Legal development

Seizing the opportunities - Australian and Queensland critical minerals strategies

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    Key insights

    • In mid-2023, the Federal and Queensland Governments both released Critical Minerals Strategies.
    • Global demand for critical minerals is growing rapidly. The Strategies are key to positioning Australia as a renewable energy superpower, focussing on growing the critical minerals sector and working towards Australian and Queensland renewable energy and net zero targets.
    • On 16 December 2023, the Federal Government expanded the list of critical minerals and released a new strategic materials list. The new list identifies commodities that are essential for Australia’s energy transition, but not at risk of disruptions to existing supply chains.

    Australian Critical Minerals Strategy

    On 20 June 2023 the Federal Government released its Critical Minerals Strategy 2023-2030.

    The Strategy defines critical minerals as materials that are essential to the economy, national security and technology, and whose supply chains are vulnerable to disruption. There are currently 30 minerals classified as "critical minerals" in Australia.

    Flowing from the recommendations of the Strategy, on 16 December 2023, the Albanese Government updated the list of critical minerals to include five new minerals and remove helium, aligning Australia more closely with the lists of international strategic partners. The Government also announced a new Strategic Materials List that identifies materials crucial for the energy transition, like copper and nickel, that are not at risk of disruptions to existing supply chains.

    The Federal Resources Minister Madeline King indicated that both the critical minerals and strategic materials lists will be updated as-needed to reflect geostrategic and economic changes.

    Developed through industry and community consultation, the Strategy aims to seize the opportunities of the clean energy transition presented by Australia's geological reserves, mineral extraction expertise and renewables track record. It contains a number of objectives, including:

    • creating diverse and sustainable supply chains through strong and secure international partnerships;
    • building sovereign capability in critical minerals processing;
    • using critical minerals to help Australia become a renewable energy superpower; and
    • extracting more value onshore from Australia's resources.

    The Strategy sets out priorities across six focus areas to achieve its 2030 vision:

    • Developing strategically important objectives – providing Australian Government support to reduce the risk of critical minerals projects, ensuring Australian processing and manufacturing projects are able to access Australian minerals and attract private finance.
    • Attracting investment and building international partnerships –encouraging investment and collaboration with partners to improve Australia's downstream processing capability and building diverse and sustainable global supply chains.
    • First Nations engagement and benefit sharing – genuine engagement and collaboration with First Nations Peoples, promoting benefit sharing and supporting outcomes under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.
    • Promoting Australia as a world leader in ESG performance – balancing the strategic advantage brought about by best practice ESG credentials against industry calls to reduce the duplication of and delays in obtaining environmental and planning approvals.
    • Unlocking investment in enabling infrastructure and services –working with state and territory governments, strategically planning enabling infrastructure and services to link the critical minerals sector to the domestic and international markets to reduce costs, lower project risk and attract large-scale investment.
    • Growing a skilled work force – to develop the critical minerals sector in Australia, particularly as we move to downstream processing.

    Queensland Critical Mineral Strategy

    The Queensland Government announced the Queensland Critical Mineral Strategy only a week after its Federal counterpart. This is the Queensland Government's most recent step in promoting critical mineral projects. We wrote about the Government's rent deferral reforms for critical mineral projects in our Queensland Land Access and Resource Approvals Year in Review 2022 article "Amendments to Queensland's Resources Acts to promote new economy minerals".

    The Queensland Strategy builds on the Queensland Resources Industry Development Plan, which is a 30-year plan designed to ensure Queensland capitalises on local critical mineral projects.

    "Critical Minerals Queensland" will be established as a dedicated office to oversee the Queensland Strategy, leading government action in the sector and being the point of contact for investors, proponents and stakeholders.

    The Strategy sets out the following key objectives:

    • Move faster, smarter – capitalising on the benefits presented by critical minerals by improving government processes, fostering strategic partnerships and domestic innovation and investing in exploration and infrastructure.
    • Maximise investment – establishing a market, regulatory environment and workforce with the capability of attracting long-term investments to promote growth and certainty in the mining sector and advanced manufacturing industries.
    • Build value chains – investing in industries and onshore processing and manufacturing capabilities which diversify the Queensland economy and boost business opportunity.
    • Foster research and ESG excellence – setting Queensland apart through partnerships with industry and research organisations to assist in reducing business costs and increasing production value.

    The Queensland Strategy also identifies international investment as a key aspect in attaining Queensland's position as a key global supplier of critical minerals.

    The objectives are supported by actions worth $245 million, including:

    • establishing critical minerals zones, for projects co-located in one regional area ($75 million);
    • exploring remaining mineralisation in mine waste ($5 million);
    • delivering the "Critical Minerals and Battery Technology Fund" which will provide local industry with access to domestic and international supply chains ($100 million);
    • rent reduction for exploration ($55 million in foregone revenue);
    • promoting Queensland to overseas investors ($1 million);
    • partnering with industry to promote ESG excellence ($1 million); and
    • research and development in circular economy and mining ($8 million).

    Where to from here?

    The critical minerals strategies highlight the State and Federal Governments' respective commitments to strengthening the critical minerals sector and positioning Queensland and Australia to mine and process the minerals and manufacture the renewable technologies required for the energy transition.

    Renewables companies and investors should familiarise themselves with the strategies and watch out for further policy and legislative reform. The resource sector should consider how to harness the opportunities that are supported by the strategies.

    Authors: Brigid Horneman-Wren, Lawyer; and Dillon Mahly, Graduate.

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