Interview with Andy Park, ABC Radio National Drive

Andy Park
Climate, Critical Minerals and Clean Energy Transformation Compact, Lithium spodumene mines in WA, US Inflation Reduction Act – Australian business investing.

ANDY PARK: The Climate, Critical Minerals and Clean Energy Transformation Compact. It's a bit of a mouthful to say, I think we'll just refer to as the Compact from here on in. But it is pretty important. It's being billed as a key pillar of the alliance between Australia and the US. Anthony Albanese signed a deal with US President Joe Biden in Hiroshima over the weekend to help remove barriers for US investment in Australian critical minerals and renewable manufacturing. Resources Minister Madeleine King said the potential for Australia to become a critical minerals and renewable energy superpower cannot be underestimated. She joins me now. Minister, welcome to you.

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Pleasure to be here, Andy, and thanks for having me.

ANDY PARK: How is Australia going to become a superpower in this space, especially when China is admittedly about ten years ahead?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Oh, I would even say China is a few more years ahead than that to be honest. They've invested very heavily in renewables, in their critical minerals and rare earths industry, and the rest of the world quite frankly has been a bit caught behind on that, but now we are stepping up. I add that the industry itself has been working hard for many years to grow and it has increasingly got the support it's needed, and I'll admit the former government had the critical minerals facility that bolstered a bit of this and State Governments around the country assist as well. But the thing that cannot be changed when we think about all these things and what Australia's endowment is and its gifts to the world, it rests on our geology, that one thing that we are so fortunate to have inherited, and it is the extraction and, you know, sustainable and environmentally sound extraction of raw materials and the processing them here which will contribute to the development of that pillar that you mentioned, the climate clean energy and critical minerals pillar that will form the third pillar of the US‑Australia alliance.

ANDY PARK: You've written that Australia's critical minerals are essential for the world to avoid catastrophic climate change. Are we really that important? I mean our lithium reserves, you know, I think the US has more lithium than we do. Where do we rank in terms of what we have to offer the world in these types of rare earth minerals?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: We have the second largest reserves of lithium spodumene in the world. And on top of the resources we have an excellent administrative system in the States and Federally, but we also have an extraordinarily successful resources sector that can extract these minerals efficiently, safely, very importantly, and in line with all the environmental regulations that the world expects quite frankly when they are using these critical minerals to be inputs into, whether it be electric vehicles or battery storage or wind turbine magnets, and so forth. We have many advantages. The industry itself, its expertise, its know‑how, our scientists that keep exploring to find more of these geologically golden sites for lithium and rare earth elements. But at its base we do have a lot of lithium spodumene.  The biggest lithium spodumene deposit in the world is in Greenbushes in Western Australia and other large deposits in Wodgina in northwest Western Australia. These are really important deposits, part of that geology I mentioned earlier that cannot change. So Australia is critical in this, and we meet, you know, the governance standards that the world expects when we extract and process minerals. And that's a very important part of this as well.

ANDY PARK: We've long heard about, particularly from renewables proprietors in this country, you know, the likes of Mike Cannon‑Brookes saying that there is this river of renewables or green investment, particularly coming out of the United States and particularly after certain policy decisions by Joe Biden. What does that Compact really mean in practical terms about removing barriers for US investment in Australia?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well it brings us closer to being able to access the US legislation, so the Inflation Reduction Act is a very, very significant contribution to combatting global climate change is that the US and President Biden has introduced. But clearly, as one would expect, it is centred around American industries. But because of the Compact we will get another advantage in that relationship where we'll be considered part of their domestic resource, basically. Canada gets the same treatment.

ANDY PARK: Just to clarify, will Australian firms actually be able to directly tap into the Inflation Reduction Act?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well they'll be able to more easily work with American firms to work together.

ANDY PARK: So it's partnerships with American firms?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: It's partnerships. It always has been partnerships. When we think about American investment into Australia, like it's always, you know, whether it's partnership with other investors from either Australia or elsewhere, it's certainly always with close contact with the Government of the day and the State Governments of the day to make sure these investments are successful, and they responsibly extract the mineral resources that we need.

ANDY PARK: You've mentioned Australia being listed as a domestic source under the US Defence Production Act. Does that mean that we can be a direct supplier to the US military? How does that work? What does it mean?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Yeah, the defence ‑ I think the title of the Act is a little confusing. It's not necessarily about providing military assistance or input into that. It's a very different regime for resources in America because the State Governments or constituencies, they sort of hold most of the resources legislation and they don't have a royalty system, say like Australia does. So everything for resources kind of gets bunched up under national security. It's a little misleading and it leads people to think this is all about defence matters, but it's not. It's about securing a supply for the American industrial base, for our industrial base so that we can build the things that we need to build to make sure we have energy security in terms of building those renewables and those electric vehicles. So it is about the needs of the civilians of both countries.

ANDY PARK: What has your Government done to guarantee that firms in Australia will see any benefits if they can't directly tap into the Inflation Reduction Act?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well Australian firms, you know, get benefits even without Government assistance. They're very innovative and they work on their exploration work but also their development work, you know, naturally to get some advantage, you know, from that extraction. But I have every confidence that this will be a collaborative effort between American companies and Australian companies to make sure we can get the job done of responsibly extracting those critical minerals that both of our countries need and that, you know, the companies benefit from, as you would expect, but equally, you know, you and I and the population of America do as well.

ANDY PARK: Just on another matter, Minister, you're the Minister for Northern Territory as well as Resources. Today The Guardian is reporting the Northern Territory Government knew it could not reduce climate risk when it green lit the expansion of gas production in the Beetaloo Basin, what was your reaction to this story?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: I must admit, Andy, I've not read that story myself. I know that the Northern Territory Government many years ago set about a very thorough process and introduced a scientific inquiry into hydraulic fracturing in the Northern Territory, and that inquiry with seven expert scientists, panellists, specialists in water ecology and in extraction and in cultural heritage and many other skill sets, did a scientific inquiry over about 18 months. That is what they're basing their response on now, the Northern Territory, and I have a lot of respect for the considered way the NT Government has gone about it, but I can't actually comment on the article you mentioned.

ANDY PARK: Does this jeopardise your Government's climate targets?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: As I said, I'm sorry, Andy, I have not read the article you mentioned. But what I do know is we have introduced a safeguards mechanism and all new projects will have to, you know, start from a net‑zero position. So I do not think it will affect it but, you know, I'll have to read the details in the article.

ANDY PARK: Federal Resources Minister Madeleine King, I appreciate your time, thank you.