee should be chosen to undertake this trip. Siobhan did a great job on that submission, putting that case forward, and also, of course, a great job in organising the program and liaising with the DFAT officials and others overseas. Of course, the International and Community Relations Office were a part of that as well. I also want to say thank you to the DFAT staff in overseas posts who were such a big help to us. The member for Riverina referred to Tom Fuller, who looked after us in Canada. Tom and his wife are expecting their first child any day now, on 3 November as I recall, so we certainly send our best wishes to Tom and his wife and await the joyful news that their child has been born safely. Very importantly, I say thank you to Tom for his great work in looking after us in Canada. A similar role was carried out in Mongolia by Natalie Barnes from the embassy in Seoul, and Dean Woodgate was there also. Dean has a role in promoting Australian Education International at the embassy in Seoul.

As the member for Riverina has described, we started our trip in Canada. We flew all the way to St John's, Newfoundland, in one hit, which was quite an experience. That is where we really started. The delegation got off to such a great start, because our very first meeting—the member for Riverina will correct me if I am wrong—was with representatives from the provincial government in Newfoundland and Labrador and also representatives from the local government in Labrador City in the western part of the province, where very big iron ore operations have been operating for quite some time.

We got a really strong sense from that meeting of some of the similarities in what the community is experiencing with expansions going on in the iron ore industry, but also there was quite a different attitude—or at least more power available to the local government to take charge of and drive some of the decision making around their local community.

So I got the sense that local government there were possibly more empowered than our equivalent local governments in Australia and certainly were not afraid to use the powers that they did have. I am talking about things like planning and licensing powers, both for the mines and very particularly as to the question of temporary accommodation to facilitate mining development at the construction phase. So they really did use whatever powers they had to feel like they were in the driver's seat for their community.

I got the very strong sense that the provincial and local governments were very much on the same page and working together in strong partnership towards similar goals of community empowerment and engagement with the development that was going on around them. They talked about the benefit agreement that effectively companies have to sign up to and about the terms and conditions, which companies agree to, that make sure that benefits like local jobs and local content and royalties come back to the province. They had a very strong view of what they wanted to get out of the development, so it was not just a one-way thing where it was what the company could get out of the resource activity. So there was a very strong view about what the province and local community expected to get out of it as well.

We went from there to speak to one of the companies involved, Iron Ore Canada, which is a Rio Tinto subsidiary. We were very impressed by their attitude and they really described to us their taking the initiative. They are not the only company operating in that region, so they talked to us about how they as a company felt an obligation and took the initiative to bring the other companies operating in that region to the table, together with provincial officials and local government, to talk about what was going to be happening and how some of these things could be managed while building that shared picture of what the community could expect and aspire to and how they could partner with the community to get the benefits and ameliorate some of the problems that might arise. So there seemed to be a real environment that fostered those expectations of companies and the companies seemed to show a willingness to meet those obligations and be genuine partners in the region.

We went from there to Alberta and saw Fort McMurray, which to me, as the member who represents Moranbah in my electorate, felt like Moranbah on steroids. As the member for Riverina mentioned, it has something like a population of 100,000 but at least half of those are fly in, fly out workers living in camps around the place. The population has doubled in the last 10 years. So Fort McMurray gave us a real snapshot of some of the opportunities but also some of the problems that local communities over there are trying to deal with. I was very impressed in Alberta by the initiative, one that was described to us at a meeting in Edmonton of provincial government officials, of the Alberta Oil Sands Secretariat. That has a coordinating role within the government so that the government can take a whole of government look at development that is happening in the oil sands region and communities. That was sitting within Treasury and the idea was that it be rather than the very piecemeal approach that we have particularly in Queensland.

The Queensland experience is that everything is quite reactive and you have got one government department just dealing with applications for mining licences and mining activities in a fairly piecemeal approach. The Alberta Oil Sands Secretariat is about this: when an application comes in the provincial government develops a mechanism by which you can then, across the government, look at all the implications of that so you are dealing not just with the application but with what arises out of that application and how the provincial government, with local government involvement, can respond to some of the issues. It is similar to a recommendation that the committee has heard from Mount Isa council. It was put to us by the Mayor of Mount Isa, who is a former state minister for resources in Queensland and so knows a bit about some of these structural matters. So that is something for the committee to think about.

We then went through to a very different country—but one that gave us just as much to think about and had just as much to teach us. Part of the trip in Mongolia had a different, more official, focus. As representatives of our parliament, the committee sought to reaffirm Australia's friendship with Mongolia, particularly given that this year is the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries. We wanted to reaffirm that friendship and to look for ways that our country can continue to support Mongolia on its journey of development and in making the most of its resources.

We learned that we share a lot—environmentally and in the area of resource opportunities. These are obvious areas where we can assist their development and their aspirations to become a strong resource exporting country. A very important part of that, as the member for Riverina mentioned, is the role of AusAID in providing scholarships. These have increased in the last year from 28 per year to 38. The scholarships provide opportunities for Mongolians to come to Australia and study at our leading universities in the areas of law and governance. I think the program has been expanded so there can be more of an emphasis on, say, engineering, environmental management and things like that. The scholarships are about trying to build capacity—helping Mongolia to make the most of its resources and take control of its future.

We were really impressed with what we saw at Rio Tinto's operation at Oyuu Tolgoi. We came away with a very strong sense, as the member for Riverina said, that these guys are fair dinkum. They really want this to work. Sure, they want to mine copper and they want to make a profit, but they also believe very strongly—and you can see the evidence with your own eyes—in creating something which belongs to Mongolia and which Mongolians will benefit from. Those benefits will come not only through the royalties and taxes the company will pay but also through the very significant investments in training, education and community building.

Here in Australia, the committee has been getting the message that you have to have FIFO for mining to be viable. But then we saw what Rio Tinto is doing over in Mongolia. About 90 per cent of the workforce at this copper mine, the world's biggest copper mine, is already Mongolian. Rio Tinto surveyed their workforce. Their workforce said, 'We really want to live here with our families.' So Rio is looking very seriously at how to establish a long-term sustainable functioning community alongside that mine—a demonstration, as I said, of how these guys are not in there just to make a quick buck. They really are genuinely committed to the country and are working with the Mongolian government, the Mongolian people and, importantly, their workforce to make sure those benefits are spread far and wide throughout the country.

In closing, it was, as always, great to catch up with the Mozzies. The Mozzies are an alumni group—people who have studied in Australia. They are very passionate supporters of Australia and great friends to all Australian visitors to Mongolia. I thank them again for their hospitality. I am really looking forward to getting our teeth into this report, which I think will benefit greatly from our travels as a committee, not just in Australia—obviously we have travelled extensively throughout Australia—but also internationally. It has been very helpful to get this international perspective and some of the solutions and ideas it provides.

Debate adjourned.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 21:34