Australian mining industry professionals propose budget measures to secure sustainable benefits from the resources boom

Australia will only secure sustainable benefits from the current resources boom if the Rudd Government’s first Budget implements a range of policy recommendations it proposes, says the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM). It has urged the Treasurer to implement measures that will capture the long term benefits of the mining boom, and that will continue to add value to Australia’s economy, environment and society. The CEO of The AusIMM, Michael Catchpole, said these measures would increase exploration and research activity, change the basis of higher education funding, provide incentives for women to remain in the workforce, develop nationally consistent safety regulation across the country and introduce an effective emissions trading scheme.

“As the professionals in the minerals sector, our members are committed to using their technical knowledge for the benefit of the community,” Catchpole said. “In proposing policy settings across a range of ministerial portfolios, our submission takes the broader view on issues of future competitiveness and economic, social and environmental sustainability.”

The AusIMM Pre-Budget Submission for 2008-09 puts forward policy recommendations in five key areas that are critical to the minerals sector. They are: exploration, minerals R&D, human capital, emissions reductions and health and safety.

Increasing exploration levels in Australia is a clear priority for The AusIMM. “New exploration is the lifeblood of the industry. Australia’s share of global exploration has been declining in recent years, and only 36% of exploration undertaken last year was searching for new deposits. The AusIMM welcomes indications from the government that it will introduce a flowthrough shares scheme for explorers to stimulate exploration activity.”

Catchpole said maintaining Australia’s excellence in research and development has also been identified as a priority. “The Australian mining industry has built up a competitive advantage by applying leading edge technologies which have increased productivity, reduced costs and also reduced impacts on the environment. Australia has an excellent record of government-research institute-industry collaboration that has resulted in stunning value-added results for our economy. This collaboration is not something we can take for granted. It requires a strong public commitment to funding for research infrastructure – centres of excellence and PhD studies. In a consolidated industry we need to ensure that global players continue to choose Australia as their preferred location for mining research.”

The escalating professional skills shortage is another major impediment for the future development of the industry. It is a bizarre anomaly that in the midst of the nation’s biggest ever resources boom, university departments dedicated to minerals-related courses are closing. Catchpole said this was due to the inadequacy of the current formula that allocated funds on the basis of enrolment numbers. This had disadvantaged small, capital-intensive courses such as Mining Engineering and Geoscience.

“A new funding formula must recognise the diversity in location of these courses and the staffing numbers and costs of infrastructure required to teach them to the highest standard. Disciplines of national importance must be encouraged to expand to meet growing and sustained demand.”

In a bid to attract and retain professionals in the mining industry, The AusIMM has also urged the government to implement policy measures that would increase women’s participation in mining. It recommends that the government provide adequate assistance for a broad range of child care options, in particular In-Home care, or nannies. “Far from being a luxury, nannies are the only child care option compatible with mining rosters for many women working in the industry,” Catchpole said. “Members of The AusIMM Women in Mining network have reported paying in excess of $35,000 for child care – more than half their after-tax salary. Government assistance that recognises the real child care needs of shift workers in all sectors is essential if women are to participate fully in our economy – and if our economy and society is to maximise the benefit of that participation. One option is to make costs of child care tax deductible.”

A nationally consistent approach to safety and health regulation is also a priority for The AusIMM. Companies that work in several states are required to comply with multiple regimes driven by a variety of compliance philosophies. Resolving the details and differences detracts from the real task of putting in place the most effective safety system possible. “Federal and state governments have taken steps towards nationally consistent safety principles through the National Mines Safety Framework, but the rate of progress has been slow,” Catchpole said. “We urge the government to make a strong commitment to the implementation of the Framework so that consistent, continuous improvement in safety and health can be achieved.”

Finally, global warming is a major challenge of our times. The mining industry is well placed to contribute to a technology-based solution to global emissions reduction. In a metals-hungry world, the significance of energy efficiency improvements in the production of commodities such as iron ore cannot be underestimated.

The AusIMM has urged the Government to implement a comprehensive technology policy that will complement its emissions reduction scheme. “In scale-intensive industries such as mining and minerals processing, the cost of developing new low-emissions technologies can run into billions, but these are the very developments the world needs if we are to maintain our standard of living whilst bringing down emissions,” Catchpole said. “Strong fiscal incentives are needed to encourage companies to take the ‘next big step’ in low emissions R&D.”