This is an edited speech that was originally delivered at the AusIMM North West Queensland Branch sixth annual regional conference.
It is wonderful to be here in Cloncurry. One of the risks of having retired people speak is that they tend to look backwards more than forwards. Perhaps it is because the past was more exciting and longer lasting than the future looks like being.
I will try to strike a balance in this speech by exploring several aspects of the past, the present and the future.
Cloncurry has a long relationship with the mining industry and was established to service the Great Australia Mine 150 years ago. My own history with the district started in 1950, when my schoolteacher father was transferred to Cloncurry School. My father and brother made a trip to Mt Isa to visit the mine, which was quite an adventure.
I spent a Christmas vacation at Mount Isa as a student, just after the big strike, returned two years later for a big mining conference and then commenced employment in 1968 as a miner after graduation.
It was a great place to work, full of challenges and advancement.
AusIMM North West Queensland Branch
The AusIMM North West Queensland (NWQ) Branch has had a long and illustrious history. I believe it was established as the Mount Isa Branch in 1932.
There have been some notable industry figures associated with the branch. Julius Kruttschnitt, who led the mine from the difficult early days in 1930 until the mid-50s, was AusIMM President twice and was awarded AusIMM honours. I heard it said recently that he is one of the few Chairpersons of a major company who continued to live on the mine site.
Sir George Fisher and Sir James Foots were also both President on more than one occasion and received numerous awards. AusIMM’s current President, Janine Herzig, started her career as a metallurgist at Mount Isa.
In fact, if you go back through the records, AusIMM Presidents having associations with this branch have filled that role for more than ten per cent of the Institute’s existence. The region is one of the training grounds for the industry and AusIMM.
In the Institute, we need people to step up and take the leadership positions if we are to have a vital and growing professional society. It is good to see that the NWQ Branch continues to do that.
AusIMM’s role in the modern industry
AusIMM is just as relevant today as it was 125 years ago.
In upholding knowledge, standards and values of resources professionals, AusIMM requires that when renewing each year, you recommit to continuing professional development (CPD). This is available in many ways, including attending conferences. If you just look at a few that are available this year, you can see some are based on commodities, some on activities and some are more strategic.
Many members are not able to attend conferences. There are old and new ways to get access to the information. There are monographs, conference volumes and handbooks. Through new digital offerings from AusIMM, more content will be accessible from afar. I believe the success of AusIMM’s award-winning Online Professional Certificate in JORC Code Reporting will lead to more training being made available by this method.
The social side of AusIMM membership has always been important. Branch meetings have a good balance between technical offerings and the opportunity to share knowledge and experiences in an informal way. Not only could you find the solution to a technical o a staffing issue at these events, there is a good chance you will make long-lasting friendships.
AusIMM Code of Ethics
Members must agree to abide by AusIMM’s Code of Ethics each year as well. These are fairly obvious requirements for a professional to adhere to and guide them in their working life. There are two specific clauses I would like to mention.
Clause 8 refers to continuing professional development, but it also brings in the aspect of mentoring. I have had some very good mentors during my career, as I hope you have. It is our responsibility to make sure we fill that role for others. It does not have to be hierarchical, nor do those whom you mentor need to be in the same organisation.
Clause 9 covers compliance with laws and regulations. This should be self-evident, but most of the complaints about unprofessional behaviour arise from this clause, especially as it relates to the JORC Code. I was on the Ethics Committee for 16 years and have been on JORC for 13 years, so I am familiar with the types of breaches which have been reported. Most arise because of ignorance of the requirements of the JORC Code or a misinterpretation. The penalty is most likely to be a requirement for education or a warning. Where it is evident that there was intent to circumvent the clauses, then the penalties are much harsher, even leading to expulsion.
The JORC Code
The Australasian Joint Ore Reserves Committee (JORC) is overseen by its parent bodies AusIMM, the Australian Institute of Geoscientists and the Minerals Council of Australia.
JORC is a principles-based Code for the Public Reporting of Exploration Results, Mineral Resources and Ore Reserves. Public Reporting is for the purposes of investment and its definition in this sense is wide ranging.
Clearly, not everybody has a role as a Competent Person for their company, but the work of many resources professionals feeds into information to be considered for the release of exploration results or the declaration of a Mineral Resource or Ore Reserve. For that reason, it is important that professionals are aware of the Code and its contents.
