WA critical minerals program gets federal funds before guidelines complete

Brandon How

Amid a slew of resource projects announced for Western Australia on Tuesday, the Prime Minister has committed almost $8 million to a critical minerals accelerator initiative, despite consultations over the design of the program not having been completed.

Under the first round of the initiative, the government will allocate $4 million to Global Advanced Metals for a tantalum and tin recovery plant in Greenbushes in the southwest of the state, while Mineral Commodities will be get $3.94 million for an integrated graphite ore-to-anodes business in the south of the state.

Graphite ore

The $200 million program was announced in the federal budget 2022-23 over five years. However, consultation on expected benefits and challenges of the program is still open for submissions until May 6. And currently only a draft version of the grant guidelines has been publicly released.

Resources Minister Keith Pitt clarified that the grants these grants were awarded following several years of engagement with industry.

“The first tranche was undertaken as a closed, competitive process following a number of years of engagement and consultation with the industry through agencies including the Critical Minerals Facilitation Office that provided a good understanding of key early and mid-stage projects,” Minister Pitt said.

“After this initial funding round, the program will be opened in perpetuity until the fund is fully allocated, allowing projects to seek targeted support when they most need it.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison described these projects as strategically critical for the nation and said they would help secure jobs and important industrial supply chains.

“Securing Western Australia’s economy is absolutely critical to locking in stronger future for Australia and my Government will continue to back the resource, mining, mineral and energy sector in WA by creating more jobs and cutting red tape,” the Prime Minister said.

This follows an announcement that a $1.25 billion loan would be made to Iluka Resources for Australia’s first integrated rare earths refinery, also located in Western Australia. This was made under the government’s $2 billion Critical Mineral Facility being run through Export Finance Australia.

Also announced today, is $140 million for two Western Australian projects under the $464 million Clean Hydrogen Hubs Industrial Hubs program. The maximum grant of $70 million was made to BP Australia for their H2Kwinana Clean Hydrogen Industrial Hub, and to the state government’s Pilbara Hydrogen Hub. The federal government also estimates these projects will create more than 3,600 jobs and attract more than $410 million of additional investment.

Further, commitments of up to $3 million were made to two projects under the program’s Design and Development stream.

Federal support, collectively worth $67 million, for two Western Australian carbon capture and storage projects and investigation into a potential storage site was also announced. This comes out of the $250 million set aside in the federal budget 2021-22.

The Prime Minister said that the investments announced today would boost development of the state’s and Australia’s critical minerals and clean hydrogen industries as well as reaching the federal target of becoming a clean hydrogen exporter by 2030.

The Western Australian Minister for the Hydrogen industry Alannah MacTiernan welcomed the support from the federal government.

“It is great to have Federal Liberal and Labor support for our green hydrogen projects in Western Australia. This $140 million commitment will supercharge our renewable hydrogen industry, helping to stimulate local demand for hydrogen to get production projects get off the ground,” Minister MacTiernan said.

Queensland’s Minister for Resources Scott Stewart criticised the federal government’s focus on the Western Australian resource sector as a “slap in the face for Queensland’s resources industry”.

“Scott Morrison has said WA was his government’s partner of choice for critical minerals. This is a disgrace and short-sighted,” Minister Stewart said.

“The North West Minerals Province has world class deposits of new economy minerals the world is looking for. You would think having the Liberal National Party finally realise that new economy minerals are a golden opportunity for Australia would be a good thing but it’s all just a sham to secure votes in WA.

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to include additional comment from the Minister for Resources Keith Pitt.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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