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Australia’s competitive advantage gives it the edge in the global race for critical minerals: Minister

  • 1 November 2023

Australia can lead the world as it transitions to a clean energy future by producing the critical minerals required, whilst not sacrificing its existing competitive advantage as a traditional mining powerhouse, according to the Australian Minister for Resources the Hon. Madeleine King.

Addressing the 10th International Mining and Resources Conference, Minister King said mining underpins Australia’s prosperity and the abundance of critical minerals and rare earth deposits positioned it for global leadership in producing the materials to power the clean energy transition.

“Australia’s resources industry is a powerhouse of the economy. Mining underpins our standard of living, providing 75% of Australian exports and almost 15% of GDP. Australia's resources export earnings reaped a record $460 billion in the recent financial year. Taxes from our resources industry build roads and hospitals. Iron ore, gas and coal pay for our schools and defence forces.”

Minister King said 30 of the top 100 METS companies in the world are based in Australia, which is at the forefront of the sector’s most important developments, including remote operating vehicles, horizontal drilling, robotics and automation, airborne exploration technologies and mineral flotation. She said Australia is the world's largest leading producer of unprocessed lithium and produced most of the world's hard rock lithium, with exports forecast to reach $16 billion this year. It is the world's third largest cobalt exporter and the world's fourth largest exporter of rare earths, and ranked 7th in the world for economic resources of natural graphite. 

“The world's path to reaching Net Zero runs through the resources sector. The resources sector will provide for our future energy security, and it's clear that reaching Net Zero will require more mining, not less. I see it being nothing short of a national mission to ensure our critical minerals are mined to meet domestic and international demand, as well as being processed here in Australia.

“The entire world is seeking access to our critical minerals and rare earths, but at the same time, they are also seeking alternatives closer to home. Australia needs to embrace this opportunity, promoting our reputation as a reliable, stable and ethical supplier of resources.”

A transcript of Minister King’s full address can be seen below.

TRANSCRIPT 

Hon Madeleine King MP, Minister for Resources, Australian Government 

Australian Government Ministerial Address at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) 

Wednesday 1 November, 8:15am 

I too would like to begin today by paying my respects to the traditional custodians on which this event is taking place the Gadigal people of Eora nation and pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and I extend that respect to the First Nations people in the audience today and I thank Florence Drummond of the IWIMRA had some very thoughtful remarks and that data you've collected is I think very important for the industry here today but also for Governments, so no doubt we'll try and speak to you a bit later about what you've learned and seen. It's a remarkable thing the participation of Indigenous women in the resources sector and it's a very important story and something we need to keep working on so that there is a safe space to continue to work so that we have that ongoing and really important and active engagement with Indigenous communities in an industry whose wealth and prosperity is based off the land of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. 

So hello and good morning and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you all today and congratulations, of course, on 10 years of the International Mining and Resources Conference, it really is quite an event. It brings together an incredible number of local and international participants of significant importance, including representatives from government, peak bodies and resource companies, large and small. I'll take the opportunity to acknowledge the Minister for Mines from Peru who's here today and thank you so much for your remarks last night at the Australia-Latin America's Business Chamber Night.

And of course, this conference is also a great opportunity to get an understanding of the states of the resources industry, particularly at the global level, given all the international exhibits here. Australia's resources sector is a national success story, of course, it's also an international success story. Australia’s resources industry is a powerhouse of the economy and is playing a key role in the global energy transition. Mining underpins our standard of living, providing 75% of Australian exports and almost 15% of our gross domestic product. Australia's resources and energy export earnings reaped a record $460 billion in the most recent financial year. Iron ore remains Australia's largest quantity export and Australia supplies about half of the world's iron ore.

The resources sector of Australia kept the nation's finances in the black during the global financial crisis and also the more recent global COVID pandemic. Taxes from our resources industry builds roads and builds hospitals. Iron ore, gas and coal pay for our schools and for our defence forces. Our gas and coal provide energy security for our trading partners, and energy security is an absolutely essential element to regional stability. The resources sector has a highly skilled and highly paid workforce employing more than 300,000 workers right across this country. And First Nations people make up a greater share of this workforce than in any other sector. First Nations land holders and communities are partners in mining, and they enjoy benefits in the form of both royalties and infrastructure. But of course, the sector can always do more. Genuine engagement, partnerships and collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is absolutely essential. This includes not just providing local recruitment, but also training and education, as well as dedicated procurement programs and authentic business partnerships.

Through engagement with First Nations people the resources sector can set an example of partnerships that can benefit all Australians. This will include outcomes for First Nations Communities and support targets and outcomes of Australia’s national agreement on Closing the Gap. The resources sector is key to Australia and indeed the world meeting its Net Zero Commitments and our shared emissions reduction goals. The world's path to reaching Net Zero runs through the resources sector. The resources sector will provide for our future energy security, and it's clear that reaching Net Zero will require more mining, not less. 

This will mean more exploration, more investment, and more innovation. As well as our raw resources, the major one which Australia can further contribute to lowering emissions just through our world leading mining equipment, equipment, technology and services sector. Australia is a market leader in METS with global companies and other nations regarding Australia as a centre of mining innovation, of course of the expo behind us that is there for us all to see, 30 of the top 100 METS companies in the world are based here in Australia and I know there are many METS representatives here today, including right behind here in the METS Ignited and Austmine.

