Albanese says it’s critical to keep minerals in Australia to make our own batteries

Albanese attacked the Coalition for opposing the industry fund, a $10 billion housing fund, a law to cap coal prices in order to ease pressure on energy bills, and the safeguard mechanism to require 215 big entities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The prime minister did not name China when asked about the country, and mentioned it only once in his speech on national security, saying his government had stabilised relations with it.

While the prime minister met Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in November, and Foreign Minister Penny Wong made a landmark visit to Beijing in December, relations continue to be weakened by Chinese curbs on Australian exports. Albanese called these measures “sanctions” last May but did not repeat that language on Wednesday.

Chinese commercial investment in Australia slumped from $493 billion in 2021 to $273 billion in 2022, according to a report in December by the Foreign Investment Review Board. The report said this commercial investment was worth $56 billion in the first quarter of the 2023 financial year, a figure that puts it on track to fall in annual terms.


Lithium, cobalt and nickel are key minerals needed for lithium-ion batteries at a time of growing demand for energy storage in digital devices and electric vehicles, but global regulators have been wary of Chinese control of foreign commodities.

Chinese company Tianqi Lithium launched a $136 million bid for Australian lithium developer Essential Metals in early January, setting up a trigger for approval by the Foreign Investment Review Board. The company recommended the bid and will seek shareholder approval by April.

Another Australian company, Core Lithium, began exports to China in January.

The Canadian government ordered Chinese companies to sell their stakes in three lithium and other critical mineral projects last November, after public debate about national security.

Australian tensions with China became steadily worse when the Morrison government rejected Chinese bids for pipeline company APA Group, beverage company Lion Dairy and Drinks and construction company Probuild.

Under Treasurer Jim Chalmers, however, the government has approved China Baowu Steel Group’s ownership of 46 per cent of the Western Range iron ore project in Western Australia, a move revealed by The Australian last Saturday. Rio Tinto is the majority shareholder.

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.

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