Min­ing in the Ter­ri­tory

Spurred on by ris­ing com­mod­ity prices and boom­ing bat­tery-af­fil­i­ated raw ma­te­rial mar­kets, the North­ern Ter­ri­tory is see­ing a marked rise in ex­plo­ration and the num­ber of projects mov­ing to­wards de­vel­op­ment.

The Australian Mining Review - - CONTENTS - CAMERON DRUMMOND

ON the back of a global in­crease in de­mand for raw ma­te­ri­als the NT Gov­ern­ment is wast­ing no time re­form­ing its min­ing in­dus­try pro­cesses to make the re­gion more at­trac­tive for in­vest­ment.

Be­hind con­struc­tion, the re­sources sec­tor is the Top End’s big­gest in­dus­try, ac­count­ing for about 13 per cent of gross state prod­uct (GSP).

NT Re­sources min­is­ter Ken Vowles said min­ing and ex­plo­ration re­mained a “key el­e­ment” of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and em­ploy­ment in re­mote and re­gional ar­eas, as the value of min­eral pro­duc­tion in the Ter­ri­tory hit a new record of $3.63 bil­lion in FY17.

“The NT has eight ma­jor op­er­at­ing mines, with our man­ganese, zinc and gold mines all ben­e­fit­ing from strong com­mod­ity prices that have led to record values of pro­duc­tion,” he said.

“New­mont has re­cently com­pleted a ma­jor ex­pan­sion of its gold op­er­a­tions in the Tanami Desert, which will in­crease pro­duc­tion to around half a mil­lion ounces of gold per year.

“In Ten­nant Creek we saw the open­ing of the Edna Beryl gold mine ear­lier this year, the first new mine to open in the area in over a decade.”

Cur­rently, min­ing cre­ates about 4800 di­rect jobs, with many more in­di­rect jobs in the ser­vice and sup­ply in­dus­tries.

Mr Vowles said that fig­ure could more than dou­ble in the near fu­ture, with re­forms aimed to help the 17 projects across the Ter­ri­tory cur­rently at var­i­ous stages of de­vel­op­ment.

This in­cludes changes to the cur­rent roy­al­ties sys­tem, stream­lin­ing pro­cesses for min­ers to gain nec­es­sary ap­provals, and the con­tin­u­a­tion of its Cre­at­ing Op­por­tu­ni­ties for Re­source Ex­plo­ration (CORE) ini­tia­tive.

“In five years, there is ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve the Ter­ri­tory can be pro­duc­ing rare earths for use in mag­nets, and lithium and vana­dium elec­trolyte for bat­tery stor­age.”

“The Ter­ri­tory has strong bi­par­ti­san sup­port for the min­ing sec­tor, and the NT Gov­ern­ment is fo­cused on cut­ting red and green tape to con­tin­u­ally im­prove our com­pet­i­tive­ness in at­tract­ing in­vest­ment,” Mr Vowles said.

“The Ter­ri­tory has sig­nif­i­cant re­sources of valu­able me­tals and min­er­als that are used in high-tech­nol­ogy and clean en­ergy in­dus­tries, such as rare earths, vana­dium and lithium.

“This presents a ma­jor op­por­tu­nity, and we see a strong out­look for the Ter­ri­tory in sup­ply­ing the in­dus­tries of the fu­ture.

“In five years, there is ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve the Ter­ri­tory can be pro­duc­ing rare earths for use in mag­nets, and lithium and vana­dium elec­trolyte for bat­tery stor­age.”

Re­forms

The NT Gov­ern­ment re­cently re­leased its North­ern Ter­ri­tory Rev­enue Dis­cus­sion Pa­per to look at pol­icy changes that could in­crease own-source rev­enue, in­clud­ing changes that could be made to in­crease min­ing roy­alty re­turns for its com­mu­nity.

The pa­per re­ported that min­eral roy­al­ties could pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant amounts of rev­enue to the Ter­ri­tory; how­ever as most mines in the Ter­ri­tory cur­rently pay profit-based roy­al­ties, the lev­els of rev­enue were un­pre­dictable, with some mines clos­ing be­fore in­cur­ring roy­alty li­a­bil­i­ties.

“Some op­tions put for­ward by the Gov­ern­ment in­clude an ad­just­ment to the min­eral roy­alty rate (while ac­knowl­edg­ing that a high roy­alty rate may act as a dis­in­cen­tive to min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties), the in­tro­duc­tion of a value based min­i­mum roy­alty (en­sur­ing a re­turn to the Ter­ri­tory for min­ing, re­gard­less of the prof­itabil­ity of the mine) and the re­place­ment of the profit based scheme with a value based scheme,” the re­port stated.

Apart from the Com­mon­wealth’s Pe­tro­leum Re­source Rent Tax (PRRT) and the roy­alty ar­range­ment for Bar­row Is­land in WA, the Ter­ri­tory is the only Aus­tralian ju­ris­dic­tion that has a wholly profit-based roy­alty.

“One of the main ad­van­tages of­fered by value-based roy­al­ties is they are sim­pler and more trans­par­ent for Gov­ern­ment and min­ers to ad­min­is­ter, while also pro­vid­ing a more pre­dictable source of rev­enue,” the re­port stated.