Australia has been working with local and international suppliers and miners, research organisations and capital providers to advance Australia’s METS sector. And we are at the forefront of some of the sectors most important developments. This includes remote operating vehicles, horizontal drilling, robotics and automation ecosystems, airborne exploration technologies and mineral flotation. Australia meets to provide mining technology which leads to productivity gains to miners and also safety gains. Demand also remains strong for more safety related training systems and environmental management and waste solutions. These are areas where Australia is a global leader. 

Australia is, of course also a leader in the reserves of critical mineral. Last week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and I were visted the United States to work to strengthen our critical minerals and resources sectors and secure their place as a new pillar of our alliance. The Prime Minister held discussions with President Biden about Australia's role as a source of the processed critical minerals the US will increasingly need for its defence and manufacturing industries and as it decarbonises its economy. I co-chaired the first meeting in Australia and United States task force for critical minerals with our American counterparts. We also co-hosted a critical minerals industry round table with US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. Very importantly, our Australian Prime Minister attended and participated in that round table demonstrating the commitment at the very highest levels of the Australian Government to actively developing our critical minerals and rare earth industry. I led discussions on the role of Australia can play in providing the resources the US and the world will increasingly need for its defence and manufacturing industries and as it decarbonises its economy. It's fair to say that the industry roundtable in Washington was very well received by all present. As with the announcement by the Prime Minister and myself of a $2 billion expansion in critical minerals financing. Last week's historic talks put Australia's critical minerals and resources industry at the heart of U.S. policy making and just a few weeks before my US visit, I travelled to Berlin, France, Brussels and London, where the ministers and policymakers are all seeking to access Australia's critical minerals and rare earths. Rare earth elements will be essential to a great deal of the clean energy transition that we need to achieve over the coming decades. These minerals are crucial for low emission technologies such as electric vehicles, batteries, solar panels and wind turbines, and Australia has vast reserves of critical minerals and rare earth elements.

Our nation is the world's largest leading producer of unprocessed lithium and we produce most of the world's hard rock lithium, with exports forecast to reach $16 billion this year. We’re the world's third largest cobalt exporter and the world's fourth largest exporter of rare earths, I might also add that Australia ranked 7th in the world for economic resources of natural graphite. 

I see it being nothing short of a national mission to ensure our critical minerals are mined to meet domestic and international demand, as well-being processed here in Australia. And our work recently with European nations and just last week in Washington with President Biden and his team and the doubling of the critical mineral facility are each important steps this Government is taking to progress that all important mission. The entire world is seeking access to our critical minerals and rare earths, but at the same time, they are also seeking alternatives closer to home. Australia needs to embrace this opportunity, promoting our reputation as a reliable, stable and ethical supplier of resources and with this goal in mind I released our Critical Minerals Strategy in June with the aim to establish Australia as a global producer of raw and process critical minerals by 2030, supporting diverse, resilient and sustainable supply chains. 

Australia currently lists 26 critical minerals as essential to our technologies, economy and national security. Many of these are vulnerable to supply chain disruption and we have consulted widely and called for submissions to update that list and that list will be finalised at the end of the year. 

The critical minerals need to be combined with our abundant traditional commodities like copper and nickel to produce the products the world needs to be carbonise. Australia's iron ore and bauxite are vital inputs to the steel and aluminium industry are needed to build the EV factories and infrastructure of a decarbonised global economy. Steel is also the main material used in delivering the renewable energy sources of solar, tidal, geo-thermal and wind. It also plays a key role in supporting and enabling infrastructure like transmission networks. To make steel at scale you still need to buy iron ore and metallurgical coal, which our nation has both in abundance. About half of our coal exports are off this time, helping our trading partners build essential infrastructure, including for renewable energy. Australia's resources will contribute to realising our own green energy aspirations and those of our regional neighbours. 

And importantly, natural gas is critical to support security and reliability of our electricity grid during the transition to net zero. Gas is needed to support renewable power generation in the national electricity market. Gas will also be needed to ensure the processing and refining of critical minerals and railroads required for green energy technology. Australia's gas resources will also continue to be a reliable source of energy security for our trading partners for a long time to come.  Australia's one of the world's largest liquefied natural gas exporters. Nations like Japan and South Korea plan to use our gas to support their own clean energy transformations. Australia will achieve its net zero objectives while ensuring that our gas industry continues to meet our domestic industry and our export needs. Both AEMO and the ACCC expect that Australia's future domestic gas needs will not be met through existing sources of supply so we need to promote exploration and development in the gas sector and welcome more investment from our international partners. Companies in the oil and gas sector are already showing leadership in the deployment of oil mission technologies and our safeguard mechanism will further encourage this and the Australian Government is right now developing our future gas strategy to balance the needs of consumers, industry and the energy transition underway within our region. The strategy will support Australia's energy system to become cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable. And of course, importantly, carbon capture and storage will play an important role in meeting our net zero targets, as well as securing ongoing domestic energy supply. 

The message I want to leave you all with is how important the traditional resources sector of Australia is to our economy and therefore to the world. But it's also of course the emerging and critical minerals and rare minerals sector that is very important to us, and as I said before, it's the national mission of this Government to make sure we develop that industry responsibly for the benefit of Australia and the Australian community, Australian workers, but also of our regional neighbours. 

I see the role of our METS sector and the resources sector more widely to work with mining sectors of other countries to make sure we achieve the goal of decarbonising our respective economies because the demand is so great that cooperation and collaboration among many nations will be essential to help the world decarbonise and ensure a health planet for the future.

Thank you all very much.

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