Batteries ‘best economic opportunity for Australia in a century’

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The chair of electric vehicle giant Tesla, Robyn Denholm, says the batteries in her company’s popular cars represent the biggest economic opportunity for the nation in 100 years, calling for public-private partnerships to bring the processing of Australian critical minerals onshore.

Her call has been supported by the new federal government, which plans to pump billions into clean energy component manufacturing and develop national strategies for battery production and electric vehicles.

Robyn Denholm
Tesla chair Robyn Denholm also chairs the new Technology Council of Australia

Speaking at a Canberra electronic vehicle (EV) summit on Friday, Ms Denholm said the batteries powering zero emission cars and trucks represent “the biggest and best economic opportunity for Australia in a century”.

The reason is simple, Ms Denholm said: Australia possesses all the materials needed to build an EV battery and the pedigree to extract them at a world-leading rate.

“There aren’t many other countries in the world that actually do [have the materials],” she told the summit.

“And we have a core competency in the first area, which is mining. Whether it’s lithium or copper or manganese or any of the different elements that go into battery, we know how to do that.”

Australia is already doing the mining part – Ms Denholm’s Tesla bought 70 per cent of its $1 billion worth of minerals from Australia – but there’s a massive opportunity to add more value to the process and gain a much bigger share of global giants’ spend.

“What happens is we dug the rocks out of the ground… and we sent them offshore to be refined, so no value-add. [Of] that billion dollars, [only] a fraction of that comes back to Australia.”

Ms Denholm said Australia must quickly move up the “food chain” of electric vehicles and batteries to take advantage of decarbonising economies around the world.

“That supply chain will start to be locked in for the next decade and for the decades after that pretty soon.

Ms Denholm welcomed the new federal government and its policy to pump up to $3 billion into clean energy opportunities, including component manufacturing and to establish a national battery strategy and manufacturing precinct in Queensland.

But industry needs to play a significant role too, the Tesla chair said.

“It needs to be public-private partnerships because we have the know-how [and] we have the technology. We just need the will to move forwards… It is a very real opportunity for Australia to actually participate in that and become an energy superpower.

Atlassian cofounder Mike Cannon Brookes, whose philanthropic organisation Boundless convened the EV summit, agreed the renewable energy shift is the “largest economic opportunity we’ve faced as a country”.

“It’s about exporting our cheap energy. We should have the cheapest energy in the world and we’re going to export it,” he said.

“We can talk about how we’re going to do that via a wire, we can talk about how we’re going to do that as hydrogen or some sort of material, but the category we leave out the most is basically higher valued exported goods.

“That [opportunity] comes from a very cheap cost of materials, that come from a cheap cost of energy, and that comes from using our national time, talent and treasure to go at that problem.”

Climate change minister Chris Bowen opened the EV Summit by launching consultations on a National Electric Vehicle Strategy which will include fuel efficiency standards. He also lamented the lost opportunity of processing raw materials offshore.

“Right now, we dig up all the minerals needed to make batteries – but we send most of it offshore for the work to be done elsewhere,” Mr Bowen told the summit.

“It’s a lost opportunity for jobs and investment when there are an estimated 35,000 jobs and $7 billion in value to be made in Australia from battery technology and industries across all sectors.”

A discussion paper for the national EV strategy will be released next month.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

  1. Digital Koolaid 2 years ago

    Thanks Robyn, but public-private partnerships are not what they seem, and they don’t do what is claimed. They look great from far away, but get up close and they are really a way of the private sector opening the tap on the tax base. If you think about it – there’s no chance of a partnership. The APS doesn’t understand commerce and can’t partner. The cash flow is a one-way street – from taxpayer to non-taxpayer (large corporations work very hard to minimise tax and some pay none at all). Your tax $$$ have no place in this. If it’s such a great money-making opportunity then private enterprise will rush toward it. It won’t be true that “Tesla bought 70 per cent of its $1 billion worth of minerals from Australia”. Australia isn’t a mining company. Tesla would have bought that stuff from private sector companies, often foreign-owned. This blurring of the line between public and private – to finance private profits – is a clever trick. We should not fall for it. Private companies are not “Australia” and they aren’t me. (Agree that Made in Australia batteries are a good idea. Made in Australia anything is a good idea. Make things.) Joe, EV is electric vehicle, not electronic – just saying.

    • Paddy 2 years ago

      A realistic assessment of PPP….these are structured to de-risk big business ventures and deliver unpaid wealth transfers from taxpayers to international business and Federal Government of Australia are happy to assist with minimal tax being paid on profits.
      As we have seen with a company, Accenture, that “receives” contracts worth tens of $millions every few months these are all processed through a low tax jurisdiction called Ireland….does Accenture pay any company tax in Australia where the service is delivered, where the contract is signed and Accenture has a permanent establishment here…….BUT we overlook the one single trifling factor phrased as a question ….do any ex employees of Big4 Chartered firms run the ATO….and do the Big4 provide tax structuring advice to these multinational companies….mmmmm just wondering because it is probably just coincidental that minimal tax is paid in Australia by these multinationals.

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