Australia's Identified Mineral Resources

Information on mineral resources in Australia, their uses, production and export figures, resource estimates and links to precompetitive products to facilitate exploration activity

For the latest data, please see Australia's Identified Mineral Resources 2017.

Australia has a robust and world-leading mining industry evidenced by a top five position as a producer for some 20 commodities including gold, aluminium, iron ore, rare earths, mineral sands, zinc, lead and coal. In the 2016‑17 financial year, mining accounted for 7.4% of gross domestic product. In addition, the mining industry employed more than  230 000 people in 2016, with many more employed by related industries.

Given the importance of mineral resources to the Australian  economy, Geoscience Australia publishes an annual assessment of the nation’s mineral reserves (Table 1 and Table 2) and resource estimates (Table 3) for all major, and some minor, commodities. This assessment provides useful long-term indicators of potential resource life and future supply capability. Its broad outlook should assist with government policy decisions as well as programs and planning associated with the minerals sector and the sustainable development of Australia's mineral resources.

It is also of interest to note Australia's position as a global source of minerals as many countries are dependent on reliable supply from Australia for their own economies (Table 4). This leads to consideration of how long Australia could potentially provide the world with mineral resources (Table 5).

Australia's Identified Mineral Resources 2017 presents estimates of Australia’s mineral reserves and resources as at 31 December 2016. The data in the national minerals inventory is mainly sourced from published company reports, but includes some confidential and historical data. The highest category in the national inventory is Economic Demonstrated Resources (EDR) which, in essence, combines the Joint Ore Reserves Committee (JORC) Code categories of Proved and Probable Ore Reserves and most of Measured and Indicated Mineral Resources.

Mine production data are based on figures from the Office of the Chief Economist at the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. World rankings of Australia’s mineral resources have been calculated mainly using information published by the United States Geological Survey.

Geoscience Australia and its predecessors have prepared the annual  assessment of Australia's mineral resources since 1975. Thus, this publication is able to draw on 40 years of data to reveal trends in reserve estimates,& resource estimates and mine production over both short and long periods of time.

As at 31 December 2016:

  • Australia’s EDR increased for black coal, cobalt, gold, ilmenite, lithium, molybdenum, potash, rutile, tantalum, tin, vanadium and zircon. The strongest gains in EDR were mineral sands (11%), lithium (70%), potash (73%), cobalt (13%), tantalum (9%) and tin (12%) as improved markets for these commodities, particularly for those associated with battery technology, has stimulated exploration and resource delineation.
  • EDR for brown coal, chromium, copper, fluorine, lead, magnesite, nickel, niobium, oil shale, PGEs, phosphate, rare earths, thorium and zinc remained at levels similar to those previously reported.
  • Australia's EDR decreased for antimony, bauxite, diamond, iron ore, manganese ore, tungsten and uranium. The most significant fall in EDR was diamond (-45%) as the Argyle mine in Western Australia winds down.
  • Australia’s EDR of gold, iron ore, lead, nickel, rutile, tantalum, uranium, zinc and zircon are the world’s largest.
  • Australia’s EDR of antimony, bauxite, black coal, brown coal, cobalt, copper, diamond, ilmenite, lithium, magnesite, manganese ore, niobium, silver, thorium, tin, tungsten and vanadium all rank in the top five worldwide.
  • Australia is also the top global producer for bauxite, iron ore, rutile and zircon.
  • Australia is the second largest producer of gold, lead, rare earths and diamonds, the third largest producer of ilmenite, uranium and zinc, the fourth largest producer of antimony, black coal and manganese ore and fifth for brown coal, cobalt, copper, nickel and silver.
  • Australia had a large number of mines producing gold (130), black coal (93), copper (34), iron ore (29) and silver (22).
  • Australia had few operating mines producing nickel (13), zinc (13), lead (13), zircon (8), ilmenite (7), rutile (7), bauxite (6), uranium (3), manganese ore (1) and diamond (1).
  • Using 2016 rates of production at operating mines, Australia’s Measured and Indicated Resources of bauxite, black coal,  copper, lead, manganese ore, silver, uranium and zinc could potentially last more than 40 years.
  • Using 2016 rates of production at operating  mines, Australia’s Measured and Indicated Resources could have a life of 18 to 33 years for mineral sands, 32 years for nickel, 22 years for gold, 19 years for iron ore, but only 8 years for diamond.
  • At 2016 rates of production, operating gold  mines have enough Measured and Indicated Resources to last an average of 22  years. However, operating lode-gold deposits, which provide most of the gold production, have an average resource life of 8 years.
  • The main mineral export earners in 2016 were iron ore (36% of $151 billion), black coal (26%), gold (12%), copper (5%), alumina (4%), aluminium (2%), nickel and zinc (both 1.5%). These same minerals were the main income earners in 2015 but only iron ore and gold earned greater  income in 2016 than in 2015. Iron ore export income improved by 10% and gold by 28%.
  • The price of most commodities has generally  decreased since peak prices in 2011. The exception is gold which, in Australian dollars, has remained high resulting in strong production and export income.
  • Lower iron ore prices have been offset by increased production, resulting in increased export income in 2016 and reversing the decline of recent years.

Mineral production

Globally, 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 that lowers the risks of exploration; advanced technologies for exploration, mining and processing; 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 bauxite, iron ore, lithium, rutile and zircon and a top five producer for alumina, antimony, black coal, brown coal, cobalt, copper, diamonds, gold, ilmenite, lead, manganese ore, nickel, rare earths, silver, uranium and zinc.

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.

Mining regulation

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.

Mineral exports

Mineral exports account for around half the annual value of total exports of goods and services in recent years. The value of Australian mineral exports (excluding oil and gas) has increased fourfold from $42.5 billion in 2000‑01 to $173.6 billion in 2016‑17, dominated by iron ore, coal, gold, copper and alumina/aluminum. 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:

  • Increasing mine production to maintain world market share for major mineral commodities.
  • Discovering a new generation of large low-cost mineral deposits to sustain the resource base.

To ensure our diverse and plentiful mineral resources continue to be explored, the Australian Government has given Geoscience Australia $100.5 million to lead Exploring for the Future, a four-year program that aims to boost Australia's attractiveness as a destination for investment in resource exploration. Geoscience Australia's leading researchers are using innovative techniques to gather new data and information, on an unprecedented scale, about the potential mineral, energy and groundwater resources in some of Australia's most underexplored areas.