Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has stressed the need for Australia to move along the critical minerals value chain to compete in global export markets, continuing the government’s commitment to boosting domestic manufacturing.
Responding to questions following his National Press Club address on Wednesday, the Prime Minister expressed the need to process Australia’s vast lithium deposits domestically.
“Australia very much has a direct interest in making more things here and improving our sovereign capability,” he said.
“Rare earths and critical minerals are part of the National Reconstruction Fund. It’s about taking those things here, providing financing for Australian-based businesses to invest and value-add here.
“Why aren’t we making more batteries here, we have almost half of the world’s lithium deposits.”
Consultation on national strategies for critical minerals and battery manufacturing is currently underway. While half of the world’s lithium output is produced by Australia, this is almost entirely from Western Australia.
The Prime Minister noted that he was swamped by introductions from lithium companies during a reception held in Port Hedland, Western Australia on Monday.
“I’ve been there many times, but 20 years ago, no one would have been coming up to you and saying, ‘Hi, I’m a lithium company’, they were queuing up. Lithium has an extraordinary capacity. We need to not just dig it up,” he said.
“I want to make sure that we use the lithium and nickel and other products that we have to make batteries here. That’s part of the vision of protecting our national economy going forward.
“I think we should be making so many more things here in order to protect national sovereignty.”
When asked about the potential for increased Chinese critical minerals project investment in Australia, the Prime Minister said “we will deal with issues of foreign investment according to the merits of any proposal”. However, he added that his starting position will be to consider “Australia’s sovereign capabilities and being protected”.
Most of the world’s downstream critical minerals processing takes place in China, including three quarters of lithium-ion battery production.
The first facility in Australia to produce battery grade lithium hydroxide is a joint venture between Shenzhen-listed Tianqi Lithium and ASX-listed miner IGO.
Beyond the critical minerals sector, the Prime Minister used his speech to call for the production of other value-added products. He said the government’s focus for the year was on “providing confidence, stability, and security”.
“Energy Security is national security. Australia can be a renewable energy superpower powering our industries here at home to produce low emission products like green steel and green aluminum and green ammonia, and exporting clean energy, green hydrogen, critical minerals, and value-added products,” the Prime Minister said.
Exporting these products will help tackle global energy security challenges and strengthen the national economy “if we get it right”, he said.
“Already one in four Australian jobs that are related to international trade and jobs in export industries pay above the national average income. We can create more of these jobs.”
“We can grow our economy by diversifying our exports moving up the global supply chain and revitalising local manufacturing, making our economy more resilient and our nation more secure.”
To this end, the Prime Minister said the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund would do more than help “produce things at short notice in times of crisis”, as was needed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but support “national security through economic sovereignty, and the capacity to stand on our own two feet”.
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