Private Members’ Business – Critical Minerals Strategy

Monday, 7 November 2022

Mr PITT: I move:

That this House:

(1)notes that the previous Government:

   (a)had the foresight to implement Australia’s first ever Critical Minerals Strategy in 2019;

   (b)provided billions in funding to support the development of Australia’s critical minerals sector since 2019;

   (c)provided a $1.25 billion loan in April 2022 through the Critical Minerals Facility to Australian company Iluka Resources to develop Australia’s first integrated rare earths refinery in Western Australia;

   (d)committed $200 million in the 2022-23 budget to develop early and mid-stage critical minerals projects as part of the Critical Minerals Accelerator Initiative funded under the Regional Accelerator Initiative; and

   (e)committed $50.5 million in the 2022-23 budget to the Critical Minerals Research and Development Centre;

(2)further notes that the Government is cutting critical minerals funding:

   (a)by $100 million under the Critical Minerals Development Program, formerly known as the Critical Minerals Accelerator Initiative; and

   (b)to the $50.5 million Critical Minerals Research and Development Centre, now rebranded as a ‘hub’, by pushing funding out over four years instead of three years; and

(3)calls on the Government to:

   (a)explain why it believes renaming an existing program and cutting its funding makes it a ‘new initiative’ as described by the Prime Minister;

   (b)explain why it is undermining its own rush towards an 82 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 by cutting investment in Australia’s critical minerals, which are vital to the creation of technologies like solar panels, wind turbines and batteries; and

   (c)reverse their cuts to the Critical Minerals Accelerator Initiative and the Critical Minerals Research and Development Centre.

It was the coalition government that had the foresight to establish Australia’s first critical minerals strategy in 2019. That was a strategy that has been updated and which has been incredibly important to the development of critical minerals industry in Australia. As I know you know, Madam Deputy Speaker Sharkie, nothing is more important than local politics.

For the people of my electorate, how important are critical minerals to their everyday lives? They are used in ventilators, medical equipment, defence equipment, fighter aircraft, submarines, ships. But they are also used in one of Australia’s oldest foundries, the Bundaberg foundry in Bundaberg, which has been established for more than 100 years. We put a request out to the local general manager, Enio Troiani, better known as ‘ET’—for obvious reasons—to see exactly what it might be that they use in the Bundaberg foundry for which the critical minerals strategy would apply. If you look at the list of critical minerals—antimony, beryllium , bismuth, chromium, cobalt, gallium, germanium, graphite, hafnium, helium, indium, lithium, magnesium, manganese, neodymium, platinum groups, rare earth elements, rhenium, scandium, tantalum, titanium—all of the ums, I have to say—they are all being utilised in a foundry which has been around for more than a century, which has trained literally thousands of local people, in particular, apprentices. I have been into the foundry any number of times. It is an incredibly important piece of industrial infrastructure for this country. With a 64 cent exchange rate, they are hanging on but, with massive increases in energy costs coming, whether that is for gas or electricity, their viability will once again be on the line.

In critical minerals, what was it that we did as a coalition government? We made significant funding commitments. But what do we see from Labor in their budget? They cut those commitments. This is an area where there is an opportunity for Australia for growth, an incredible opportunity. It could potentially be a sector worth more than $40 billion for this country. That’s why we made significant commitments when we were in government. But what we have seen is Labor go and grab it, rebrand it, call it something else but also drop $50 million from the $100 million initiative; they have halved the initiative. This makes a real difference.

For those who are not well informed about the critical minerals area, what we need to keep in mind is that there is one significant player and that is China. More than 80 per cent of all manufacturing occurs in China. They are the buyer. If you are looking to find other opportunities for your product around the world, guess what? When there is a buyer monopoly, guess who stops buying your product?

This is an incredibly challenging and difficult area in which to operate. That is why the coalition government committed some $2 billion in terms of facilities. That’s why we made announcements like the $200 million to the Critical Minerals Accelerator Initiative; the $2 billion Regional Accelerator Program, which would contribute another $200 million to that; and $50 million towards establishing the virtual National Critical Minerals Research and Development Centre. The collaboration stream of the Modern Manufacturing Initiative invested almost $250 million in four critical-minerals projects. These are projects and opportunities for which you need to build prototypes, you need proof of concept and you need to ensure that the IP that you have will work.

Currently, as I said, there is a monopoly player in China, who currently controls most of the market. This is not in anyone’s interest in terms of economies. It’s in no-one’s interest in terms of our national security. Look at where these critical elements and rare-earth minerals go. They go into things which are for the defence of our nation and into things which are for medical outcomes. It is really important that we continue to maintain in Australia opportunities for critical-minerals producers, not only to mine them.

We’ve got to keep in mind it’s a mine. It’s not different to a coalmine. It’s not different to anything; it’s still a mine. It still uses trucks, it still uses diesel, it still uses workers, it still uses electricity and it still uses sources of energy, just like every other mine. You may have come across school teachers, for example, who are teaching our kids that there’s good mining and bad mining. There’s no good mining and bad mining; there’s just mining. And we should be out there supporting the sector 100 per cent.

We’ve seen the new government cutting support for critical minerals at a time when a burgeoning industry is trying to establish itself in a monopoly market. So it is very important that we maintain this strategy. It is incredibly important that we continue to build downstream opportunities. I know this is a big deal for the member for O’Connor because it means jobs in his electorate—there are significant announcements in those areas—on which the local people rely. The idea of those opposite to continue to cut funding to this sector, which is trying to grow, is the wrong decision. It’s not in our national interest, and they should rethink it.

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