Australia's Identified Mineral Resources
Australia's mineral resources are an important component of the nation's wealth. Understanding the available resources is a prerequisite for formulating sound policies on resources and land access. Geoscience Australia prepares a national inventory of resource stocks and these are reported in the online publication Australia's Identified Mineral Resources (AIMR).
Companies listed on the Australian Securities Exchange are required to report publicly on ore reserves and mineral resources under their control, using the Joint Ore Reserves Committee Code (JORC). Data reported for individual deposits by mining companies are compiled in Geoscience Australia's national mineral resources database and used in the preparation of the annual national assessments of Australia's mineral resources.
AIMR includes data on company estimates of ore reserves as well as evaluations of long-term trends in mineral resources, international rankings, recent developments in the mining industry, mine production and summaries of recent exploration results.
At December 2012, Australia had the world's largest economic resources of gold, iron ore, lead, rutile, zircon, nickel, uranium and zinc. The country also ranks among the top six worldwide for known resources of bauxite, black coal, recoverable brown coal, cobalt, copper, ilmenite, lithium, magnesite, manganese ore, niobium, silver, tantalum, tungsten and vanadium.
Australia's mineral resources are adequate for mining to continue as the most important export earning sector of the Australian economy for the foreseeable future.
Compared to many countries, Australia has a comparative advantage in the production of mineral commodities. This stems from a rich and diverse mineral endowment, high quality regional-scale geoscience information which lowers the risks of exploration, advanced exploration, mining and processing technologies, a skilled work force, generally benign physical conditions and low population density. These factors mean that modern mining can be undertaken in line with increasing community expectations for environmental and social performance.
World economic growth in recent years, particularly in China and India, has increased demand for mineral products worldwide. Australia is the world's leading producer of rutile, zircon, bauxite, iron ore and ilmenite, the second largest producer of alumina, gold, lithium, manganese ore, lead and zinc, the third largest producer of uranium, and the fourth largest of silver, nickel and black coal.
Even though Australia has large economic resources of many mineral commodities, this is not a guarantee that such resources will continue to be exploited in Australia. In an increasingly globalised and competitive commodity market, multinational mining companies continue to search for mineral deposits that will offer attractive returns on investment. Such returns are influenced by the quality of the resources (grade, tonnage, metallurgical properties) as well as environmental, social and political factors, land access and the location and scale of competing projects. Increasingly, minerals projects are being ranked by multinational companies against investment returns from other projects worldwide, particularly during periods of global financial stress.
Regulation of the Australian mining industry is the responsibility of state and territory government agencies. These agencies administer a range of mining, health and safety regulations and legislation relevant to the mining industry. State government mines departments are responsible for granting exploration and mining tenements and for collecting mining royalty payments from the companies.
The minerals industry is Australia's largest export earner with mineral exports accounting for 50 to 60 per cent of the annual value of total exports of goods and services in recent years. In current dollar terms, the value of Australian mineral exports (excluding oil and gas) increased from $45.9 billion in 2002-03 to $145.6 billion in 2012-13, dominated by iron ore, coal, gold, copper, alumina/aluminum, and nickel. The major increase in the overall value of mineral exports in this period reflects increases in both production and commodity prices.
Impacts of improved technologies
In recent decades, improvements in mining techniques (including large-scale mining equipment and automation) have reduced mining costs and allowed economic extraction of deposits that were previously uneconomic. New metallurgical techniques and breakthroughs, such as carbon-based leaching technologies for gold deposits, have improved the rate of recovery for certain metals and minerals or enhanced the economic viability of other deposits (such as lateritic nickel) resulting in major increases in these economic resources.
Maintaining the economic impact of Australia's mineral industry
AIMR shows that there have been very few world-class discoveries in Australia in the past two decades and that the inventory has been sustained largely through delineation of additional resources in known mineral fields. Most of Australia's current mineral production and exports are sourced from deposits discovered during exploration more than two decades ago.
Sustaining the strength of the minerals sector is dependent on:
- discovering a new generation of large low-cost mineral deposits to sustain the resource base; and
- increasing mine production to maintain world market share for major mineral commodities.