The demand for our minerals continues to grow enormously, thanks to modern products. There are so many different minerals that make up a smartphone, renewable energy et cetera.
Senator O'SULLIVAN (Western Australia) (14:52):
My question is for the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Senator Canavan. Can the minister update the Senate on how the Liberal-National government is addressing real issues of importance for Australia's ongoing economic opportunities and security, including the recent progress to support further development of Australia's critical minerals industry?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (14:53):
The Australian government has a plan to continue to grow and develop our fantastic resources industry in this country. I recognise Senator O'Sullivan's strong support for that industry, especially in his home state of Western Australia. The demand for our minerals continues to grow enormously, thanks to modern products. There are so many different minerals that make up a smartphone, renewable energy et cetera.
I also want to recognise the work that Senator Reynolds has done in this space over many years to highlight the opportunities in her home state of Western Australia. Her work, along with that of many others, culminated earlier this year with the release of the government's Critical Minerals Strategy. I launched that with Minister Birmingham. That is focusing on the three Is to grow jobs in this sector in Australia. We are focused on innovation. We are putting aside $25 million to invest in a new CRC for the future battery industry to grow and develop that sector of our economy. We are focused on infrastructure, building new roads, especially in northern Australia, to connect up opportunities for critical minerals and to back projects like the Sheffield Resources mineral sands project, which is being backed by the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. We are also focused on growing our investment links throughout the world to attract investment that will create jobs here in Australia through this process. That has taken a further step in the last few weeks with progress on the joint dialogue on critical minerals between Australia and the US.
Last week I travelled to the US to participate in the first of those dialogue meetings. The United States has developed a list of 35 critical minerals—critical to its economy. We can produce 14 of those very easily. We are in extensive discussions with the US about what we can do to help meet their needs but also attract investment to Australia. While I was there, Geoscience Australia and the United States Geological Survey signed a project agreement to work together mapping the demand and filling the supply. We've committed to have further discussions next February between our two governments on how we can both meet our needs to support the economy. (Time expired)
Senator O'Sullivan, a supplementary question?
Senator O'SULLIVAN (Western Australia) (14:55):
Thank you, Minister. Further to that, can you please explain the potential that exists for the development of critical minerals in Australia, particularly in my home state of Western Australia?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (14:55):
The real opportunity in Western Australia, in particular, is rare earths. We are the second-largest producer of rare earths in the world, and all of that production at this stage is located in Western Australia, in Senator O'Sullivan's home state.
The thing with rare earths is: they are not that rare. Many of them are actually quite abundant in our earth's crust—like caesium, which is the 25th most abundant mineral in our earth's crust. But what is rare, of course, is finding them in concentrations that can be developed commercially—and Western Australia has those opportunities.
There are about 10 to 20 grams of rare earths in every mobile phone. If you have your mobile phone with you today, when it vibrates that's because of neodymium and dysprosium. We produce those minerals. Companies like Lynas have exciting plans to expand their production, including by developing a separation facility in the United States, which we discussed last week when we were there. Northern Minerals, further north in Western Australia, have also got exciting plans to expand their pilot plant—which we fully back as the Australian government.
Senator O'Sullivan, a final supplementary question?
Senator O'SULLIVAN (Western Australia) (14:56):
How is the Liberal and National government continuing to support the critical minerals sector and the thousands of jobs this industry will create?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (14:56):
Before I left for the United States, I announced with Senator Birmingham further developments in our critical minerals strategy. We have committed to establish a critical minerals facilitation office. That will be up and running by 1 January next year. It will help facilitate and attract investment from around the world. We put forward some extra funding for further research, particularly on identifying the availability of rare earths or other minerals that we might not have looked at before, including in things like tailings dams. There are a lot of minerals in tailings dams that we haven't processed before. Products like cobalt, which is a by-product often of nickel production, are in great demand now for electric vehicles. So we are going to look again at what exists and what can be processed.
We also announced that we are opening Export Finance Australia for investment in critical minerals, including through partnerships and joint funding with the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. That is to back those opportunities in Western Australia and around the country that Senator O'Sullivan asked about earlier today. Those investments will create jobs as well as help secure the minerals sector for the modern economy. (Time expired)