Speech to the Future of Mining Conference, Sydney
Good morning, everyone.
I begin by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional custodians of the land on which you are meeting, and the Ngunnawal and Ngmabri people, the traditional custodians here in Canberra where I am recording this message today.
I pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and extend that respect to all other First Nations people in the audience today.
Thank you to conference chair Chris Cann for the invitation to be with you today.
I’m sorry I cannot be there in person today but I am in Port Hedland for a Cabinet meeting.
Holding a Cabinet meeting in a resource hub like Port Hedland is I think a sign of how much this Government supports the resources sector and the future of mining in this country.
This annual conference is a great platform to nourish our curiosity and be inspired by your achievements.
The Future of Mining Conference is an excellent platform for the industry to share knowledge and discuss approaches to meeting community and customer expectations in the context of the global push to reach net zero by 2050.
I note some sessions address the importance of data and its capacity to transform the sector, as well as advances in the electrification of mines.
This conference affords us to get a broader perspective of where the industry is headed domestically and internationally.
This conference is about the future of mining. And I am happy to tell you today mining has a very bright future under the Albanese Government.
Australia has an opportunity to seize the moment to leverage its critical minerals endowment to fuel the global clean energy transition.
Our commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050 means we will need more mining, not less, as we seek to extract the minerals we need to build batteries, semi-conductors and wind farms.
I have said previously that I see this effort as a national mission – that is critical to support the world in getting to net zero while creating new industries for the future here in Australia.
So it is a good idea to take something of a stocktake from time to time at how we’re going in realising our mineral development aspirations.
That way we identify the things we’ve done well, and not so well, and adjust our strategies accordingly.
At the outset, we can all agree on one thing: the critical minerals boom shows few signs of slowing.
International demand for Australia’s lithium, rare earths, manganese, cobalt, and the other minerals crucial for clean energy technologies, remains strong.
The latest Resources and Energy Quarterly forecasts lithium export earnings to increase more than 10-fold in two years, from $1.1 billion in 2020-21 to $17 billion in 2023-24.
Spurred on by Geoscience Australia’s Exploring for the Future program and other initiatives to improve the mapping of critical mineral and material deposits, exploration spending continues to rise.
New mines are being planned and existing mines expanded.
We’re adding to our downstream processing capacity, which was a central part of our industry diversification plans.
This is especially evident in the lithium sector, with three lithium hydroxide processing plants currently in operation, under construction, or in advanced planning in WA.
In the rare earths sector, Australia is currently only involved in the mining and beneficiation stages of the long and complex rare earths supply chain.
But we are moving to capture more of the next stages – cracking and leaching and oxide production – onshore.
Lynas Rare Earths’ new facility in Kalgoorlie to process concentrate from its Mt Weld mine helped cement its status as the only significant rare earths producer outside of China.
Hastings Technology Metals Limited is constructing the Yangibana Rare Earths project, supported by a $220 million loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. This Western Australian project comprises a mine in the Gascoyne region and a hydrometallurgical plant located in Onslow in the Pilbara.
Iluka Resources’ Eneabba Rare Earths Refinery project, now underway north of Perth, will help us to move further downstream to the production of rare earth oxides.
This facility has received approval for a $1.25 billion loan through the Australian Government’s Critical Minerals Facility and will be Australia’s first fully integrated rare earth oxide refinery.
Besides helping to diversify the downstream supply chain, it will give Australia a processing base to further grow our manufacturing sector.
We have, of course, encountered speed bumps, particularly in the past two years.
Economic headwinds and continuing supply chain issues stemming from COVID have led to substantially higher construction and operational costs.
Labour has become more expensive – while skills shortages are hampering efforts to boost productivity and capacity.
Credit markets have tightened, and firms are having to look overseas for investors to realise their ambitions.
Despite these challenges, Australia is in a strong position. Our credentials as a trusted, reliable critical minerals supplier have helped us attract new foreign investment to grow and develop the sector.
In October 2022, I signed a new Japan-Australia Critical Minerals Partnership with Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Investment (METI).
This will establish a framework for building secure critical mineral supply chains between Australia and Japan.
Other bilateral agreements like the Australia-India Critical Minerals Investment Partnership will give our companies greater certainty.
They ensure our partners have the supply needed for their advanced manufacturing industries.
Using our critical minerals as a precursor for advanced manufacturing here in Australia remains a key priority for the Government.
Consistent with our manufacturing policy and ambitions, we are investing heavily to develop capability in clean component manufacturing.
At a time when options for financing business growth are shrinking, the Government’s $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund will ensure our innovative clean energy technology firms can access the support they need to grow. Importantly, it includes $1 billion specifically for value adding in the resources sector and I certainly welcome your views on this.
It is deeply regrettable that the Opposition are not supporting this important initiative when less than a year ago while in government they actively sought to support development of similar capabilities.
The National Battery Strategy we’re developing will accelerate the development of a vibrant battery manufacturing sector.
To underline how our critical minerals can enable clean energy technology growth, Australia’s first Gigafactory (a large electric car battery factory) opens next month in Newcastle.
Plans for a second facility near Geelong are well advanced.
In the October Budget, we allocated $50 million over three years to the Critical Minerals Development Program for competitive grants to support strategically important early and mid-stage critical minerals projects.
This funding builds on the $50 million recently committed to six key projects across Australia as part of Tranche 1 of the program – funding which will leverage over $143 million in private-sector co-investment.
We are also investing $50.5 million over four years for an Australian Critical Minerals R&D Hub to bring our best researchers together to address technical challenges holding back our sector.
To help ensure we have the right policy settings in place, the Government is also developing a new Critical Minerals Strategy to reflect national objectives – including to accelerate development of the sector and help Australia become a clean energy superpower.
This Strategy will focus on key priorities such as creating economic opportunity - including for regional Australia and First Nations Peoples - developing new sovereign capabilities and industries, and building reliable, competitive and diverse supply chains.
All of you here today understand that sustainable, environmentally, and socially responsible practices are a now hallmark of our mining and critical minerals sectors.
It wasn’t always the case.
Reinforcing our ESG credentials internationally is another way the Government is linking critical minerals supply with demand, particularly from our strategic allies.
In December, for example, Australia signed on to the Sustainable Critical Minerals Alliance whose members include Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the United States.
As I mentioned earlier, skills shortages have a real bearing on the competitiveness of our mining and Mining, Equipment and Technology sectors.
So that the industry can get the skilled workers it needs, the Australian Government is addressing deficiencies in our post-secondary education and training landscape, specifically with our policy of providing fee-free TAFE places.
Our Diversity in STEM review will help identify gender inequities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics study and help create a greater awareness of the opportunities and rewards of mining careers.
I should also add that if the resources industry is to attract more female workers, it needs to provide safe workplaces.
I know the industry is working hard to build a diverse, inclusive, and skilled workforce, and I commend those efforts.
The minerals sector is a vital strand of the nation’s economic fabric – and it is existential to Australia’s and the world’s energy transition plans.
It is only by growing the mining sector that we can reach our goal of net zero by 2050.
Expanding the resources sector will help diversify our economic base and deliver sustainable long-term prosperity.
But if we are to have growth and development we need to get our policy settings right. And this Government is doing that.
We are committed to driving scientific innovation is supporting the private sector to take advantage of innovation.
We are working with our international partners to diversify global supply chains and we are doing the work to strengthen and upskill the national workforce.
The Australian Government is aware of the magnitude of the challenge – and we will work with the sector to make certain we deliver on what I consider to be a vital national mission.