Mike Henry AFR Business Summit 2023

I too would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and also pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. 

Wherever BHP operates around the world, we do so on or close to the traditional lands of First Nations peoples and here in Australia we are the largest resources sector employer of Indigenous Australians. We maintain our support for the goals of the Uluru Statement including its call for a Voice to Parliament.   

I’d like to call out that tomorrow is International Women’s Day. While there is still so much to do to advance the position of women in society both here and abroad, I am proud that in recent years female participation in BHP’s workforce has doubled to over 33% and our Executive management team is now fully gender balanced. 

I congratulate the Prime Minister for the essential leadership he has shown on these topics and on climate change. These are issues important to business and critical to the building of a better, stronger Australia.    

And if ever there were a time for focusing on how to make Australia stronger, it is now. 

It’s very fitting that the theme of this summit is ‘crunch time for prosperity’. 

The world around us is changing at a pace that I don’t think most of us would have seen as possible only a few short years ago. Geopolitically, economically, socially.  

The tide is changing for many of the fundamental trends that Australia’s current prosperity has been built upon. 

Decarbonisation, deglobalisation and fragmenting supply chains, flattening Chinese steel and iron ore demand to name a few.   

These are big changes but unlike some of those that Australia has successfully navigated and benefited from in recent decades, without the right responses, these changes will not  be our friend.  

Bolstering or reclaiming Australia's competitiveness will be essential if we are to secure continued success and prosperity.  

This is going to take a higher level of ambition, a greater degree of focus, and a greater commitment to business and government working together than may have been required in our recent past. 

I have to say the race is on. 

Other nations are moving quickly to address the challenges and capitalise on the opportunities presented by the changing world.  

They are attracting capital, people and ideas: enabled by government and business coming together in areas of strategic significance to the changing world – including critical minerals and decarbonisation.  

Two examples are the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States and the Critical Minerals Strategy in Canada. Done lightening fast, already drawing investment in, and seeing business and government work together more strongly.  

Which brings me back to this room. 

Having witnessed the pace of progress elsewhere in the world, I am convinced of the urgent need for us to work together on positioning for the future.  

To be clear, we are not advocating for subsidies. Far from it. Rather that here in Australia we work on the much more fundamental and enduring foundations of core competitiveness.   

It is in the interest of all Australians that we ensure a vibrant, competitive business sector, supporting a healthy economy and a strong and equitable nation. 

Government and business won’t agree on everything, every time – but the policy choices and investments made in the next few years will have implications for Australia’s prosperity for decades to come.  

The more we can bring our respective ideas, experiences, energy and shared effort to the table the more likely we all are to achieve what must be our highest order shared ambitions.  

One of the pre-requisites for success is access to new markets. Particularly important given the small size of our domestic economy and the significant proportion of GDP that currently comes from exports.  

Here I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister on the significant effort that he and his team have invested on the trade front and the successes seen to date. 

Of course one of the largest opportunities is India, where the Prime Minister is leading a significant business delegation this week. 

A great example of the government working to open up opportunity for Australia and Australian businesses to do what we do best. 

Australia has enjoyed a wonderful three decades, built in large part on our historical ability to compete with the best in the world for markets and opportunities.  

It is incumbent on us to now work together on reclaiming Australia's competitiveness to enable us to win in a new, changed and challenging global context. 

We need to be talking openly and ambitiously about what together we need to do to compete head to head globally. Compete for capital, compete for talent, compete for markets and indeed for the benefits that winning in these areas will mean in terms of continued protecting and enhancing of long term Australian prosperity.  

For the avoidance of doubt, BHP is putting our money where our mouths are. 

We repatriated around $100 billion of capital to the ASX early last year through the unification of our corporate structure. We are in the process of investing another $10 billion in South Australia, with our proposed acquisition of OZ Minerals and we have further significant investment ahead in the state of Western Australia.  

Notwithstanding my words of caution about some of the headwinds Australia faces, we remain optimistic about the opportunity at hand if we are able to mobilise the right effort on the right things and are able to unleash the potential of Australia.  

We are committed to working with government to inform policy and to ensure we are able to win the competition ahead.