The Committee has recently begun the process to update the Code. There will be a lot of consultation with the many stakeholders throughout the process. Emerging issues will be considered, as a lot has happened since the last update in 2012.
As well as the JORC Online Professional Certificate course I mentioned, AusIMM has also developed a JORC Code Essentials course for directors, company secretaries and investment advisers. This need was recognised by JORC and the AusIMM as a number of the alleged breaches were not committed by the Competent Persons, but by company officers, who are not necessarily bound by our Code of Ethics or familiar with the Code.
The JORC Code was the first such Code in the mining industry and it continues to be used and respected throughout the world. In 1994, Australasia joined with Canada, South Africa, the UK and the USA to form The Committee for Mineral Reserves International Reporting Standards (CRIRSCO). JORC is the National Reporting Organisation for Australasia and has been a major contributor to CRIRSCO’s activities. Peter Stoker and I are the representatives. Like JORC, it has no legal standing and the committee is based on voluntary efforts.
CRIRSCO aims to achieve best practice in the international Public Reporting of Mineral Exploration Results, Mineral Resources and Mineral Reserves (what JORC calls Ore Reserves are known as Mineral Reserves in the rest of the world).
To do this, CRIRSCO has listed a number of actions: promotion, representation, reciprocity.
There are now 14 members of CRIRSCO, with at least six countries well on the way to meet the membership criteria.
CRIRSCO also has a strategic relationship with the International Council on Mining & Metals, which provides some funding for its activities. ICMM is an international organisation dedicated to a safe, fair and sustainable mining and metals industry, with 26 members (major mining companies from around the world) and 35 regional and commodities associations. I will talk more about ICMM and its work later.
General industry observations
I would now like to touch on some issues which affect the industry, AusIMM and its members. These are my personal observations and do not reflect the views of AusIMM or JORC, for example.
Under the definition of what constitutes a Competent Person, the third paragraph requires that you stick to your area of expertise. In Australasia, we prescribe a standard of five years of relevant experience in the style of mineralisation or type of deposit or activity being reported. Some countries have seven and one has ten, while some require a certain number of years in a position of responsibility. In the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (USA), you must be in a special category of membership to be a Competent Person.
The aim of these measures is to lift the standards on what is a self-declared status. Other countries have legislation for a certificate, which is granted by a committee each time the person wants to be a Competent Person. I do not think we need to go there, but society and political regulation might mean we have to move from self-assessment to more prescription.
My view is that we should have a requirement for attendance at a course of instruction on the JORC Code. AusIMM’s recent JORC Online Professional Certificate course is a very good example. Note that the certificate you get for passing the course does not make you a Competent Person. It just means that you did the course.
I would see the next step would be to make it compulsory to be a Chartered Professional in your field. The requirement to complete a certain number of CPD hours and have that audited should mean that you are keeping up to date with your specialisation. The JORC Code training would be incorporated into the CPD requirement.
There is no requirement to do a study of any sort to declare a Resource. There must be a reasonable prospect of eventual economic extraction (RPEEE) (more likely than not) and that the Modifying Factors have been at least considered. There should be a discussion of the technical and economic support for the cut-off assumptions applied.
Any problem is more likely to arise with Inferred Resources, particularly if the company is keen to have a declared resource to promote its prospects.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) looks very hard at forward-looking statements. If you declare a resource, you are saying that there are reasonable prospects for eventual economic extraction and you must have reasonable justification for saying so. It is conceivable that ASIC might push for a more rigorous basis for the declaration of a resource in the future.
We must remember that in this field, we are surrounded by uncertainty. For this reason, we talk about estimation of Resources and Reserves, not calculation. So much depends on judgement, based on scarce data.
Unfortunately, critics have said that we in the minerals industry do not have a good track record in achieving the results that might have been expected from published Resources and Reserves. There are many reasons for that, but we must guard against too much optimism. Sometimes there are project champions who are desperate for a project to be developed. There needs to be a balance from some who can challenge statements and conclusions, who have the tools to look at the ‘what ifs’. Reserves must be reviewed if there are material changes in the values of parameters used.
