11th December 2019

By Division of Resources and Geoscience Deputy Secretary, Michael Wright

With global demand for mineral resources growing, there is significant government support for building the resources industry in NSW. Specifically, we’re looking to capitalise on the increasing global demand for ‘strategic’ metals like lithium, cobalt, scandium and rare earths, together with our copper and gold staples.

This increase in demand coincides with a renewed focus from the NSW Government on the future of the state’s regional economies, the prosperity of which is so closely linked to a thriving resources sector.

We can already see the growing importance and attractiveness of mineral resources playing out in NSW, with our share of Australian mineral exploration more than doubling in less than a decade – growing from $153.2 million (or 5.3 per cent) in 2010-11 to $252.1 million (or 10.7 per cent) in 2018-19.

But while the future is bright for the minerals sector in NSW, the challenge of attracting new investment and maintaining community confidence and the social licence to mine has never been greater.

Creating the conditions for success

An important part of our work, as articulated in the NSW Minerals Strategy, is building partnerships and engaging with industry and community stakeholders.

We’re working on this on a number of fronts. For our industry stakeholders, we aim to be transparent and accountable, and provide information that’s clear and accessible.

Our recently launched Online Minerals Prospectus gives investors all the critical information they need to inform decision-making, including the state’s mineral profile, infrastructure information, global trends, regulations, taxation, reporting, royalties and registration.

We’re also working on a Future of Minerals Report to provide a detailed analysis of existing exploration and mining operations, future metal demand and opportunities and challenges for the sector.

Transparency and availability of information is also a key goal of our new Titles Management System (TMS), developed to handle applications. The first stage of TMS is now live and we’ll be building in new features for the system over the next 12 months.

The loss of social licence

One of the biggest challenges facing the industry now and into the future is the loss of social licence. In many ways, it’s an existential threat to mining.

In the main, opposition to mining is driven through conflicts over use of land, environmental impacts, the additional strain mining may place on local water supplies, concerns over rehabilitation of closed mine sites, and concerns that communities impacted by mining aren’t receiving their fair share of mining’s upside.

Increasingly, there is also the emotive debate around climate change, with mining generally – and coal mining in particular – often singled out as the primary cause of climate change.

This deficit in the social licence for mining has real impacts. It can deter investment and permeate planning and approval processes to sell short the state’s mineral potential.

Championing the benefits of mining to the community

Thankfully, under this government we now have the opportunity to assist in rebuilding that social licence.

Deputy Premier and Minister Responsible for Resources, John Barilaro MP, has given us his full support to be more proactive in promoting and raising awareness of the minerals industry. So we’re working closely with industry to showcase great examples of social and environmental responsibility, and we’re redoubling efforts on the community engagement front.

We’re strengthening our relationships with local councils that host significant mining activity to increase engagement with communities in those areas, and providing concise and useful materials that help everyone in the state understand the important role mining plays in NSW.

Alongside our Common Ground portal, our communications efforts are focused on things like the value of royalties and employment for regional communities and the importance of ‘high-tech’ metals to support advances in technology and renewable energy infrastructure.

We’re also making efforts in geoscientific outreach. A great example here is our work on geotrails, which provide visitors with a guided journey through an area's geology and landscape. Last year we launched the Port Macquarie Coastal Geotrail, which includes a self-guided tour app, brochure, web content, physical signage, and volunteer tour guides, all combined as a story-telling device along a four-kilometre stretch of coastal walk.

Geotrails add real value to communities and are a fantastic way to get kids interested in Earth sciences, and remind people of the riches that lie beneath our feet. Our Port Macquarie Coastal Geotrail has been so successful that we’ve had significant interest from a range of councils for us to establish geotrails in their areas.

Promoting skills and careers in mining

We’re also strengthening our partnerships with the federal government to raise national and international awareness of opportunities to invest in the NSW minerals industry, and to encourage and develop downstream value-adding industries.

This is critical to supporting a skilled and diverse workforce for the resources sector. We want to foster this and create a pipeline of skilled workers to allow the industry to continue to grow.

It’s a multi-faceted approach. To increase interest in geological disciplines and mining, we’re creating engagement materials aimed at various ages. But we’re also improving the framework for reinvesting the proceeds from mining into mining communities under the state’s Resources for Regions program.

This will include enhancing prospects for school-leavers to access science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) educational opportunities through partnerships with the mining industry, secondary schools, and the tertiary education sector, including through the establishment of a mining academy.

It’s also a priority for us to foster more diversity and inclusion in the sector. It has historically been an industry dominated by men, but the sector is already making inroads to increase female participation, making it more representative of the community.

Earlier this year, the Deputy Premier and Minister Responsible for Resources, and the Minister for Women, Bronnie Taylor MP, noted the success of a targeted recruitment campaign for open cut operators by Peabody, with around 40 per cent of successful applicants being female.

Similarly, we’re looking to enhance participation of Aboriginal people in the sector through education and training, to support a stronger and more vibrant state with more integrated communities.

Challenges aside, it’s an exciting time for the sector in NSW. All the elements are in place:

  • We have a wealth of diverse untapped resources.
  • We are investing in data collection to support exploration in highly-prospective but relatively unexplored areas.
  • Demand for metals continues to grow off the back of high-technology industries.
  • We’re building our already highly-skilled workforce.
  • We have strong government support to grow the sector.
  • We have a balanced regulatory framework which encourages the responsible development of our mineral resources.

Hearts and minds are invested in this, and prosperity for the people of NSW is our focus. NSW is open for business — and ready.