World’s mining minds drill down on critical minerals

BHP has used a global mining conference to take a swipe at Australian governments for getting in the way of critical minerals expansion.

“I wish I could say that all the settings are moving in the right direction, but unfortunately for the nation that is not the case,” CEO Mike Henry said in Brisbane on Tuesday.

He said surging demand is bringing significant opportunity for companies, governments and communities, but also significant challenges.

“We need a massive wave of capital investment – perhaps an additional $US100 billion per year in capital investment in the resources sector – if the world is to get on track to meet the Paris-aligned 1.5 degree scenario,” Mr Henry said.

But he said mining is regulation-heavy, and greatly impacted by trade, taxation, permitting, industrial relations and labour policies.

“What governments here, federal and state, should focus on are those things within their control to make investment fundamentally more attractive, not simply due to the sugar hit of a subsidy” Mr Henry said.

“There is enough investment appetite for good projects under the right conditions.”

He said the Australian resources industry needs better tax settings, faster permitting and an industrial relations system that delivers productivity, flexibility and competitiveness to drive job creation and wage growth.

“Predictability and reduced risk – under those conditions, the capital will flow,” Mr Henry said.

According to Australia’s science agency, the mining industry will take the world to net zero emissions.

“It’s mining that accelerates global decarbonisation by unlocking the critical energy minerals the world desperately needs for solar panels, electric vehicles and batteries,” CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall told the World Mining Congress in Brisbane.

“It’s where we need to be heading, and it’s how we all need to be thinking – an industry that will enable the world to reach net zero,” he said, officially opening the summit.

Holding up a titanium rib cage, he said it is mining that takes a commodity, mineral sand, and turns it into titanium ink.

“That in turn 3D-prints a replacement sternum like this, that saved a man’s life in New York,” Dr Marshall said.

More than 3500 delegates have gathered in Brisbane for the World Mining Congress of scientists, researchers, company executives and diplomats, which is being held in Australia for the first time.

“We’re not engaging in a race between countries but a race against time,” leading energy economist Tim Gould said.

He said Australia was “extremely well-placed”, with world-leading reserves and access to cheap renewable energy.

But Mr Gould said the task was for like-minded countries to combine their particular competitive advantages, which may include a large domestic market, highly skilled workforce or established auto and manufacturing sectors.

He said the result could be a reliable and affordable supply of critical minerals and rare earths, rather than scarcity and a new energy crisis.

Mr Gould does not anticipate China’s market dominance in factory-ready minerals will be reduced quickly, because it has been built up over many years.

A wider set of countries are on board for collaboration as Australia develops clean energy pacts with the US, Europe, India and Asia.

But delegates want to work from the same rule book on sustainable mining and international trade, fearing a new wave of protectionism or localised subsidies will shut out poorer nations.

“The congress is Brisbane is not just another mining conference,” said congress chair Hua Guo, CSIRO’s sustainable mining expert.

“We are tracking issues associated with a massive transition.”


Marion Rae
(Australian Associated Press)


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