Critical minerals and metals sector gets major boost from new NSW strategy

By Cooper Greenberg, Samy Mansour, Nick Thomas, Danielle Crowe and Charis Chan
09 Dec 2021
Australia's first Critical Minerals Hub is at the core of NSW's "Critical Minerals and High-Tech Metals Strategy" to make NSW a major global supplier of critical minerals and metals mining.

NSW has a strong mining sector with great potential for the mining of critical minerals, which play a large role in renewable energy creation and the development of new technologies.

The State took a step closer to realising that potential last week with the release of its "Critical Minerals and High-Tech Metals Strategy", which sets out a plan for a number of projects and strategies in response to global demand for resources, focusing on:

  • promoting the exploration for critical minerals resources;
  • activating the industry through the proactive development of supply chains; and
  • attracting investment in critical minerals resources, downstream processing and recycling.

NSW's current position on critical minerals and metals

The Strategy has been released in line with the earlier published "Future of Minerals in NSW Report" which outlined the global trends and demands that are driving the state's investment into the mining of critical minerals and metals. Critical minerals include cobalt, tungsten, titanium, copper and rare earth elements, for which, importantly, the Strategy notes NSW is highly prospective.

These minerals are increasingly valuable for a rapidly shifting global economy.  They are vital for many current and emerging technologies, which have significant application in renewable energy plants (eg. solar panels and wind turbines), energy storage devices, electric vehicles, smart devices, and in the advanced manufacturing, communications, medical, defence and aerospace industries. 

NSW is richly endowed with a wide range of critical minerals and metals, as evidenced by its high quality geoscientific data.  Currently, NSW has three operating mines that are capable of producing critical minerals, with a large number of others being deemed investment-ready. A further five projects are at an advanced stage of development and more than 15 current exploratory projects are targeting critical minerals.

The Strategy emphasises these natural characteristics as well as its benefits, such as:

  • a strong economy focused on supporting regional NSW, including with the delivery of enabling infrastructure;
  • a world-class METS (mature mining, equipment, technology and services) sector;
  • stable political environment, which is important for attracting global demand for limited commodities; and
  • strong environmental, workplace relations and safety regulation, which promotes the ESG credentials of the State at a time when investors are looking to boost their own ESG credentials.

The new Critical Minerals Hub

The largest and most important facet of the Strategy is the establishment of Australia's first Critical Minerals Hub in the Central West of NSW, which will fulfil the objectives set out by the Commonwealth Government in the "National Critical Minerals Roadmap".

The Hub will be the central feature in an integrated supply chain, connecting the locations of critical minerals across Australia which are used for mining, as well as being a central point for collaboration with the surrounding established and potential mining developments in the Central and Far West of NSW.  This will assist with reprocessing, creating renewable energy and downstream critical minerals.

In a further indication of the importance of ESG in the Strategy (and the development of the Hub in particular), the Hub is intended to provide access to renewable energy generation and transmission facilities, and aims to promote a circular economy by creating pathways for end-of-life e-waste while also securing e-waste input from domestic and neighbouring regions. This is particularly important when trying to attract domestic and international investment as it promotes positive long-term relationships with the communities, which, in turn, ensures longevity and security of supply.

Other key initiatives in the Strategy

In addition to the development of the Hub, a number of aspects of the Strategy are designed to make NSW a premier location for critical minerals and mining. For example:

  • the NSW Government is committing to redirect the State's Geological Survey to focus more on NSW's critical minerals endowment as well as releasing further data from prior surveys including high-tech metals maps;
  • a dedicated Mining Concierge Service will be created which will support businesses to relocate or set up in Parkes given it is an ideal location for processing and manufacturing critical minerals in the Central West, with the NSW Government committing $185 million to enabling infrastructure in the Parkes Special Activation Precinct, and Parkes also being slated to be Australia's largest inland freight and logistics hub; and
  • a dedicated function within the Mining, Exploration and Geoscience division of the NSW Government will be created to specialise in attracting international investment into the critical minerals space in NSW.

How can businesses take advantage of the Strategy?

In the more immediate term, the Strategy presents an opportunity for businesses to engage with the NSW Government on the implementation of the Government's plans to grow the exploration and production of critical minerals. This includes highlighting areas for potential investment, and engaging with the Government on supply chain challenges and the timing and funding for the implementation of key initiatives in the Strategy, including the Hub in particular.

Businesses should also consider the longer-term opportunities to invest in critical minerals in NSW in light of the Strategy – particularly in the Central West – from considering their exploration and production capability, to the potential development of ancillary infrastructure and products related to critical minerals, to reviewing their supply chains to take advantage of the future benefits that may flow from the mining of critical minerals. The implementation of the Strategy (particularly given its focus on meeting the demand for critical minerals, and the creation of a dedicated function in the NSW Government to attract foreign investment) should also encourage greater international interest in mining in NSW, and local businesses should consider opportunities to partner with, or supply to, those organisations.   

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.