ASPI Darwin Dialogue on Critical Minerals and Rare Earth Elements

  • Speech

I begin today by acknowledging that we meet on the land of the Larrakia people, the Traditional Custodians, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

I extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including those here today.

It's an absolute pleasure to be in Darwin, and I would like to thank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) and its Executive Director Justin Bassi for the invitation to speak.

Minister King and I discussed the success of last year's inaugural Darwin Dialogue.

The opportunities and challenges facing the critical minerals and rare earths sector remain even more relevant in 2024 and in coming years.

There have been big developments since last year's dialogue.

The Albanese Government has taken significant steps to strengthen and secure this nationally significant sector.

Australia is brimming with critical minerals and rare earths potential.

And this Government is backing that potential.

Over the past month alone, the Albanese Government has announced close to $2 billion in support for the critical minerals and rare earths sector.

In Gladstone yesterday, the Albanese government announced $400 million in loans for Australian company Alpha HPA to deliver Australia's first high-purity alumina processing facility in Queensland.

The Government also conditionally approved $185 million in loans for Renascor Resources to fast track the development of Stage One of its Siviour Graphite Project in South Australia.

Renascor Resources will deliver the sustainable and ethically sourced production of Australian-made purified graphite, for use in lithium-ion batteries required for EVs and renewable technologies.

Last month the Albanese Government approved loans and grants of up to $840 million to progress Arafura's Nolans rare earths project north of Alice Springs.

Nolans will be Australia's first integrated mine and rare earths separation plant – potentially able to meet around four percent of the annual global supply of neodymium-praseodymium oxide.

As Australia's first combined rare earths mine and refinery, it will create local jobs and help secure Australia's position as a renewable energy superpower.

The refinery will create over 300 new jobs across the Northern Territory while also diversifying our critical minerals supply chain.

It is forecasted to deliver around A$1.4 billion in benefit to the Northern Territory, including into regional and remote communities.

The Government is working to unlocking more critical minerals projects like Arafura to help us achieve our renewable energy ambitions and to support our defence and security needs.

Our Government wants Australia to be in it to win it,

That is why we won't be an observer or spectator – we will be a participant, a partner, an investor and an enabler.

A new Future Made in Australia Act will bring together all of our work, driving practical strategy for Australia to seize this opportunity.

We want to drive investment in new industries that will create secure jobs for working Australians, and encourage more manufacturing here.

This is about giving Australian businesses, Australian communities and the Australian people every possible opportunity to thrive.

International collaboration is at the heart of our work on critical minerals.

The Australian Government is actively working with our partners on a range of critical minerals policy issues, including investment and supply chains.

Shortly after last year's dialogue, we released a new Critical Minerals Strategy, and subsequently updated the Critical Minerals List.

The new Strategy articulates what the Australian Government is seeking to achieve, and how we are proposing to achieve it.

A key element, of course, is our collaboration with likeminded partners.

This will develop competitive and diversified supply chains for the critical minerals we will all need for the global energy transition.

We are accelerating our engagement with international counterparts as we explore all avenues to secure the long-term future of our critical minerals industry.

One of the most important developments since last year's dialogue was the signing by Australia and the United States of the Climate, Critical Minerals, and Clean Energy Transformation Compact.

The compact – bilateral cooperation on climate, clean energy, and critical minerals – aims to integrate our clean energy industrial bases so we can meet our respective net-zero goals.

As part of the compact, we've established the Australia-United States Critical Minerals Taskforce.

The Taskforce identified areas where the US and Australian governments can take joint action to increase investment into critical minerals mining and processing projects in our respective countries.

The first Taskforce meeting included a valuable government-to-business critical minerals industry roundtable.

Subsequent meetings focused on the challenges affecting the critical minerals industry including the nickel sector.

Events of recent months in nickel, lithium and rare earth markets clearly show the ongoing vulnerability to global supply chains caused by international market concentration.

They also demonstrate the ongoing role for governments to seek to develop ways to address market uncertainties and create a level playing field.

No single nation can do this alone, even with the most generous of industrial subsidies. Working together is imperative.

