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‘Without the right policies, we risk missing out on this generational opportunity’

Australia’s critical minerals industry requires more than just ambition and reliance on Australia’s historical “lucky country” success rate, argues one BigLaw firm.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 08 August 2023 Big Law
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If provided with increased government support, the Australian critical minerals industry can flourish. However, that industry will require more than just ambition and reliance on Australia’s historical “lucky country” success rate if it is to achieve the objectives of the Queensland and federal government’s critical mineral strategies.

That is the view of DLA Piper partner Alexander Samson, who said: “Government, industry and the community recognise that Australia must harness the growth of the critical mineral industry in the national interest and as part of Australia’s contribution to global efforts to decarbonise, so it’s important that we get the policy settings right.”

“Without the right policies, we risk missing out on this generational opportunity to leverage our globally significant endowment of critical minerals and reposition Australia in the global critical minerals value chain,” he warned.


“Getting that right will significantly benefit the Australian economy over the long term.”

The energy transition, and its impact upon legal practitioners, has been covered extensively by Lawyers Weekly in recent times. Renewables, it is clear, are “here to stay” in law.

According to numerous senior lawyers, Australia’s energy sector is “undergoing momentous legal change” that practitioners will have to be on top of (here and here). Also, earlier this year, Lawyers Weekly reported what lawyers need to know about clean energy and decarbonisation.

Speaking about the recently launched Queensland Critical Minerals Strategy, Mr Samson said that it provides some good incentives to support the growth of the Queensland industry, such as the development of critical mineral zones and funding through the $100 million Critical Minerals and Battery Technology Fund.

However, he added, it lacks the boldness industry participants were seeking.

“To ensure Australian critical minerals projects remain competitive and viable, we think an increase in Australian government support is required to ensure greenfields projects can undertake the necessary development work to establish feasibility, and to satisfy the capital requirements of advanced development and operating projects [which] are facing high capex and opex costs (further impacted by the current interest rate environment),” he opined.

“Ultimately, growing the industry, whether it is upstream extraction or downstream mineral processing within Australia, requires a substantial increase in foreign investment and collaboration, as domestic government funding programs, while heading in the right direction, are not currently sufficient to ensure the feasibility of Australian critical minerals projects.

“The US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is widely seen as a potential mechanism to provide further support to Australia’s critical minerals industry.

“We are actively helping clients explore structures that seek to enable them to access IRA funding and to navigate the myriad of funding available through the various US government departments, which is complex.”

Even with the right funding, Australia will never be the most cost-competitive jurisdiction, Mr Samson reflected.

“The existence of an ESG positive pit-to-end product, such as an electric vehicle containing only inputs that have been mined, refined and manufactured in processes and jurisdictions that champion ESG values, is yet to come to market,” he said.

“However, we are working with international clients that believe this is where the market is headed and are seeking to invest in Australia now in order to establish a foothold in access to minerals that will satisfy the expected premium end of their product offering in the supply chain.

“Ultimately, attracting investment in both upstream and downstream projects will require a multifaceted approach on policy and bold ambition.”

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