Transcript - interview - ABC AM

DAVID LIPSON: The Albanese Government is moving to shore up the global supply of critical minerals with an $840 million package of loans and grants for a new rare earths mine in the Northern Territory. 

Rare earths are critical for the construction of many forms of modern technology, from electric cars to guided bombs. And right now China maintains a strangle‑hold on the supply chain. 

The investment will deliver the nation's first combined rare earths mine and refinery operated by Arafura, which is backed by Australia's richest person, Gina Rinehart. 

I spoke to Resources Minister Madeleine King a short time ago before the news one of the workers in the Ballarat mine collapse had died. 

Madeleine King, thanks for being with us. I just want to start first of all with this mine collapse in Ballarat. Does the Government have any safety concerns about this particular mine? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Oh, look, it's too early to really go into any speculation about what's happened at that mine. At the moment the priority is on making sure the one remaining worker is extracted from the mine and brought out safely. 

Obviously all these processes around safety examination will be looked at thoroughly once the miner is safe. But, you know, of course our thoughts are with him and his family and also the other injured worker as well, because everyone that goes to work expects to come home at the end of a shift or a long swing away from home, and the same goes of course for the miners in Ballarat today. 

DAVID LIPSON: Moving on. You're in the NT today for a major announcement on mining. It's a lot of money to subsidise a mine in the rare earths space, and significantly a refinery as well. Why are secure rare earth supply chains so important? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Rare earth supply chains are at risk around the world because these rare earths are hard to find and they're hard to extract and process. 

Australia has large deposits of these right around the country but particularly in the Northern Territory and in Western Australia. 

What we find is because of the thin markets for these things and really low volumes, which is not what we're used to in the mining industry in Australia, we're used to really high-volume commodities like coal and iron ore. 

So rare earths are different, they are riskier, and they need government support to make sure they get started and draw in that private capital. 

But I must say companies like Arafura, in the announcement today, have sought their own private capital to go into these projects. But we really need government support to make sure we can get this industry off the ground. 

DAVID LIPSON: Rare earths are important for all sorts of modern technology, renewables, but also crucial in defence from fighter planes to guided missiles. As you know there's been a lot of concern in Australia and the United States about China's dominance of the rare earth market. How much does national security play into the Government's considerations here? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well the main consideration is that we compete on the world stage with our natural resources. So whilst there are always concerns around national security for so many things that we can do in this country, principally this is about competition. 

For too long we have sent some of our raw minerals out to be processed in a competitor nation, but now we believe, and the Anthony Albanese Government believes we should do more of that here. 

So that's why we are putting together over an $800 million package to make sure that Arafura can establish an integrated rare earths refinery in the NT, and that's going to process these really important rare earths further along the value chain than any other capability in this country. 

So whilst those rare earths will go to defence applications, absolutely, and it's very important for that, they'll also be used in electric vehicles and in really super strong magnets for wind turbines and other green technology. 

So they'll be used for a wide array of things, but really importantly Australia just needs to be using its minerals and processing them here for ourselves as a nation to be able to make more things, but also for our international partners.

DAVID LIPSON: You've been in North America last week, did you get any sense the US is keen to invest in this space in Australia? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Absolutely. We're keen to work together on critical minerals and rare earths. The President and our Prime Minister signed the Compact with critical minerals development at its heart and critical minerals will be needed to help decarbonise both of our economies. 

DAVID LIPSON: So we can expect US investment in Australia some time soon? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well we already have a lot of US investment in Australia, yeah, so absolutely. We are good friends and good partners. 

We are both democracies that respect the work of capital within our economies so I do expect that we'll see more interest from the US through their Export‑Import Bank, which is similar to our Export Finance Australia, but also as everyone knows the Department of Defence has also invested strategically within Australian facilities and supports Australian facilities in America as well. So they're important partners for our critical minerals development. 

DAVID LIPSON: Madeleine King, great to speak to you, thank you. 


DAVID LIPSON: And Madeleine King is the Resources Minister.