The NT Gov­ern­ment said it was open to di­a­logue with the com­mu­nity, in­dus­try and peak bod­ies re­gard­ing any changes to the roy­alty sys­tem.

In ef­forts to min­imise red tape, the NT Gov­ern­ment said it would con­duct a re­view of Mine Man­age­ment Plans (MMP) to en­sure they are fit-for-pur­pose, and to stream­line the pro­ce­dure for lodge­ment and as­sess­ment.

Mr Vowles said key min­ing in­dus­try groups would be con­sulted to en­sure the re­vised MMPs met the needs of both in­dus­try and Gov­ern­ment.

Also on the agenda would be re­forms to the en­vi­ron­men­tal ap­proval process.

“More broadly we are look­ing at re­struc­tur­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal ap­proval, which is likely to in­volve leg­isla­tive change,” Mr Vowles said.

“In­dus­try is call­ing for a more stream­lined and ef­fi­cient process and com­plex is­sues are be­ing worked through to achieve con­tem­po­rary, trans­par­ent and ef­fec­tive reg­u­la­tion of the re­sources sec­tor.

“This work will align with broader en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tory re­forms be­ing de­vel­oped by the NT Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment and Nat­u­ral Re­sources.”

Mr Vowles also said the re­forms would be aimed to en­sure the ben­e­fits of min­ing would be max­imised within the lo­cal econ­omy by en­cour­ag­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in­stead of re­ly­ing on FIFO work­ers.

“We are de­vel­op­ing Ten­nant Creek as a min­ing ser­vices hub, with pro­grams to stim­u­late ex­plo­ration in the re­gion, and we are sup­port­ing the de­vel­op­ment of a com­mon-user milling fa­cil­ity that can help the de­vel­op­ment of small mines in the area,” he said.

“This has the po­ten­tial to re­vi­talise the lo­cal econ­omy and pro­vide much-needed busi­ness and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties are also ben­e­fit­ing, with the de­vel­op­ment of a new baux­ite min­ing op­er­a­tion near Gove in Arn­hem Land af­ter the grant­ing of a min­ing lease to the Gulkula Min­ing Com­pany.

“This is the first Abo­rig­i­nal-owned min­ing op­er­a­tion in the Ter­ri­tory and is ex­pected to pro­vide valu­able em­ploy­ment and train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for lo­cal peo­ple.”

CORE

Soon to be in its fifth year, the CORE ini­tia­tive in­volves a range of pro­grams aimed at im­prov­ing the Ter­ri­tory’s com­pet­i­tive­ness in at­tract­ing ex­plo­ration in­vest­ment by low­er­ing the cost and risk of ex­plo­ration.

This has in­cluded pro­vid­ing base­line geo­sci­en­tific data and in­ter­pre­ta­tions to un­der­pin ex­plo­ration de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

It also pro­vides col­lab­o­ra­tive grants for ex­plo­ration to re­ward in­no­va­tion and share the risk of green­fields ex­plo­ration.

So far un­der the ini­tia­tive the NT Gov­ern­ment has co-funded more than 15,000m of drilling, as well as a di­verse range of seis­mic and air­borne geo­phys­i­cal sur­veys.

Mr Vowles said there had also been a fo­cus on im­prov­ing ac­ces­si­bil­ity of data and in­for­ma­tion for the global ex­plo­ration in­dus­try.

“Ear­lier this year, ev­ery in­dus­try re­port on min­eral ex­plo­ration in the NT since 1901 was put on­line – around 23,000 re­ports can now be viewed from any­where in the world,” Mr Vowles said.

“Un­der CORE, the Ter­ri­tory is co-in­vest­ing with Geo­science Aus­tralia un­der the $100m Ex­plor­ing for the Fu­ture ini­tia­tive, with ma­jor new col­lab­o­ra­tive geo­science pro­grams un­der­way to in­ves­ti­gate the poorly known ge­ol­ogy that sits be­neath the Barkly Table­lands be­tween Ten­nant Creek and Mount Isa.

“This has the po­ten­tial to open up new min­eral prov­inces for the Ter­ri­tory.”

“One of the main ad­van­tages of­fered by value-based roy­al­ties is they are sim­pler and more trans­par­ent for Gov­ern­ment and min­ers to ad­min­is­ter, while also pro­vid­ing a more pre­dictable source of rev­enue.”

Im­age: NT Depart­ment of In­dus­try and Re­sources.

Im­age: NT Depart­ment of In­dus­try and Re­sources.

NT Re­sources min­is­ter Ken Vowles is con­fi­dent that re­forms will make the Top End more at­trac­tive for min­ers.

The NT Gov­ern­ment is look­ing at cut­ting red tape to get projects off the ground.

(L to R) Roric Smith, NT Re­sources min­is­ter Ken Vowles, Mem­ber for Fong Lim Jeff Collins, and Rob Bills from Em­mer­son Re­sources at the Edna Beryl gold mine.

Im­age: New­mont Min­ing.

New­mont has re­cently com­pleted ex­pan­sion works at its Tanami gold project.

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