Australia's Minerals Industry: Nationally Vital, Globally Significant

28 June 2001

The vital role Australia's minerals industry plays in our nation's prosperity and future was discussed today at the Prime Minister's Science, Engineering and Innovation Council meeting held in Canberra.

Professor Don Anderson, Chairman of the Industry Research and Development Board, Dr Neil Williams, CEO of AGSO, and Dr Ian Gould, Deputy Chairman of Western Metals, addressed the Council on the significance of Australia's minerals industry - the nation-wide benefits gained from mining, the successes of government-industry collaboration, the importance of innovation in exploration, and the challenges facing the industry.

The presentation was based on a paper prepared by a working group drawn from government, industry and the universities. The paper notes that the Australian minerals industry is Australia's largest export earner and contributed $43.8 billion to Australia's economy in the year 1999-2000. In the same year, Australia was among the top three producers of ten of the most valued minerals in the world.

Over the past 20 years, the resources sector has contributed around $500 billion to Australia's wealth - almost 1.5 times the earnings of the agricultural sector over the same period.

Not only does the Australian minerals industry make a significant contribution to Australia's livelihood in terms of dollars and cents, it has also played a vital role in our community in other ways.

According to the paper, the industry has contributed enormously to the development of regional infrastructure, including railways and roads. Entire towns in regional and rural Australia developed around mines and many, such as Broken Hill, Mt Isa and Kalgoorlie, are recognised as quintessential Australian towns.

Other major Australian industries such as transport, manufacturing, and information technology have also been significant beneficiaries of the resources industry.

The paper reports that internationally, Australia's reputation in the minerals industry is unsurpassed.

Australia's proud record of mineral exploration success is due in no small part to the particularly strong collaborative research and development effort between industry and government. Private-sector risk taken within a knowledge framework supported by government is now commonly cited as 'world's best practice' - a practice other countries that have not realised their mineral potential are attempting to emulate.

To improve competitiveness, the paper states that Australia needs to continue investing in innovation in exploration by developing new data-acquisition tools that allow geoscientists to probe further under the Earth's surface; better analytical methods to interpret both existing and new geoscience data; and new exploration models that overcome the predictive weaknesses of current models.

The paper notes that with the strength and support of government-industry collaboration, Australia is well positioned to enter a new stage of successful exploration.

The paper concludes that there are challenges for Australia if it wishes to build on its existing strengths in the exploration industry and become the global leader in that sector. However, with a competitive business environment, government support for a new phase of regional surveys to stimulate private sector investment, and continuing efforts to develop world-class research and tertiary education establishments, Australia can become the global centre for the mineral exploration industry within this decade.

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