On Wednesday 23 May the Honourable Kim Beazley AC, Governor of Western Australia, delivered an address at the AusIMM’s 125th Anniversary Thought Leadership Series event in Perth. It was a privilege for the AusIMM to have the Governor speak at our event, and we are pleased to share his speech with our readers below.
Thank you Stephen for the welcome.
I would firstly like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet – the Noongar people – and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
It is a pleasure to join you at this Perth edition of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy’s Thought Leadership Series. I understand these events are running across the country to celebrate the Institute’s 125th Anniversary – an outstanding milestone.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge and congratulate the President, Board, Executive team, staff and all members past and present on this impressive achievement.
In reading about the Institute’s history, I was interested to note that it was first known as the Australasian Institute of Mining Engineers, before being renamed to its current title in 1919. The new name better represented members from all facets of the industry – not just engineering. And as we know more than ever today, our mining industry consists of many skilled professionals across a diverse and ever-growing range of expertise.
Mining is a major contributor to our economy because of the ways in which our skilled professionals have managed, and continue to manage, our economic minerals. And it is through this excellence that we do so well.
Tonight’s panel discussion will be a timely opportunity to explore the importance of a skilled labour force in taking us to reach further heights in the industry.
In Western Australia, the role of mining, and mining professionals, is particularly significant. It is fair to say that we proudly wear mining as our badge.
You are at the heart of key factors in this country’s global significance and its prosperity. Without the strategic weight which comes from our resource sector we would have no voice in the creation of, or membership of, regional organisations critical to us. Your industries give cover to us as we struggle to deal with the need to diversify our economy and respond strategically to the impact of the globe’s fourth industrial revolution.
Mining is synonymous with our state. We are the main minerals and exporting region of the country – accounting for 56 per cent of mining gross value added in 2016/17 – and we produce a significant proportion of the world’s minerals and petroleum commodities, with WA alone accounting for 53 per cent of world seaborne iron ore exports in 2016.
Despite global and domestic fluctuations affecting commodity prices last year, the size and contribution of our mining sector meant we still saw a 19 per cent increase in mineral and petroleum sales from 2015/16 to $105 billion. The upturn is expected to continue with high demand from China for our iron ore, and demand for commodities as global growth picks up again.
Our iron ore story is a big one, and is one of enormous success. We account for 99 per cent of Australia’s iron ore production, with fewer than 12 million tonnes produced across the rest of Australia.
We proudly lead the way on the world stage too, accounting for 38 per cent of global production. S&P Global Market Intelligence recently released a list of the world’s top 50 mineral mining projects (iron ore, gold, copper, zinc and nickel) by production value. As well as hosting nine of the world’s top 50 projects, the report found the cumulative production value for the operations was over US$124 billion, with our own Rio Tinto’s Hamersley Consolidated iron ore mine taking top place (an ascribed production value of almost US$11 billion). And I note that we have a representative from Rio with us on tonight’s panel.
Our precious metals sector bears more good news. The gold sector is our second most valuable mineral commodity, and accounts for about 70 per cent of Australia’s total gold production.
This year we will celebrate an important anniversary in our gold mining heritage with June marking 125 years since the rich discovery of gold in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, (then known as Hannans) by prospectors Paddy Hannan, Thomas Flanagan and Dan O’Shea. Found at the base of Mt Charlotte in the famous ‘Golden Mile’, the discovery sparked the biggest gold rush in WA’s history carving the way for lasting growth and development in the State.
And more than a century on, the opportunities keep coming. We are just beginning our lithium story, with major deposits of some of the key energy metals needed for battery technology (including lithium, graphite, cobalt and nickel) in our backyard. With the growing demand for these commodities on the rise as battery powered transport and electricity takes off, WA is poised to enjoy a competitive advantage in this space.
I am fascinated with this from the perspective of a hat I once wore and am still fascinated with – Australia’s defence. Our new submarine project is heroic not least because of the engineering challenges posed by a conventional system driving a 5,000 tonne submarine. A submarine of dimensions which in contemporary terms would require a nuclear reactor. Unless a safe, super-efficient lithium ion battery is created to do the job, it cannot be done.
Next year, construction will commence on a lithium refinery in Kwinana as part of a 50-50 joint venture between Kidman Resources and Chilean company Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile, or ‘SQM’ as it is commonly known. The operation will produce about 40,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide each year.
With major mining projects like these comes ongoing operating and capital expenditures, creating opportunities for mining services, manufacturing and transport and higher employment. Due to this, mining employment in the State almost doubled over the decade to 2016-17.
The iron ore sector remained the State’s largest employment sector, accounting for 50 per cent, or an average of more than 52,000 people. Gold and alumina were the next largest employers with 27,000 and 6,645 people.
The eminent WA School of Mines, part of Curtin University, in the historic town of Kalgoorlie is one institution that helps our State to retain the veteran wealth of knowledge of our industry, to create and empower the next generation of skilled professionals. The School was ranked the world’s second best educator in minerals and mining engineering by QS World University Rankings last year, up 17 places from its 2016 position.
In a WA Business News article published last month, local mining stalwarts applauded the broadening of subjects at the school which they observed had grown from a, “…pure focus on disciplines such as mining and metallurgical engineering and surveying.”
It is clear that skills and further education opportunities in the sector, from front-end mining companies to the service industries, will continue to increase with new technologies including drones and big data analytics. Today we no longer recognise the ‘digital mine’ as a future prospect – it has arrived.
We have become a world leader in mining software technology with many international mining equipment, technology and services (or METS) companies choosing to position themselves in Perth to access the innovations associated with local technologies and research institutes. One example being IBM’s Natural Resources Solution Centre, which has offices on Hay Street.
The country’s METS sector generates $90 billion in gross annual revenue, with WA accounting for 26 per cent or around $23 billion. Our stronghold in this space has emerged from the challenge of ensuring that our mines remain safe, efficient and environmentally sustainable.
More recently, we have become an epicenter for technological change with regards to automation and remote systems which can operate equipment from 1000’s of kilometers away – an example of this being Rio Tinto’s impressive driverless trucks and unmanned drilling rigs and trains. Additionally, our oil and gas onshore and offshore developments are supported by a services sector of more than 900 companies which in turn has attracted global finance, business and transport firms, to name only a few, to our shores.
Ensuring our workforce is equipped to handle this changing and fast-paced industry can be done in one way by looking at our education models. In an article published last year by the ABC, Mining Education Australia Director Steve Hall commented on the changing face of the industry and the career options this presents. He said, “We need to compete with the Ubers and the Googles of the world and attract the IT, the mechatronics, the robotics people and get them to look at mining, and get involved in it.”
With growth only expected to continue, and a highly diverse resource base,Western Australia is in an enviable position.
As the home of resources, our many pockets of excellence across mining innovation, investment and achievement are translating into other facets of our economy.
To capitalise on this it is important that we continue to keep learning, prioritise education, and encourage investment in order to build on opportunities.
Tonight’s thought leadership event is one way that we can share knowledge and best practice to ensure that we remain leaders in the mineral and resources industries. This Perth edition of the series is a sell-out event, and I think that speaks strongly about our commitment.
I once again congratulate the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy on their work over the past 125 years to foster leadership opportunities and support and represent professionals in this vital industry.