Push for more Aussie commodities to get ‘critical’ minerals status

“They’ve announced all these great partnerships and acknowledged Australia has all these great commodities, but now they have got to join the dots,” he said.

Mr Garnier said the tungsten producer planned to negotiate directly with the US Defence Logistics Agency, which manages the Pentagon’s gargantuan supply chain.

But he said at present the company could only be able to supply the Americans with a concentrate of the metal known as WO3, or tungsten trioxide, given the lack of processing capacity in Australia.

“We’ll be shipping them W03. We’ll have to find someone between us and them to process it,” he said. “We’re just giving away margin in Australia, and jobs and economic activity in regions.”

Chief executive Keith McKnight said the company has done a fair bit of “heavy lifting” without public support, raising more than $130 million in equity.

“The next step for Australia is to get, ultimately, to APT production – which is ammonium para tungstate,” he said.


“There are a few iterations required to get to that step. And I think it’s probably appropriate given that the federal government has a strategy around critical minerals and advancing downstream processing that we would potentially get that support.

“The Australian taxpayer will ultimately get the benefit from a project that has downstream processing with… higher revenues and ultimately, we pay more royalties.”

Certainty and security

The call for support comes amid grumblings over the ability of industries and investors with high media profiles – such as Fortescue Future Industries – to win Labor backing for big-dollar support, such as the $2 billion hydrogen headstart scheme announced in last month’s budget.

At the same time, the list of sectors vying for taxpayer backing looks set to expand.

Labor is poised to soon release the nation’s latest critical minerals strategy, which will identify priority areas for the government.


Shadow resources spokesman Susan McDonald will on Monday write to Ms King urging her to expand the critical minerals list to include potash, phosphate, aluminium, alumina, bauxite, nickel, copper and zinc.

“The Australian government has the opportunity to provide the certainty and security industry needs to continue investing in production of these vital minerals,” Senator McDonald wrote in a letter obtained by The Australian Financial Review.

“This is particularly important at a time when global supplies remain vulnerable to disruption.”

Geoscience Australia, the federal government’s official geology body, defines a critical mineral as one that is vital for the functioning of modern technologies, economies or national security and for which supply is at risk of being disrupted.

Some 26 minerals are on the list, but calls are growing for traditionally unrelated resources to be included. For instance, Whitehaven chief Paul Flynn said last week that coal should be included given its critical importance to allies like Japan and South Korea.

Designation opens resources up to special treatment, potentially including loans and direct payments.


“The former government released two versions of a critical minerals strategy, neither of which consulted anyone and neither of which references the importance of critical minerals to net zero,” said a spokesman for Ms King, the minister for resources.

“It’s ironic they are now lobbying the government to add minerals to the list that are required for the net zero transition, and it’s a shame their recognition of this has come so late.”

The strategy will be released in “due course” and establishes an “orderly process for updating the critical minerals list,” the spokesman said.

“The government has consulted industry, states and territories and communities including First Nations Australians as part of developing a new national Critical Minerals Strategy.”

Marghanita Johnson, chief executive of industry group the Australian Aluminium Council, backed calls for critical minerals listing.

“Australia is one of the very few countries that has bauxite mining, alumina refining, aluminium smelting and aluminium extrusion industries, making aluminium one of the few commodities for which the entire value chain from mining to the manufacture of consumer products is represented locally,” she said.

“There is an opportunity to leverage this value chain further creating additional new economy industries from these critical minerals.”