AWU to propose critical minerals export tax to foster onshore manufacturing

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The Australian Workers’ Union is pushing a resolution that would establish a tax on unprocessed exports of critical minerals at the upcoming ALP National Conference. 

The union’s new position, which will be discussed by AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton in a speech to the Sydney Institute on 17 May, also proposes a production subsidy scheme aimed at boosting domestic refining, processing and component manufacturing from critical minerals. 

The proposed new tax on critical minerals export will pump much-needed revenue back into subsidies for the manufacturing and processing of critical minerals onshore, the AWU secretary said.

“Australia has been blessed with the world’s most enviable supply of critical minerals, but simply digging these precious material up and loading them on ships is an incredibly limited way to view the opportunity,” Walton said

The AWU secretary pointed to Australia’s lack of substantial national capacity to turn critical minerals, like lithium, into anything useful. 

“We are relying on the idea that we can just export these raw minerals to China and they will send us back the components and goods we need,” he added. 

“If we continue to just ‘let the market rule’ it will mean only one thing: Australia’s raw materials will be shipped off to China and China will be the only player in our region with the sovereign capacity to turn them into anything useful,” said Walton. 

The United States is using its raw economic heft through the Inflation Reduction Act to pump investments into its manufacturing capacity through subsidies. 

“Australia is not in the same position to call the shots like this. But what we do have is a big chunk of the world’s critical minerals within our sovereign soil. That’s our leverage and we would be absolute fools not to use it,” Walton said. 

The AWU secretary also announced today that he is stepping down from the role after nearly seven years of service. 

Walton is slated to stay on for the next couple of months to help hand over and oversee the leadership transition. 

“It has been a singular honour to lead the AWU and I’m incredibly proud of what our union has achieved by working together since 2016,” Walton said. 

“Along the way we’ve modernised our processes and structures and our union is now growing strongly. I’m so pleased the AWU is today in great shape to continue the mission it started in 1886: fighting for a fairer deal for Australian workers.”