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The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) is warning that Australia’s window of opportunity to capitalise on its position at the forefront of the global critical minerals boom is closing.

The MCA headed a panel discussion at the Critical Minerals and Energy Investment Conference in Perth on Thursday morning, where Executive Director David Parker discussed the future landscape of mining in Australia.

Mr Parker underlined the indispensable role of both state and national governments in bolstering the Australian mining sector.

“We now have strategic competition between nations and greater protectionism; that’s in turn causing greater, stronger headwinds to the much-needed expansion of mining,” he said.

“Countries are now taking a much deeper interest and a much deeper look-see at what they have with their geological inventories and how they could use those going into the future.”

He also shed light on the challenges faced by smaller mining companies.

“They don’t have the deep pockets of a super major; they need industrial lands; they need strategic areas; they need to have infrastructure, energy, water, rail, and ports in close proximity and ready to go; they can’t do this by themselves,” he said.

Earlier this month, the MCA released the Future Critical report, which outlines the trends of the future, the minerals needed to make them a reality, and the factors that risk a delay in productivity.

Mr Parker outlined several emerging trends that will rely on critical minerals for future generations.

These trends include resource nationalism, changing demand, declining ore grades, advances in technologies and a stronger focus on environmental social governance (ESG).

“We’ve got the changing demand for mineral resources, this is being driven by globally significant population and population growth, increasing urbanisation, the rapid development of emerging economies, an increase in consumer wealth, and the decarbonisation and digitalisation of economies,” he said.

The Executive Director further stated these pressures provided an incentive to jump at the use of new technologies to more accurately target and efficiently extract and process deposits, including the uptake of recycling materials.

By 2030 alone, the International Energy Agency has forecast Australia will need 50 new lithium mines, 60 new nickel mines, and 17 new cobalt mines to supply the materials required to meet the demand for battery storage, a step in the path to net zero.

“What we’ve found is the world needs up to $4 trillion of investment in mining, refining and smelting by 2030 to be on the pathway to net zero, that’s studied by McKinsey and Co. and these astronomical volumes of minerals and metals will be required to achieve net zero emissions by 2050,” Mr Parker stated.

A need for Government reform

Mr Parker cited that Government delays in environmental approvals of projects are accumulating, producing large economy-wide losses.

“Exhaustive delays in environmental approvals and the proposed introduction of rigid and costly industrial relations laws are combining to blunt the ability to fully capitalise on this once-in-a-multiple-generation mining burden,” he said.

With mining one of the largest contributors to government revenues, advocating organisations such as the MCA, argue that assistance from the government is extremely small considering the value it generates.

“The sheer scale and scope of the Australian mining industry operational footprint means that any mining activity is simultaneously subject to federal, state, and local government policies that are not always aligned,” Mr Parker revealed.

The discussion concluded with Mr Parker emphasising the imperative need for a collaborative effort between the industry and the government to seize the immense mining potential that risks slipping through our fingers.

“While Australia has the attributes, the workforce, the expertise and the array of deposits required to be a leading global supplier of a critical mineral sector, governments have a critical role to play,” he said.

“They can stack the odds in favour of the Australian mining industry catching its next wave of global investment with the right policy settings and retaining Australia’s comparative advantage in mining and minerals exports and expanding activity in mineral processing and mining-related manufacturing.”

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