Address to the 2017 Minerals Week Seminar

Thank you for your attendance today. I am confident that it will prove worthwhile investment of your time and effort.

My name is Brendan Pearson and I am the Chief Executive of the Minerals Council of Australia.

A couple of administrative matters.

Please turn your phones to silent. If your phone rings loudly during a presentation this morning you will be escorted to the Andy Vesey room in Parliament House which is loosely based on a mix of the accommodation found in Dante’s fourth, eighth and ninth circles of hell.

Safety Briefing

Ladies and gentlemen your safety is important to us, so the key elements of the safety arrangements are as follows.

Parliament House has an emergency control room which operates the emergency warning and intercommunication system.

If there is an emergency an intermittent beep alert will be sounded throughout the affected area.

In this event, guests are requested to collect personal belongings and to remain where they are while awaiting further instructions.

If we are required to evacuate, a continuous isolating whale or alarm will be sounded.

A Parliament House safety warden will take control of proceedings; the warden will then direct you to safe evacuation rooms and ultimately to the assembly areas on the grassed ramps at the northern and southern ends of the building where you can enjoy Canberra’s spring weather.  

The first session this morning will feature a welcome to country by Aunty Agnes followed by MCA Chair Vanessa Guthrie, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Rio Tinto chief executive Jean Sebastian Jacques. That is a terrific line-up.

Before I introduce Aunty Agnes I just want to say one or two things about the Canberra policy scene.

My sense from visitors this week is that there a degree of incredulity about the recent twists and turns in Australian politics.

I first started in politics 35 years ago at Old Parliament House as an intern.

I was a child prodigy – aged 7. 

The current citizenship distraction will pass. It will be, I hope, a three month wonder.

There is, of course, a view that we are confronting more deep-seated problem in our political system.

That the place is wracked by chronic division and has become unworkable and dysfunctional.

This view has been argued most persuasively by Paul Kelly both in his book, Triumph and Demise, and in his columns in The Australian.

And there is something to that.

But I would add a cautionary note to that prevailing narrative.

I will give one example to illustrate the point.

Today the government is confronting how to deal with an energy crisis years in the making.

The prevailing view is that this crisis is the subject of years of policy stalemate.

Certainly it has been contentious territory.

But I would argue that the policy setting that has caused most disruption and havoc to our energy system was one based on bipartisan agreement.

Any objective analysis of our energy mess at present would conclude that the Renewable Energy Target has been a significant contributing factor.

I am not picking on renewable energy per se, but rather the notion that successive governments would guarantee market share and substantial subsidy support to one energy source without collateral consequences.

That would be a bad idea in any sector, but imposing it on an essential service and a key input to business is especially foolhardy.

And there is a secondary effect that occurs when a bipartisan policy has adverse consequences.

Policy-makers are tempted to treat the symptoms rather than the cause. 

In any political system, the incentive to admit mistakes is not especially powerful.  

So there is a risk that we compound the error.

My point is that we should be leery of the simplistic notion that consensus outcomes are, a priori, more superior than ones that are more hard fought.

I am not arguing for permanent stalemate.

But simply that we apply the same scrutiny, both prospective and retrospective, to policy ideas whether they have or have had bipartisan support.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Aunty Agnes to the stage to deliver a Welcome to Country. 

ENDS

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