Australia’s first “critical minerals hub” has been announced for the New South Wales Central West, but for now the plan is a strategy with no funding or timelines attached.

Key points:

  • The government says Australia has the chance to be in the box seat when it comes to the world’s supply of critical minerals and metals
  • NSW has launched its Critical Minerals and High-Tech Metals Strategy
  • The Central West hub could also host e-waste recycling for eastern Australia, but funding and timelines are yet to be detailed

The government is promising to make the state a major global supplier of critical minerals and metals such as cobalt, nickel and copper with local advanced manufacturing.

A large number of projects in NSW have been deemed investment-ready.

There are three operating mines capable of producing critical minerals, five projects at an advanced stage of development and more than 15 exploration projects targeting critical minerals.

The NSW government is describing its new strategy as “a new frontier for the NSW mining sector” with a strong focus on sustainable mining.

The government has set out its vision to make the most of untapped rare earth mineral deposits in the Central West.

Three men smile and look at a table bearing mineral specimens and maps.

Paul Toole (left) and MP Dugald Saunders (centre) in Toongi, where the project was announced.(ABC Western Plains: Lucy Thackray)

‘Pathway to lower emissions’

The vision includes a commitment to establish Australia’s first Critical Minerals Hub in the Central West, promote exploration for critical minerals resources, activate the industry through proactive development of supply chains and attract the investment for critical minerals resources, downstream processing and recycling.

Deputy Premier Paul Toole said “the future global economy and the pathway to lower emissions will be founded on minerals that NSW is rich in, such as cobalt, rare earth elements and copper”.

He said these minerals would be “vital in enabling our vibrant growth industries like advanced manufacturing, batteries, defence and aerospace, technology-enabled primary industries and renewables”.

“This strategy has been in the making for a number of years,” he said.

“These minerals are going to be the future with solar panels, renewables, aerospace and defence.

“That’s why we want to be a global supplier and lead the world.

“By having this strategy we are now creating the opportunity for investment in NSW — companies will now want to explore, extract and be involved in advanced manufacturing.”

A map showing different mineral and metal deposits around NSW

There are many critical mineral and metal deposits in NSW.(Supplied: NSW government)

Billions to be invested

Mr Toole promised billions of dollars would be invested in regional NSW, because, he said, “the appeal of more cost-effective, efficient and secure supply chains will give confidence to explorers, mining companies, and investors to set up and operate in NSW”.

“We are on a very large deposit of rare earths,” he said.

Australian Strategic Materials non-executive chairman Ian Gandel, who has “spent nearly two decades advocating for the Dubbo rare earth and minerals project”, says this is a welcome sign of the project’s progress.

An infographic shows a number of rare earth minerals corresponding to their real-world applications.

Rare earth minerals form part of the contemporary world’s vital products.(ABC News: Jarrod Fankhauser)

The Dubbo Zirconium Mine project was approved in 2016 when an Environment Protection Licence was granted and work to attract investors for the $1.3 billion project has been underway since.

“There’s some urgency for Australia to secure its place in the global supply chain for rare earths and critical materials, especially given our reputation for quality and reliability in other resource industries in the current limited global supply chain,” Mr Gandel said.

“The commitment shown by the NSW government will help to address this and attract critical investment in establishing projects and production of critical metals with a global supply chain.”

Local MP Dugald Saunders said the strategy was about “delivering economic growth, and also delivering advanced manufacturing jobs into the future”.

“There is global demand,” he said.

NSW poised to reap riches of ‘new frontier’ in mining — but no funding or timeline yet
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