The Northern Territory (NT) Government in Australia has announced an increase in its mineral exploration expenditure in 2023.

The region’s mineral exploration spending rose by 14% to A$228.1m ($149.5m) last year, versus 2022’s figure of A$199.9m.

The NT Government noted that last year’s investment was the highest figure recorded in more than a decade.

It added that this growth surpassed the national average increase of 5%.

In 2011, the region reported the highest-ever spending at A$228.4m.

Additionally, the December 2023 quarter alone saw a 10% increase in exploration expenditure compared with the same period in the previous year, reaching A$63.1m.

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The surge in exploration investment is largely driven by rising global demand for critical minerals, particularly lithium and rare earth elements.

In a significant move, the Federal Labor Government has pledged A$840m to establish Australia’s first integrated rare earths mine and refinery in the NT.

This facility is expected to generate more than 300 new jobs, complementing the 4,400 individuals already employed in the sector.

In the fiscal year 2022–23, the mining industry contributed $4.86bn to the NT economy, underscoring its importance to the region’s financial health.

NT Minister for Mining Mark Monaghan said: “Mineral exploration expenditure in the Territory continues to lead the country – and Territorians are the ones set to benefit.

“The Territory Labor Government is capitalising on the NT’s abundance of critical minerals, our new round of exploration grants focused on companies who were looking for the minerals the world demands.

“There are exciting opportunities for the Territory to become a leading supplier of the critical minerals needed for the transition to renewable energy.”

In August 2021, the NT Government banned seabed mining in its coastal waters due to environmental concerns.