Action area 1: Attracting investment into Australia's critical minerals sector

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Goal: Increase investment into the critical minerals sector (including downstream processing capabilities) and secure markets for Australian critical minerals products.

Australia has an attractive investment environment and operates a liberal investment regime that is open and transparent. The Australian Government's approach, set out in Australia's Foreign Investment Policy and 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, has been, and will continue to be, consistently in favour of foreign investment where proposals are not contrary to the national interest.

Attracting new sources of capital is crucial to the development of Australia's critical minerals sector. The Australian Government is promoting investment and markets for Australian minerals by:

  • improving the data and knowledge base of Australia's resource potential
  • identifying potential investors and off-take opportunities for Australian projects.

Actions to attract investment

Austrade is the Government's lead agency on international investment promotion. An offshore network covers 83 offices and includes staff working directly on resources and energy investment attraction and trade services. Austrade uses a key account model (the process of building long-term relationships with most valuable clients) enabling dedicated client service across the full range of investment opportunities and potential challenges.

This service was utilised by lithium giant Albemarle in developing and implementing their project plans for a lithium hydroxide processing facility in Kemerton, Western Australia. Austrade facilitates foreign investment in critical minerals and related industries by:

  • connecting potential greenfield investors with opportunities through liaison with Austrade's offshore network, Geoscience Australia, and the Australian states and territories
  • identifying investment opportunities (debt/equity) and offtake agreements for projects (current and pipeline)
  • identifying investors for gaps in potential value chains
  • facilitating investment in downstream processing and value-chain creation, including mineral processing and battery and/or battery component manufacturing.

Austrade initiatives to promote investment into the critical minerals sector include:

  • The Lithium-Ion Battery Value Chain: New Economy Opportunities for Australia report outlines the potential for Australia to develop a lithium-based supply chain feeding into a potential lithium-ion battery production capability. The report demonstrates that the downstream critical components in advanced battery production can be manufactured in Australia, and that battery manufacturing technology is a critical gap in the supply chain. Minister Birmingham launched this report in December 2018.
  • Developing the Australian Critical Minerals Prospectus with support from Geoscience Australia, Australian resources companies and states and territories. The prospectus supports knowledge projects and greenfield investment opportunities as well as technical, commercial and geological data for potential investors.
  • Developing a list of potential investors and off-takers for Australian critical minerals to help clients better target diverse financing opportunities for Australian critical minerals projects.
  • An investor roadshow of Australian companies to North America in the first quarter of 2019, which included representation at the leading mining conference – the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada in Toronto from 3 to 6 March 2019. The roadshow helped Australian companies to connect to U.S. investors.
  • Promoting Australian critical minerals through targeted investor identification and engagement with potential lithium-ion battery investors.

Developing geoscience information on critical minerals

The Government is producing information on where new deposits may be found, as well as where critical minerals may exist in ores already being mined. Geoscience Australia implements a number of programs to identify areas of resource potential, to reduce investment risks of exploration, and to improve the effectiveness of exploration programs.

The Australian Government is investing in two major initiatives central to de-risking exploration and attracting more investment:

  • The $100.5 million Exploring for the Future (2016–2020) initiative, being led by Geoscience Australia in collaboration with state and Northern Territory geological surveys, gathers new innovative high-resolution geoscience data and information about the potential mineral, energy and groundwater resources concealed beneath the surface in large areas of northern Australia. This program helps explorers target new mineralisation by imaging the deepest roots of mineral systems all the way through to the surface, and is employing many world-first techniques.
  • The $218 million MinEx Cooperative Research Centre (MinEx CRC) is the world's largest mineral exploration collaboration bringing together industry, government and research organisations. Its 10-year research program will develop and deploy the next generation of drilling technology. Geoscience Australia and geological surveys in the states and Northern Territory are leading the National Drilling Initiative of the MinEx CRC. This program is the world's first to systematically map regional geology and architecture and to define the potential for mineral systems undercover.

Geoscience Australia is a leading participant, alongside industry, academia and the Australia Academy of Science, in the UNCOVER initiative. UNCOVER focuses Australia's geoscience effort on providing the knowledge base and technology that will substantially increase the success rate of mineral exploration beneath post-mineralisation cover in Australia. Both Exploring for the Future and the MinEx CRC are aligned with the overall strategy of UNCOVER.

As highlighted in the National Resources Statement, the Government will investigate the feasibility of expanding current efforts by Geoscience Australia to continually improve the information on Australia's critical minerals, as well as making resources data more accessible to the market. This will include examining improvements in both precompetitive (collected by government) and exploration (collected by companies) data collections to better understand greenfield exploration trends.

Through the COAG Energy Council, Resources Ministers from state and territory governments noted the importance of an integrated, precompetitive approach to improving geoscience information. Accordingly, governments are committed to developing a data strategy to improve the discoverability and utilisation of key geological, environment and heritage data sets. This is likely to include an online portal for decision support, with full data and decision process transparency. The Australian Government also coordinates trade and investment with states and territories through the biannual Trade and Investment Ministers' Meeting.

Other actions

  • The Australia Minerals group is increasing investment in exploration, especially in greenfields areas. This group is unique world-wide, as it brings together all of the country's Chief Geologists who have custodianship of the understanding of their jurisdictions' mineral prospectivity, as well as being representatives of their jurisdictions' regulators. This group regularly visits major investors.
  • The Major Projects Facilitation Agency (MPFA) encourages investment by providing a single entry point for regulatory project-approvals advice for both domestic and international project proponents. For example, the Nolans Rare Earths Project, granted Major Project status by the Australian Government in September 2016, has benefited from the MPFA's facilitation services, including for the completion of its environmental approvals. Critical minerals projects over $20 million can access MPFA's facilitation services, and projects over $50 million are eligible to apply to the Government for Major Project Status.
  • The Australian Government's Export Credit Agency (Efic) provides specialist finance solutions to Australian businesses seeking to expand into international markets. Efic works with banks and other financial institutions to help business access working capital when sufficient funds cannot be accessed from private capital markets.

Together, these initiatives will help to reduce risk for investment decisions and better prioritise data acquisition for exploration, environmental and other purposes.