WA’s lithium industry must work for locals

WA has been always been a resources state.

From the gold rushes of the 19th century to the iron ore projects that transformed the state over the last 50 years, resources have been an integral part of WA’s story.

A new chapter in that story is currently being written. One that involves the resource of the 21st century: lithium.

In a world hungry for handheld devices, electric cars, and energy storage, lithium is positioned at the head of the pack as the resource we will rely upon most to power our future lives.

Luckily for WA, we have lithium. And unlike other resources, we have an opportunity to do more than just pull it out of the ground and ship it overseas.

The state and federal governments are keen to see WA press its advantage by developing the infrastructure and capabilities needed to build batteries here.

It’s a long-term plan, but we have a project that could catapult us up the value chain and lay the foundation for our new advanced manufacturing industry.

A new lithium refinery at Kemerton is being built, which is expected to produce 100,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide each year.

The project, led by United States company Albemarle, would be the biggest of its kind anywhere in the world and produce around a third of the world’s global demand for lithium used in things such as batteries and ceramics. Some 500 jobs will be created during construction, with another 500 jobs expected once operational.

This is a huge opportunity that could put WA firmly at the centre of the global lithium supply chain. It’s obvious how important this could be for the future of our state’s economy and for thousands of workers in the south west of the state.

Put simply, we have to get this right.

Which is why it’s so concerning to see what should be the easy part of this development getting off to such a worrying start.

Albemarle have already begun to award contracts to Perth-based contractors BGC and Civmec for the project. Which might make sense if Kemerton was a remote location in the north of the state.

But Kemerton is right in the middle of the South West, surrounded by towns like Bunbury and Collie filled with the skilled workers needed for this project.

If we’re serious about building this industry of the future, surely we want to ensure a long-term stable workforce to drive it forward. We know having a local workforce creates the pool of skilled, experienced labour critical to keeping these projects going, especially during boom times.

With iron ore and LNG projects coming online over the next few years, there is going to be serious competition for skilled labour in the resources sector. The fledgling lithium industry can’t afford to get into a bidding war with the likes of the major corporate players in this space.

Establishing a local workforce in the South West creates a safe-guard for industry while guaranteeing that families and local businesses in the area will remain and thrive. It’s a win-win recipe for success.

That’s why it’s so important that Albemarle work with the local community to ensure that local workers and their families will benefit as much from this lithium as shareholders will.

A community meeting is set to be held this Sunday, 14 July at 10am at the Bunbury & Districts Softball Association Inc (BADSA) headquarters in Eaton. This is an opportunity for locals to make it clear that lithium needs to work for everyone in the South West.

The next chapter of WA’s resource history is being written right now. It’s up to us to make sure that lithium is the next success story for our state.

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