Australia Pivots to ‘First-Call’ Global Mineral Supplier Status

By Mark Story | More Articles by Mark Story

The federal government plans to play a critical role in the development of a number sectors over the next 10 years. While the Resources Technology and Critical Minerals Processing (RTCMP) road map was released 4March, road maps for the development of other sectors will also be rolled out.

Commenting on the 10-year plan, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he expects this series of individual road maps to be critical to the nation’s economic rebuild in the wake of Covid-19. “Our Modern Manufacturing Initiative (MMI) will help position Australia not just as a global leader in the resources sector, but also in the manufacturing of the technology used, as well as turning the raw materials into value-added products,” Morrison stated.

What the MMI funding initiative should clearly highlight, explains Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt is the government’s commitment to bringing on new supplies of critical minerals and developing this emerging sector to meet growing global demand.

Pitt expects the RTCMP roadmap to identify how Australia can develop its resources technology to maximise efficiencies within this high-performing sector. “Our focus on resource technology will also support the development of new ideas to improve mine productivity, process efficiency, and safety,” he said.


Good but unambitious

Chris Gibbs Stewart, CEO with Austmine, a leading industry body for the Mining Equipment, Technology and Services sector, is encouraged by government plans to capitalise on Australia’s access to resources – especially rare earth metals like lithium – through its MMI funding initiative.

The MMI initiative Morrison referred to is a $1.3 billion fund to help manufacturers increase production, commercialise products and access global supply chains. While it’s commendable for the government to want to support any lithium or other technology metals miners are willing to put forward, Gibbs Stewart questions how well its road map has been thought out.

Given that Australia is already well on the way to becoming a global hub in innovative minerals processing, she’s concerned that the modern manufacturing initiative outlined by the government could be decidedly unambitious. What this may indicate, suggests Gibbs Stewart, is that those responsible for developing the policy framework for the MMI initiative may not be close enough to the minerals processing industry to understand just how far it’s come in recent years.


Global mineral supplier

The MMI initiative received an immediate thumbs up from the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) which believes the RTCMP road map will help solidify Australia as a first-call global mineral supplier. “Putting Team Australia on the global critical minerals map will help attract the investment and technology necessary to meet the growing needs of global supply chains for critical and other minerals for high value products like batteries, solar cells and other innovative and early-stage technologies,” the MCA stated.

Equally encouraged by the government’s MMI initiative, CEO for the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) Steve Knott believes critical minerals have significant employment potential. For example, Department of Industry data shows there are more than 20 critical minerals projects that are either already committed or advanced in planning in the major project pipeline.

Based on AMMA numbers, these projects will create at least 2700 new jobs over the next five years. Then, adds Knott, there are an additional 50-plus prospective projects less advanced in the pipeline that could see jobs figure triple once opportunities are converted to committed investment.


Dollar-for-dollar funding

Interested companies had until 1 April to apply for government funding earmarked specifically for the RTCMP road map. While any resources company, regardless of size, had the opportunity to apply for funding within the broader MMI Initiative, Gibbs Stewart suspects successful applicants are most likely to be unlisted SMEs with turnover under $100 million annually – many of whom comprise her organisation’s members.

“Given the emphasis on supply chain innovation, it is companies that can demonstrate initiatives in scaling up production, commercialising products, and tapping into global supply chains that are likely to receive funding first,” Gibbs Stewart said.

She also expects companies in the rare earth, and especially lithium, space to be highly favoured with this current round of funding. But given the grant process aims to fund efficient minerals extraction and processing, Gibbs Stewart suspects miners working within non-rare earth resources are also likely to receive funding, including iron ore and copper.

“A lot of the mining equipment, technology and services sector that’s tapping into this grant are already working in the iron ore and copper space,” said Gibbs Stewart. “Interestingly though, our recent surveys suggest more and more mining companies are also working in the critical minerals space.”

Successful applicants within the grants process will receive dollar-for-dollar funding, and Gibbs Stewart expects grants to range from $4 million up to $40 million. Given the tight turnaround for grant submissions, she’s expecting funding announcements to be made soon.

About Mark Story

A former editor, columnist, and chief reporter on business and financial publications across NZ, Australia, Hong Kong and the US, Mark operates Prime Strategy Media. He divides his time between share market commentary and analysis, B2B, financial, mainstream media, and high level content and strategy for financial institutions.

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