Speech to ANU Rare Earths Conference
Thank you for the warm welcome.
I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on, the Ngunnawal people, and pay respect to their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region.
I would also like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of land right around the country.
We find ourselves in this wonderful venue tonight, The National Museum of Australia. It is one of this country’s great treasures.
This museum contains many important exhibitions and objects telling the stories of First Nations people. It’s a resource like no other in the world and I encourage you to take the time to come back and have a look for yourself.
I would also like to acknowledge:
- The Hon Julie Bishop, Chancellor, ANU
- Professor Brian P. Schmidt, Vice-Chancellor, ANU
- Professor John Mavrogenes, ANU Research School of Earth Sciences
- Rowena Smith, CEO, Australian Strategic Materials
- Her Excellency Vicki Treadell, High Commissioner for the United Kingdom
- Martin Kent, His Majesty's Trade Commissioner for Asia Pacific, guest of UK High Commissioner
- His Excellency, SUZUKI Kazuhiro, Ambassador, Embassy of Japan
- His Excellency Mr Jaime Andrés Chomali Garib as the Ambassador of the Republic of Chile.
Thank you to the ANU for the chance to once again speak at this Rare Earths Conference.
Challenges and opportunities
When I spoke to this conference just a year ago I said that Australia’s rare earths and critical minerals industry was at the centre of an important moment in history that would shape our world for the next century.
I told you how we needed to take urgent steps to build new and diverse supply chains.
Well, a lot has happened over the past twelve months.
The Government has been working at a great pace to ensure Australia does not miss this opportunity.
And we are achieving a considerable amount.
Australia’s critical minerals are now front and centre of our relationships with our international partners.
Australia’s resources sector has stepped forward into the heart of our alliance with the United States.
And key trading partners in Asia and Europe are moving quickly to prioritise agreements on access to Australian rare earths and critical minerals.
Last month Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and I were in the United States for historic talks on critical minerals and rare earths, securing the energy and resources sectors as a new pillar of our longstanding Alliance.
It was significant in itself that the Federal Resources Minister travelled to Washington with the Prime Minister on this State visit.
The Prime Minister and I held discussions with US President Joe Biden and key members of his administration to advance Australia’s role as a source of the critical materials the US will need for its defence and manufacturing industries, and as it decarbonises its economy.
I co-chaired the first meeting of the Australia-United States Taskforce on Critical Minerals with our American counterparts.
I co-hosted a Critical Minerals Industry Roundtable with United States Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo and Prime Minister Albanese attended and participated in the Roundtable.
During the visit the Prime Minister and I announced a $2 billion expansion in critical minerals and rare earths financing, bringing total Government support for the sector to almost $6 billion.
Just a few weeks before Washington I was in Europe and the United Kingdom.
There I met with leaders also seeking improved access to Australian rare earths and critical minerals.
Over the past year I have signed agreements with France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan and India furthering industry cooperation.
As we know rare earths and critical minerals are vital in building renewable energy systems such as batteries, solar panels and wind turbines and are crucial to global efforts to reduce emissions.
But rare earths and critical minerals are also strategically important.
A conflagration of global events over the past two years has the world moving fast to secure supply chains of these materials from trusted suppliers.
Rare earths and other critical minerals supply and value chains are small relative to those of major commodities such as iron ore and coal.
They are also easily distorted, and vulnerable to price fluctuations.
In addition to their civilian applications such as electric vehicles, rare earths are needed by the defence industry to produce the materiel needed to fight and win on a modern battlefield.
The world has seen how Ukraine has successfully fought back against a much larger Russian military thanks in no small part to the supply of technologically advanced weapons from Western allies, which were built using rare earths and critical minerals.
Rare earth magnets are needed in advanced missile guidance systems, laser and radar. They are also used in aviation and satellites.
A number of these systems have been deployed by Ukraine for precision and stand off strikes against the Russian military.
Some critical minerals, such as germanium and graphite, are increasingly subject to export restrictions by China and other countries.
Germanium is used in night vision equipment and fibre optics.
Graphite has the ability to withstand extremely high temperatures and is an essential element in jet engines and nuclear reactors, as well as in batteries.
According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarine needs over four tonnes of rare earth materials, and the F-35 fighter jet requires over 400 kilograms.
This Government will continue to work with partner countries such as the US to ensure the defence industry has the material it needs to maintain its technological advantages.
Foreign investment and international partnerships
Developing our rare earths and critical minerals industry to its full potential will be impossible without foreign investment.
The government welcomes and encourages foreign investment in rare earths and critical minerals from all over the world.
Foreign investment supports job opportunities for Australians, particularly in regional areas.
In May this year, Australia and the United States signed the Climate, Critical Minerals and Clean Energy Transformation Compact, which will unlock billions of dollars of US investment in Australian resource projects.
My US counterparts and I used our first ministerial-level Australia-United States Taskforce on Critical Minerals to identify areas in which the US and Australian governments can take joint action to increase investment critical minerals mining and processing projects.
Australia is only a small country. Our gold, coal, iron ore and gas industries were built thanks to foreign investment.
It will be the same for our critical minerals and rare earths industry.
But there is an urgency here that we cannot ignore. This urgency is born of three key components:
- We need an abundant, affordable and secure supply rare earths and critical minerals for the world to transition to net zero.
- Recent history during the pandemic, as well as current geostrategic realities, show that a ‘business as usual’ approach to concentrated supply chains is strategically risky for Australia and our allies and partners.
- Australia has a competitive edge in both geology, mining expertise and government approvals, but we need to work to maintain our competitiveness as this global industry develops.
This Government is acutely aware of this urgency and is working to meet these challenges.
Rare earths and critical minerals present a rare opportunity for this country.
We cannot meet our net zero goals unless we mine and produce more of these resources.
But rare earths and critical minerals are also of vital strategic importance.
By growing our rare earths and critical minerals industries, Australia can diversify global supply chains, increase global supplies and help to reduce competitive tensions.
The road to net zero might run through Australia’s resources sector.
But Australia’s resources sector also has a crucial role to play in making this world safer and more secure.