Speech to the US Studies Centre, Sydney


Good morning and thank you to Michael [Green] and the United States Studies Centre for the invitation to speak today. 

We are gathered on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and I begin by paying my respects to their Elders past and present.

I extend that respect to First Nations people here this morning.

I want to acknowledge the United States Studies Centre’s work and commitment to furthering Australia’s strong partnership with America.

And can I congratulate you on setting up this new conference. I’m honoured to be a part of it and I’m sure it will be a very great continuing success. 

I am not sure how many would be aware, but I have had a not insignificant connection with the USSC, as the founding executive of its west coast counterpart – the Perth USAsia Centre. 

In 2012 US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, visited Perth with then our Ambassador to the US, Kim Beazley, on the invitation of then Australian Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith, to announce the creation of an international think tank in Perth, Western Australia that would focus on strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. 

Later this year, we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Perth USAsia Centre, which emerged from the ongoing efforts of this the United States Studies Centre. I am very proud of what the Perth Centre and the USSC have achieved together over the years to further our shared understanding of the world in which we live.

It is important to acknowledge the work of the American Australian Association in establishing both the USSC and the Perth USAsia Centre. I particularly would like to recognise the former Chair of the AAA, John Olsen, who was an integral part of the development of the Perth USAsia Centre.

And can I also acknowledge the board of the AAA. 

I have mentioned him already, but would also like to recognise that earlier in the program you had the former Member for Brand, former Ambassador of Australia to the United States, former Governor of Western Australia, and Chair of the Board of the Perth USAsia Centre, my friend Kim Beazley AC – to whom this extra special relationship between the United States and Australia owes such a great debt. 

AUKUS and Critical Minerals.

Friends, the ties between Australia and the United States are deep and enduring. 

Our alliance was formed on the battlefields of the First World War, but it is exercised in very practical ways every day through our shared commitment to democracy, free enterprise and a ruled based global order. 

This alliance is as we know shifting into a historic new phase under the banner of AUKUS. 

AUKUS has very and special significance for me and for my home state of Western Australia. 

My electorate of Brand will see more frequent port visits by United States Navy and Royal Navy nuclear powered submarines at HMAS Stirling as part of the rotational presence agreed to under AUKUS. 

This rotational presence will come not only in the form of submarines and ships, but in personnel. 

My hometown of Rockingham, the place I grew up, will be transformed by the US and UK service personnel who will rotate through HMAS Stirling under the first phase of the AUKUS pathway. 

Unlike say, the Marine Rotational Force in Darwin for example, US personnel will be based in Rockingham and will bring their families. 

I am very much looking forward to this, not just for the economic benefits it will bring to Rockingham, but also to the social and community benefits. 

There will also be challenges: meeting the need for improved road infrastructure, and social infrastructure like housing and childcare. But these are all challenges we can address and benefits we will welcome – just as my community will welcome US service women and men and give to them a home away from home, in the seaside town of Rockingham. The Albanese Government will continue to work closely with the Western Australian Government and the relevant local governments to ensure we are well prepared to meet this historic endeavour. 

We can trace the DNA of AUKUS to Australia’s two oceans navy policy, adopted in 1987.

And again we can thank Kim Beazely for this. 

The two oceans navy policy was designed by Kim when he was Defence Minister in the Hawke Government. 

It recognised the strategic significance of the Indian Ocean to both Australia and its allies to maintaining regional stability and led directly to HMAS Stirling becoming the important piece of defence infrastructure it is today. 

As I flew across the continent yesterday to be here today, I got to thinking that Kim’s two oceans navy policy recognised the “Indo-Pacific” 36 years ago before it was a thing. 

And being policy driven under the leadership of a Western Australian, it demonstrated that Australia needs voices from right across the country to contribute to important discussions such as the one that we are having here today. 

Our shared history and beliefs are only part of the story in this evolving relationship. 

The geology of my home state is now a key feature of the Australia-US Alliance. 

