Transcript - Minister Madeleine King interview with ABC Pilbara

KELLY GUDGEON: The mining company seeking to become Australia’s second producer of rare earth minerals has borrowed another $80 million from the Federal Government to get off the ground. Hastings Technology is starting construction on its processing plants later this year and aims to be producing at its Gascoyne mine by late next year.

Federal Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Madeleine King, says the company has now a $220 million loan through the Federal Government because of a rise in construction costs.

MADELEINE KING: The Yangibana Rare Earths project run by an Australian company, Hastings, is really important to diversify supply chains in rare earths. It will be Australia’s second rare earths mine and processing facility, the mine itself is in Yangibana near Gifford Creek and the processing facility up in Onslow in the Ashburton North Strategic Industrial Area, so, it’s a very important project. It has had its funding extended, and that is to reflect the increasing costs which I think everyone that lives in the Gascoyne and the Pilbara will appreciate and understand, and anyone in rural Australia full stop I think understands the increasing costs of everything, and that includes construction and funding of mines and also those processing facilities.

So, it’s a very important and strategic facility for Australia to support, and for the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund to support, at this time – at a time when Australia is really trying to develop that rare earths capacity, both in the extraction but also that processing, and the Yangibana Project will be doing both of those things, and that’s a good thing for Australia and certainly a good thing for the Gascoyne and the Pilbara because it will bring about 500 construction jobs and also 250 ongoing operational jobs across those two facilities.

PETER DE KRUIJFF: Outside of, you know, well, the rare earths sector, it is very early days. As you said there, there’s been the second rare earths project that will be up and running, late 2024. How much of a challenge are these costs and coming at this time when there’s so much growth in this industry?

MADELEINE KING: Yeah, costs are always a challenge, and the resources sector as a whole faces that all the time, of course, and then you add into those costs what we’ve seen at the mines that have been affected in the recent floods through the north in the Kimberley. So that all adds up to increase what the outlay of these companies, but also, other investors and the government as one of those investors as well. But this is a long-term loan into the project, and a project that’s seen as being really a part of an overall national strategy to build that rare earths capacity.

What we know is that the world wants to decarbonise and has set itself on a path, and Australia has a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 as well. And the demand for rare earths elements is set to increase at least sevenfold. I mean, I think it might even increase more, but I’m not going to disagree with the International Energy Agency. But we will need the neodymium and the praseodymium for the electronic vehicles, the wind turbines, robotics, all number of things that will be required for not just Australia to reach net zero emissions but for the world to get there as well.

PETER DE KRUIJFF: When it comes to rare earths in Australia and having that alternative supply chain to China, are we starting to see investment from other parts of the world in these Australian projects, or is a lot of it still kind of being driven through China and Chinese buyers?

MADELEINE KING: Well, certainly the current supply of critical minerals is principally through China, but what we know is that Australia produces half the world’s lithium. We’re the second largest producer of cobalt. And rare earths, which we’re talking about in this project, we’re the fourth largest producer in the world. So, we are developing that capacity, and investment is coming from all over the world. There’s not an international official I meet that doesn’t mention potential investment by companies from particular countries into Australia’s critical minerals and rare earths sector, and a lot of that interest is from countries in the European Union, and particularly car manufacturers. And they’ve already signed a lot of offtake agreements for various critical minerals facilities around the country.

So that’s a really important way of developing this sector, is through that international investment, and it will be critical. And what we see particularly from the European Union and also others, though, in the US is a very – a lot of enthusiasm for the way in which Australia undertakes its resources extraction. And that’s in an ethical and sustainable manner – that every mine we have and every processing facility we have has to go through very rigorous and thorough environmental regulations. And that assures those investors and also those purchasers of the product that they are buying an ethical and sustainable product that will make their end product – whether it be cars or other things part of the decarbonisation effort – that they are good, green products.

KELLY GUDGEON: That was Resources Minister Madeleine King talking there with ABC Pilbara’s Peter de Kruijff about the outlook for rare earths in WA and a new loan for Hastings Technology.