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BHP asserts green credentials despite backlash

BHP says its investment in critical minerals shows it is bringing about the clean energy transition but critics denounce the environmental impact of its mines.

BHP insists mining will deliver the clean energy transition required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as it steps up investment in copper and fertiliser ingredient potash.

The mining giant has pivoted its portfolio towards critical minerals, underscored by the acquisition of copper miner Oz Minerals earlier this year.

"Mining and BHP have a clear and undeniable role in the critical global energy transition required for more sustainable development," chairman Ken MacKenzie said on Wednesday.

Copper is required for renewable energy, nickel for electric vehicles, and iron ore and higher quality metallurgical coal for the steel required to build decarbonisation and other new infrastructure, he told the annual general meeting in Adelaide.

The $9.6 billion Oz Minerals purchase brought the Carrapateena and Prominent Hill mines under the BHP tent, which coupled with the nearby Olympic Dam and Oak Dam assets, create a new South Australian copper province.

BHP has also divested from lower quality coal mines and dumped its oil and gas assets after the merger of its petroleum arm with Woodside.

The company says it is on track to meet its target of a 30 per cent reduction in scope one and two emissions by 2030.

Protesters outside the meeting called for BHP to stop the extraction of artesian bore water at Olympic Dam, which they say has dried up sacred springs in the area.

"Our old people set up these places and homelands for our people to live on, not for mining, and that's how it should be," Arabunna Elder Kevin Buzzacott told the board in a statement read via proxy.

Mr MacKenzie said BHP would like to migrate to a desalinated water source and the government was looking at developing the Northern Water Project for this end.

He touted BHP's increased investment in potash, which is considered essential to ensuring global food security, especially since the disruption to food supplies caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

BHP on Tuesday announced a further $7.7 billion to develop stage two of its Jansen potash project in Canada.

"We believe the long-term fundamentals for the potash market are compelling and they further improved since we sanctioned Jensen stage one," chief executive Mike Henry said.

Australia has a "once in a generation opportunity" to ride a "massive wave of capital investment" required to meet global demands for critical minerals, he said, but warned the federal government's legislation to close labour hire loopholes threatened this.

"The proposed changes are not about closing loopholes," he said. 

"They are the most significant and far-reaching changes to Australian workplace relationships since WorkChoices."

The "same job, same pay" bill would not only damage BHP's business, but Australia's economy, productivity and international competitiveness, Mr Henry said.

Shareholder Michael Shanahan said BHP's support of the Voice to Parliament referendum "failed the pub test" and left a stigma between shareholders and the board, which was greeted by applause from some.

Mr MacKenzie said there were "clear business reasons" behind BHP's support for the voice to parliament referendum.

Indigenous partners, whose relationships are essential to BHP's continued licence to operate, expected the company to continue its support for constitutional recognition of Australia's Indigenous peoples and a voice to parliament, he said.

Mr Mackenzie lamented the death of two workers in accidents over the past year, one at Western Australia Iron Ore and another at Olympic Dam, which were "stark reminders of the reason why safety must always be our number one priority".

BHP shares had risen one per cent to $44.95 by noon.


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