Last week I was in Washington DC with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese where our two governments made progress on improved critical minerals and rare earths supply chains, and renewable technologies development.  Working together to ensure the refined minerals and materials are available to achieve our shared climate and clean energy goals will be, vitally important to our collective national interests. 

It will enable our countries to meet ambitious emissions reduction targets and help meet the growing energy and adaption needs of the entire Indo-Pacific region.

Energy security is vital to the stability of our region. Australia has played an important role in providing for the energy security of our region for many decades through the export of gas and coal to our neighbours. And Australia will continue to be a reliable and trusted supplier of energy to the region as it strives toward to net zero emissions by 2050. 

It is important to remember that If Australia does not supply energy to the region, someone else will. 

That is because our region needs that energy and it is a responsibility of governments to ensure their communities have power. 

I would prefer that that energy was provided by Australia with our high Environmental, Social and Governance standards. 

The development of our critical minerals industry will further support the energy needs of the region as the transition to renewables continues apace, with the continued firming support of gas of course. 

Our ongoing work with the United States will also be vital for our defence industries which increasingly rely on technology, such as guided ordnance and undersea sonar that are dependant on critical minerals and rare earth elements. 

Critical minerals development

The International Energy Agency estimates demand for critical minerals needed for the world’s energy transition will likely double or quadruple in the next twenty years.

Australia can and should be the preferred global supplier for this transition.

We are the world’s number one producer of lithium, the second largest cobalt producer, and the fourth-largest producer of rare earth elements. 

And of course much of this comes from Western Australia. 

All of these elements are essential to producing rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles, magnets for clean energy components and semiconductors for photo-voltaic cells.

And as I said, most are needed by the defence industry to produce the materials needed to prevail on a modern battlefield. 

Rare earth magnets are vital for advanced missile guidance systems, laser, radar and sonar, as well as aviation and satellites. Germanium, recently subjected to an export ban by China, is used in night vision equipment and fibre optics. 

Graphite, which is also under export restriction, is needed is needed in jet engines and electronic components. 

According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarine needs over four tonnes of rare earth materials to produce, and the F-35 multipurpose fighter jet requires over 400 kilograms.

As of December last year, Australia had 81 major critical minerals projects in the pipeline, with an estimated value of around $40 billion dollars.

This journey we’ve begun with the US will bring further new opportunities for Australian mining and renewable energy companies.

We’re already seeing genuine results from this enhanced bilateral cooperation.

We took a big step towards our critical minerals ambitions when Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and President Joe Biden signed the Climate, Critical Minerals, and Clean Energy Transformation Compact in Hiroshima this year.

The compact provides the framework for the coordinating of national policies and investment to support our agreement to make climate, critical minerals, and clean energy a central pillar of the Alliance.

And as I said we took another historic step towards these commitments during my visit to the US last week with the Prime Minister.

It was a very great honour for me to take part in that visit and to meet President Biden. 

A new Joint Australia-US Taskforce has been established to progress our collaboration plans on critical minerals.

I met with my counterparts, Commerce Secretary Raimondo and Presidential Senior Advisor Amos Hochstein in Washington for our inaugural Taskforce meeting.

The Taskforce identified areas in which the Australian and American governments can work together to increase investment critical minerals mining and processing projects and bolster market transparency in this sector.

The Taskforce also agreed to support research and development into efficient technologies and practices related to sustainable mining, enhanced mineral recovery from unconventional sources, and new processing methods.

The Taskforce will deepen cooperation to deliver sustainable, resilient, and secure critical minerals and clean energy to the world and reduce global emissions.

It’s a big step to have this level of engagement with our United States counterparts. And we are each determined that this Taskforce will be action oriented – because there is no time to waste.

We must act with urgency and focus. 

For too long we have outsourced and offshored the processing and refining of our critical minerals and rare earths. Now we must compete. To ensure Australia has the technical refining capacity so that we can make more things here, but importantly to diversify the global market for the materials that will be critical to the green energy transformation.

