We have a fantastic resources industry in this nation, a lot of it in Western Australia, and we have huge opportunities in the future in critical minerals and rare earths, as Senator O'Sullivan outlined.
Senator O'SULLIVAN (Western Australia) (14:09):
My question is to the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Senator Canavan. Can the minister outline how the Liberal-National government is building resilience by supporting the development of Australia's critical-mineral and rare-earth industries, and what would this mean for my home state of Western Australia?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:09):
I thank Senator O'Sullivan for his question and I recognise his strong support of the mining industry, particularly in his great state of Western Australia. We have a fantastic resources industry in this nation, a lot of it in Western Australia, and we have huge opportunities in the future in critical minerals and rare earths, as Senator O'Sullivan outlined. What are critical minerals? They are the minerals that are essential to the development of the modern economy. They are in many of the things that we feel and touch almost every day and that are changing our lives almost every day. Every smartphone has an enormous number of critical minerals, a lot of defence technologies have them, and renewable energy, too, has lots of rare earths and critical minerals. So, if you do not support the mining industry, you are not supporting a modern economy. If you do not support the mining industry, you do not support renewable energy.
What are we doing, in light of this massive opportunity for our nation? Earlier this year the Minister for Trade and Investment, Minister Birmingham, and I released the government's strategy to develop our critical-minerals industry. It is focused around three areas. We are building the infrastructure we need to connect up to some of these new mining opportunities, which are often away from other economic developments or other economic activity. We are building roads, like Karratha-Tom Price Road, to open up opportunities in Senator O'Sullivan's part of the world, as well as lots of other investment. We are investing in innovation. We have put forward $25 million to establish a future batteries cooperative research centre, which will particularly look at the minerals in the battery sector—lithium, nickel and cobalt—and will support not just the development of the mining opportunities in those but also the downstream value-adding opportunities for Australia. We are also seeking to attract investment in this sector. We know that that is how to build our resources sector, to remain open to investment and attract those dollars so that we can get jobs going in our country.
Senator O'Sullivan, a supplementary question?
Senator O'SULLIVAN (Western Australia) (14:12):
Australia holds some of the world's richest stocks of critical minerals and rare earths. What is the export potential of Australia's critical minerals and rare earths?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:12):
As I was saying, we are blessed with rich deposits of these minerals. We are already the world's largest lithium producer—in fact, we've trebled production in eight years, which is remarkable growth, in an industry largely located in Senator O'Sullivan's home state. We are the second-largest producer of rare earths in the world and we have lots of cobalt. We haven't produced much yet, but we have lots of it here, and there is increased demand for it. We are probably one of the countries with the richest diversity of these types of minerals. The United States government has identified 35 different minerals that are critical to their economy. We are in the top five for world production of 14 of those. That fact has led to discussions with the US administration. In the last month, the Prime Minister has held discussions about that with the President. We have agreed to have a high-level meeting in the United States next month to discuss a joint strategy on how we can work together to guarantee the supply of these minerals and to help our two economies to grow and develop.
Senator O'Sullivan, a final supplementary question?
Senator O'SULLIVAN (Western Australia) (14:13):
How important are critical minerals and rare earths to our modern economy?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:13):
As I was saying briefly in my answer to the first question, these types of minerals are basically in everything. In every smartphone there are around 25 different minerals and metals. It is more metallurgically complex than a coal-fired power station, for example, which has 10 or 11 different minerals and metals in it. Solar panels have about 16 different minerals and metals in them, and wind turbines have enormous quantities of rare earths. So, you cannot build these things without the development of these minerals. While we take for granted the ease of access to and convenience of these modern technologies, they all get their start with people who like to wear bright colours who are outdoors digging up stuff out of the ground so that we can enjoy the modern life that we have.