Low-interest loans from the $4.4 billion Defence Export Facility have been made available to rare earth miners as the Commonwealth and the US look to weaken China's industry monopoly.
Changes will also be made to allow projects to access dual funding through Export Finance Australia as well as the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF). Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham said EFA would now place a greater focus on critical minerals projects and related infrastructure, including projects that supply defence end-use applications where funding can be made available under the Defence Export Facility.
The government will also commit $4.5 million to fund critical minerals research by key Commonwealth scientific agencies.
Rare earth minerals are used in most technologies, from magnets to metal alloys used in aerospace, batteries, magnetic resonance imaging, glass polishing (such as phone screens), fibre optics, and more.
Australia is one of the top five producers of critical minerals such as antimony, manganese, rare earths, and ilmenite and rutile – two titanium minerals – and is the second largest producer of rare earths, with 13 per cent of global production. China accounts for 80 per cent of global production.
Australia is also the world's largest producer of lithium, accounting for 47 per cent of global production, and has the world’s largest nickel reserves and second largest cobalt reserves, as well as abundant reserves of graphite.
“Critical minerals and rare earths are crucial to the high-technology industries of the future and are essential components of batteries, wind turbines, LCD screens, solar panels, microchips and even mobile phones,” Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan said.
“The US has a need for critical minerals and Australia’s abundant supplies makes us a reliable and secure international supplier of a wide range of those including rare earth elements."
Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds said critical minerals were essential inputs to defence capability and a wide range of advanced technology applications.
“These measures will play a vital role in supporting a secure, ethical and sustainable supply of critical minerals, and in doing that help deliver the capability that keeps Australians safe,” Minister Reynolds said.