On an industry level, we’re already seeing results.

For example, United States lithium refiner Albemarle is investing a further $2 billion to double production capacity at its lithium hydroxide plant in Kemerton, in south-west Western Australia. 

The expanded output will produce enough lithium hydroxide for an estimated 2.4 million electric vehicles annually.

The positive signal it sends will help encourage other investment to fund the expansion of Australia’s lithium industry.

And in January, Australian miner Ioneer secured a $1 billion dollar loan from the US Department of Energy for a project to develop its lithium-boron project in Nevada.

Once it is up and running, the project will support production of lithium for about 370,000 electric vehicles each year.

That will reduce US fuel consumption by nearly 550 million litres annually – reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 1.29  million tonnes annually, according to the Energy Department.

Perhaps the most prominent example of US government funding of an Australian critical minerals project is Lynas Rare Earths, which has been supported to build a heavy rare earths separation plant in Texas. 

It’s a project that will broaden the supply chain for responsibly produced rare earths and bolster Lynas’s growth strategy. 

In another great endorsement of Australia’s mineral processing potential, General Motors is investing 100 million in Queensland Pacific Metals’ proposed TECH project in Townsville.

This high purity battery materials refinery will provide cost-competitive and secure supplies of nickel and cobalt enable a global company to meet its growing electric vehicle production needs.

As you know just over a year ago, President Joe Biden signed one of the world’s most ambitious climate laws.

The Inflation Reduction Act contains an estimated US$369 billion in new spending plus generous tax incentives to accelerate America’s clean energy transition.

Significant investments will be made to jump-start research and development and commercialisation of renewable technologies like carbon capture and storage and clean hydrogen.

Investments will be directed toward boosting domestic manufacturing capacity.

In recognition of American industry’s large-scale supply needs – the Inflation Reduction Act will encourage procurement of critical supplies domestically or from free-trade partners.

Australia has been a trusted and reliable trading partner to the United States for many years, and an FTA partner since 2004.

Bear in mind that together with transitioning to renewables, the Biden Administration is also looking to shore up America’s geostrategic interests.

To that extent, the Inflation Reduction Act is also focussed on diversifying clean energy supply chains and working with international partners and like-minded countries to address global energy insecurity.

Competition across the rapidly evolving critical minerals and global renewables space is intense.

The Australian Government acknowledges that fact.

However, we are world leaders in discovering and developing resource projects.

We have highly a skilled workforce and globally recognised research capabilities in mining and minerals processing.

Our legal and corporate frameworks are transparent, our barriers to foreign investment low, and our business culture is sophisticated, yet straightforward.

And we have a trusted, well established Foreign Investment Review Board.

Like the US, we are strongly committed to high Environment, Sustainability and Governance Standards.

And, as we showed with the development and expansion of Western Australia’s iron ore, oil, and gas sectors – we can create globally significant industries.

And we know that with the right incentives, Australia’s emerging critical minerals sector can grow to a globally significant industry. 

That’s why we increased the Critical Minerals Financing Facility to a total of $4 billion, to attract co-financing from like-minded investors, and help diversify our critical minerals supply chains.

So, the IRA represents a significant opportunity for Australia to build on our alliance to become a key partner to the US on critical minerals processing and clean energy technology development. 

The demand for the minerals and materials that will be needed to decarbonise our economies to reach net zero is so great, that we must work together. 

No one country can meet this demand alone, and working together brings mutual benefit. Working together through the US- Australia Taskforce on Critical Minerals will ensure that all of our communities benefit. 

Our Alliance with the United States is about much more than defence, security, trade and investment. 

It is also about genuine friendships.

We now have a new opportunity to develop Australia’s critical minerals industries and to work with the United States to strengthen global supply chains to achieve climate commitments and to strengthen our shared security framework.

Thank you.