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Aluminium is an essential material in modern industrial society. Indeed, its favourable properties (including light weight, malleability, conductability, and recyclability) are driving steady worldwide expansion in its use. Environmental motivations (including the growing use of lightweight aluminium components to improve energy efficiency in motor vehicles and other applications) are reinforcing this positive trend.
Australia has been a major global producer and exporter of aluminium for the past half-century. This industrial success stemmed partly from rich domestic deposits of bauxite ore, the primary ingredient in aluminium. But it also reflected decades of proactive policy efforts by previous state and Commonwealth governments, determined that Australia would play a significant role in this growing, global, high-technology industry.
After recent closures, Australia now has just four operating aluminium smelters left. The largest is located in Tomago, NSW. The COVID-19 pandemic, which caused huge disruptions in global supply chains, has reawakened Australians’ concern with maintaining a basic level of industrial self-sufficiency. And growth in global demand for aluminium, together with rapid changes in the technology and economics of renewable energy, suggest that Australia could engineer an historic renewal of this vital sector. A key element of that effort must be to retain and modernise the industrial assets Australia still possesses in the aluminium sector – including the Tomago facility.
This report reviews the recent negative trends in Australian aluminium manufacturing, in the context of global, macroeconomic, and environmental challenges. It describes the importance of the Tomago facility to the regional economy and labour market, and documents the extensive linkages between the Tomago operation and a wide range of other economic activities: including 'upstream' linkages to the myriad of firms which sell parts, inputs, and services to the smelter, and 'downstream' linkages through which the incomes and spending power of those employed in aluminium manufacturing (and its supply chain) support activity and jobs across the full range of consumer goods and services industries.