It is a fundamental right to expect that you will return home safely after a day’s work. It is our professional obligation to do all we can to ensure the safety of our employees and colleagues. This requirement is the number one clause in the Code of Ethics. Whether you are designing a stope or a reagent system, safety implications must be foremost in your mind, just as it is when you are a supervisor.
Recently, we have had major tailings dam failures overseas and here in Queensland, we have had a number of tragic fatalities in the coal mines. These have focused society’s attention on our industry. We must meet its expectations and demands.
I mentioned the ICMM earlier. Because of the pressure from investors, their 26 members have committed to an audit of all their tailings storage facilities. In Queensland, there is talk of extending the industrial manslaughter provisions in legislation to the mining industry.
We must try to eliminate the possibility of fatal accidents, through engineering, systems or training. Much progress has been made i removing the operator from the action through remote control and automation, but it seems we have a way to go before we reduce the dangers workers face to an acceptable level with zero harm.
Acceptance by society
ICMM has a lot to say about how the industry must gain this acceptance. It appears that in some circles, the term ‘social licence to operate’ has lost favour. I still consider the term useful because, without the acceptance of the community, it is very hard to operate. I learnt that frequently in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and New Zealand, where community opinions can be somewhat forcefully put to you.
The ICMM has ten principles, which all members sign up to, that focus on sustainable development. Safety to achieve zero harm is number five. ICMM is currently developing guidance on how members will validate the performance expectations at the operational level including through independent third-party assessments.
We have to accept that there are many in our society who do not share our views about mineral extraction. We like to think of ourselves as objective people with a science or engineering background, who can see a rational argument and act accordingly. However, we are human as well.
There has been enough evidence of late with public disturbance to know that slogans and wild claims can appeal to those not familiar with the matter and can gain wide acceptance. There is a gulf between the attitudes of those in the inner cities and those in non-urban areas. I note the decision by a consulting firm to stop providing services to Adani and the Minister’s reaction to that.
I have been disturbed by some of the attitudes expressed by my grandsons, which have been instilled in them by their teachers. The school room in the cities is not mining friendly, I fear, but I will not apologise for being part of the industry.
How to counter that is a difficult task, but grumbling with like-minded people will not change attitudes of the public at large. If it becomes necessary, we have to pick the right issue and mount a cogent, credible, concise argument, using whatever media we have, making sure our actions and words are defensible.
The technology we use in the industry is evolving at a rapid and increasing rate.
The rocks and minerals are the same as ever. Just as in centuries past, we still have to mine the ore, liberate the valuable particles, concentrate them to get a saleable product and market it. Success still depends on infrastructure – access to power, water, transport and communications. However, how we do all these activities has changed.
In my half century in the industry, I have seen computers go from a curiosity to an essential part of work and life. Our ability to measure parameters and apply control systems has transformed our management of processes.
Whenever I read the AusIMM Bulletin, I am fascinated by the new approaches and pieces of equipment that have been developed. Recent articles have covered the path to autonomous mineral processing operations, managing abandoned underground mines with robots, composite or variability samples for metallurgical testing, and digital optimisation lessons taken from other industries. The last one is particularly important as it stresses that we should be more outward looking.
I eagerly wait for my copy of Resourceful, a magazine from the CSIRO showcasing their research into the minerals industry. A recent copy has articles on ultra-fine soil sampling, data analytics and a sensor to detect gold online while the plant is running. There is also their large program for finding mineral deposits under deep cover.
All of these new and refined techniques will help to ensure that the Australian minerals industry will continue for many decades to come. We are the leader in so many technologies.
In conclusion, I would like to:
• encourage you to undertake CPD so that you can operate at the level of professionalism that society demands
• remember the AusIMM Code of Ethics and, in particular, review it if you are placed in a situation that does not feel right
• remember that we are the guardians of AusIMM’s reputation and integrity
• get familiar with the JORC Code, even if you have only a peripheral contact
• put something back into the Institute for the support it has given you
• have a mentor; be a mentor
• develop friendships which can last well beyond your working life.
Enjoy your career. It might be a bumpy road and lead you in ways not expected, but it is a great industry. If you can be in a project from conception to production, it is a wonderful experience. You all can feel proud you are making a valuable contribution to Australia’s society, environment and economy.