Australia can become an “international powerhouse” in the production of critical minerals, with an imminent supply-chain deal with the US and government establishing a new facilitation office.
Resources minister Matt Canavan announced this week the creation of the Critical Minerals Facilitation Office which will work with all levels of government, industry and the science and research sectors to develop Australia’s critical minerals resources and downstream industries.
Former Treasury and PM&C senior official Jessica Robinson will lead the new office and will hold a series of roundtable meetings around the country in the coming months to promote it and inform its strategy.
Critical minerals are used in the manufacture of smartphones, computer chips, solar panels and electric vehicles and are critical in defence industries. Australia is one of the top five producers of critical minerals, and the second largest producer of rare earths.
The federal government is looking to increase a focus on critical minerals to mitigate the risk of having access restricted due to geopolitical tensions. It has worked closely with the US on the issue to reduce reliance on China.
The issue was raised during meetings between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and US President Donald Trump in September, with a partnership finalised in November.
Geoscience Australia and the United States Geological Survey signed the agreement, under the two countries develop a pathway to supply arrangements and work closely on understanding each other’s geological resource potential.
The agreement meant Australia was set to play a more prominent role in the global supply of critical minerals, Senator Canavan said.
“We have the potential to become an international powerhouse in the supply of critical minerals with increasing demand from rising use of electric cars, renewable energy and smartphones,” he said.
“Australia has abundant reserves of critical minerals and rare earths and the government is committed to developing world-leading projects which improve diversity of supply in the global markets.”
The Critical Minerals Facilitation Office will be the government’s central coordination point to grow the sector and to position Australia as a secure and reliable supplier.
“The increasing global demand for a secure supply of these minerals presents an economic opportunity for Australia. This is because Australia has world-leading deposits of many critical minerals, including rare earths. But we are yet to develop the industry at a large scale,” Ms Robinson said.
“The Office is here to position Australia globally as a secure and reliable supplier of critical minerals. We are the Australian government’s central coordination point for industry, investors and academia. You can think of us as the primary source of information on Australian critical minerals policy and projects.
“I want to join all the different parts of the sector together, from research and development in universities, to pilot and full-scale projects on the ground, to promoting business opportunities in supply chains both here in Australia and overseas.”
Senior officials will again meet in Washington next month to finalise a partnership on developing critical minerals supply chains. Australia is also working on similar deals with Japan, India and Europe.