AWU to push for critical minerals export tax as national secretary announces departure

THE Australian Workers' Union has announced it will move a resolution at the upcoming ALP National Conference that would commit Labor to "a tax on unprocessed exports of critical minerals and establish a production subsidy scheme to foster domestic refining, processing and component manufacturing from critical minerals".

AWU national secretary Daniel Walton will outline the union's new position in a speech to the Sydney Institute on Wednesday night.

Mr Walton has also announced today that after nearly seven years at the helm he has decided to move on from his role as national secretary. Mr Walton will stay on for the next couple of months to help handover 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," Mr Walton said.

"We helped save the steel industry from the brink of collapse. We've celebrated inspiring industrial wins. We've helped improve conditions for vulnerable workers like fruit pickers. And we've had a positive impact influencing the national agenda, especially on energy prices and a fair go for manufacturing.

"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."

Mr Walton also announced the AWU would begin a push for a new tax on the export critical minerals – such as lithium, cobalt, and rare earths – which are vital for the manufacture of renewable energy technology. Mr Walton will argue that the current free-for-all approach of raw mineral exports to China is compromising the national interest.

"We need to apply a significant, punitive tax on the export of raw critical minerals from Australia. And we need the revenue raised to be pumped directly back into subsidies for the manufacturing and processing on critical minerals onshore," Mr Walton 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.

"We lack a substantial national capacity to turn our 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.

"But if Australia wants to make batteries that rival China’s do we think China will be happy to keep selling us the components we need? Do we really want to assume that we can keep digging up critical minerals, shipping them to China for processing, and China will just keep shipping them back to us to manufacture batteries? It’s not a bet I’d feel confident about.

"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.

"The US is using its raw economic heft through the Inflation Reduction Act to force investment in 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. We know demand from the world for our critical minerals is astronomical. We have the power to create the rules under which they can have them. Treasury doesn’t have access to enough carrots to encourage the change we need here. We need to get out the stick."



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