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Who is the new federal Resources Minister?

He may have only become a politician two years ago, but Director of Government Relations Astrid Serventy discusses why Matt Canavan now holds one of the most important portfolios in the Australian Government.

On Tuesday 18 July, Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull announced that Senator the Hon Matthew Canavan, having joined the outer Ministry only two months prior, would leapfrog into Cabinet in the key role of Minister for Resources and Northern Australia.

And that means key government stakeholder lists for many Western Australian resources companies need to be updated – with Senator Canavan close to, or very near the top.

It’s a stellar rise. In fact, unprecedented in many ways. So who is Matt Canavan?

He is a National Party Senator from Queensland.

Matthew Canavan
The Hon Matthew Canavan

His official bio tells us that he was born in 1980, is married and has a Bachelor of Economics with honours and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Queensland.  Prior to being elected in 2013 he worked as Chief of Staff to Barnaby Joyce for three years. The Senator started his career spending five years as a research economist with the Productivity Commission, before a stint as an executive with KPMG between 2008 and 2009, then returning to the Productivity Commission as a director between 2009 and 2010.

He has four sons. His wife is a stay at home mum. Before joining the National Party he was previously a member of the Liberal Party.

Minister Canavan’s made his interest in the resources sector and his economic views clear in his maiden speech to Parliament in 2014:

“It is an unusual path to travel from the Productivity Commission to the National Party. The predecessor bodies of the commission fought famous battles against a great leader of the Country Party, John McEwen. Those battles about protectionism are well and truly behind us. John McEwen’s underlying principles and values are what we should remember today. What drove John McEwen was not a desire to impose higher tariffs but to protect the wealth-producing industries of our nation. Once again, our wealth-producing industries need support. Our agricultural, mining, manufacturing and tourism industries face high taxes, over-regulation and, most of all, a complacency that they will keep producing wealth regardless of what we do in this place.

While I was at the Productivity Commission, I was constantly reminded of how important it is to get the costs of business down. We spent 30 years in Australia removing tariffs to reduce business costs, deregulating financial markets to reduce business costs and reforming our energy sector to reduce business costs. It is now often forgotten how successful that was. From 1990 to the mid-2000s, electricity costs fell by 27 per cent in real terms for businesses. For the past half a decade we have followed the opposite approach. We have imposed a carbon tax and a renewable energy target that increased business costs, and we have unwound many of the improvements to industrial relations that provided a way to link greater productivity to higher wages. We have gone from having some of the cheapest power prices in the world to now being just above average. Just seven years ago businesses in Australia paid less than 10c per kilowatt hour for electricity. Today many pay more than 20c per kilowatt hour. In the United States, businesses pay the same prices that we did just a few years ago.
We have very similar resources to the United States—abundant supplies of coal and gas—but we give up our natural advantage in wealth and job creation when we turn our back on them. I want to put on the record my admiration and support for our fossil fuel industry and the thousands of jobs it supports, including my brother’s. Fossil fuels have made more contribution than almost any other product or invention towards humanity’s long ascent from lives that were nasty, brutish and short to ones of comparative luxury and leisure.

The only form of energy that I want to promote is cheap energy, because we have a choice: we can either have cheap energy or we will get cheap wages. To get cheaper energy, we need to rediscover that the whole point of providing infrastructure is for the users of infrastructure, not the owners. We have made a mistake in putting the profits of electricity and gas networks ahead of lower prices for end consumers, businesses and families. We need a new national productivity agenda to bring down the costs of doing business, to boost productivity and to create well-paying jobs. Higher productivity is the only viable way to lift our standard of living over the long term.” (you can read the full speech here)

In an interview following the announcement of his new position on ABC radio’s AM program, Minister Canavan laid out his goal as Minister for Resources (along with hinting at a potential third career should he decide to get out of politics).

“Oh look, if I could predict future iron ore prices I wouldn’t be in this game Kim. I’d move to Sydney and make a lot of money for my family. But I can’t predict the future iron ore price; I don’t know what it’ll be. I don’t think anyone else does. What my job is to do, as before I was a Minister was a Senator for Queensland, and now as a Minister for Resources, my job is to try and help our industry be as competitive and as well placed as they can be to take the opportunities as and when they arise.” 

The new Minister has repeatedly told media that he is a supporter of cold calling (“so one day when I was sitting in front of a computer at the Productivity Commission I cold-called Tony Abbott’s office and asked if he needed an economist. His office did not, but Barnaby did, so I ended up with him”).  He has encouraged the industry (and potential employees) to get in touch with his office with ideas. So there is your invitation.

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