Japan and Korea are important partners in this for us – both have been essential in developing Australia's energy sector

And while we have – and will continue – to support this existing trade as a secure and reliable supplier, we also want to build on this to support the global energy transition.

I have spoken about our relationship with the Republic of Korea before – they are a particularly important partner.

Minister King and I have recently returned from two separate trips to Seoul this year, demonstrating the close bilateral relationship the Australian Government shares with Korea.

Ten years ago, almost to the week, Australia and Korea signed the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

Korea's 1-3 per cent tariffs on unwrought aluminium imports from Australia were immediately eliminated when the agreement entered into force.

More recently, POSCO - traditional investors in Australian iron ore and coal - are now moving towards critical minerals and rare earth elements.

Like Korea, Australia is committed to critical minerals supply chain diversification and resilience. Korean collaboration and investment will continue to play an important role in this process.

Korean firms are already active in securing offtake agreements and investing in Australian critical minerals projects.

Japan, of course, has been a long-standing supporter of Australia's resources and energy sector.

Japan is a priority partner for Australia on critical minerals supply chains, and we welcome the investment in renewables from Japanese domestic firms and from multi-nationals.

Australia and Japan continue to work together as partners under the Japan-Australia Critical Minerals Partnership, which affirms a shared commitment to stable critical minerals supply.

For example, with Japan's support, Lynas Rare Earths – an Australian mining company – is now the world's biggest producer of rare earths outside China.

Japan has supported Lynas for over a decade with over $325 million in loans, and receives priority supply rights

Australia wants to work with Japan to find the next Lynas, and the one after that.

Australia and India also share a close and natural partnership, founded in mutual strategic and economic priorities.

The Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement will support further growth and investment in Australia's world-leading critical minerals and resources sectors.

Australian industry's competitive edge in exploration technologies, mining software and processing components are well positioned to meet India's growing demand for mining equipment, technology and services.

This edge will provide certainty for high quality and competitively priced critical minerals used in the production of mobile phones, flat screen monitors, wind turbines, electric cars and solar panels.

I have travelled to India twice in the last 15 months as Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs, including to officially open Australia's Consulate-General in Kolkata.

We are working together, including collaborating on research and development, and technical expertise.

This cooperation is evident through the India-Australia Minerals Scholar Network and the CSIRO-led Australia-India Critical Minerals Research Partnership.

Both Australia and India recognise the importance of developing our respective domestic critical minerals sectors to build secure and resilient supply chains.

In multilateral fora, Australian and India work together through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework Critical Minerals Dialogue and the Mineral Security Partnership.

We also continue to facilitate connections between government, industry, academia and civil society as part of the Centre for Australia-India Relations.

Similarly, we facilitate business delegations through Austrade which includes the annual Australia-India Business Exchange program.

It is deeply important to the Australian Government that we continue to use all means available to build on our relationship with India.

Australia has world class expertise in extracting minerals and a proven track record as a reliable producer and exporter of energy and resources.

Sustainable development and high Environmental, Social and Governance standards are at the heart of Australia's resource industry.

During my visits to Africa and Latin America I've seen world leading Australian companies developing the highest standard projects.

There is also a significant presence of Australian companies to the mining and critical minerals sectors in those countries.

For example, in February we had more than 200 representatives of Australia's leading mining and METS companies join Australian Mining in Africa events.

Critical minerals are tariff-free under our free trade agreements with Japan, the UK, Korea, China and in the CPTPP. 

The Australian Government has also entered several more strategic critical minerals partnerships, including with India, the UK, Korea, Japan, France and Germany.

To support this international engagement and strengthen these partnerships further, we have also launched the International Partnerships in Critical Minerals program.

It will provide $40 million to support projects that help develop end-to-end supply chains between Australia and our priority partners – US, Japan, Korea, India, UK and the EU – in the critical minerals sector.

We are a nation brimming with critical minerals potential.

But that potential will never be fully realised unless we build strong partnerships with major economies.

The past year has been a very big one in terms of international collaboration with important strategic partners.

This Government is achieving significant results in helping to attract the investment needed for Australia and our international partners decarbonise and to provide for the security of our region.

Again, thank you for this opportunity, and please enjoy the rest of the dialogue.

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