Why are we not seeing any discussion regarding innovation and technology associated with the resources industry?


Why are we not seeing any discussion regarding innovation and technology associated with the resources industry?

This month I add support to recent comments by Nick Giorgetta, Chairman of the world class mining and investment forum, Diggers & Dealers. Nick has been successful over decades taking mining companies from start up, through mine development and in some cases, eventual sale. In his role as Chairman of Diggers & Dealers he is rightfully challenging the government in Australia to take more notice of the mining industry and to hold it up high as a shining example of leadership in technological innovation.

This is especially relevant in Australia today, as the Liberal Federal Government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is very much trying to develop enthusiasm and investment for innovation and technology.

By Nick Giorgetta, Diggers & Dealers Forum Chairman........ Governments and communities are happy to promote an association with the resources industry when commodities prices are high and taxes and royalties associated with the development of natural resources in Australia are robust and the industry is creating substantial employment, capital expenditure and a general positive economic contribution. When the commodity prices are in a down cycle, it seems that the resources industry becomes the “invisible industry” for general Australia. The Federal Government has a focus on developing enthusiasm and investment for innovation and technology which is appropriate and hopefully will generate new ideas with associated emerging new industries and strong economic contribution in a substantial manner for the Australian economy. Almost no profiling has been provided when discussing the benefits of innovation and technology within the resources sector that has demonstrably provided over a sustained period some of the most effective innovation and new technology developed in Australia and historically the industry has also been early adopters of new technology. The Australian mining industry since the 1930's has pushed the boundaries of developing new ways to operate; mainly as a result of managing assets that are remote with associated hurdles. The challenges aligned with remoteness have also created opportunities to develop new and practical technological breakthroughs. These technologies and methods of operating are often initiated in remote regions in Australia and adopted as “state of the art” operational processes internationally. Since the 1980's the Australian resources industry has been involved with the development of, or has been early adopters of the following non-exhaustive list of technologies that have often been low profile but represent significant advances in the manner the resources industry has operated.

  • Carbon in pulp processing
  • Satellite imagery
  • Remote controlled treatment facilities
  • Remote controlled driverless trains
  • Remote controlled driverless trucks
  • Geotechnology
  • Hard rock Seismic technology
  • Automated remote sensors
  • Drone technology
  • Satellite telephones
  • Remote controlled underground mining equipment
  • Advanced simulation technology

These are a few of the examples that the mining industry uses as day to day operating processes but the technologies have a relatively low profile as innovation for the general public. Notwithstanding the low profile, in any case study each of these examples stands alone as a major breakthrough that Governments should be shouting about as leaders of innovation and technology. These have had direct positive impact on:

  • Safety
  • Productivity
  • Profitability
  • The ability to exploit remote resources and create positive economic activity for regions and for the Nation

Almost every company operating in the Australian resources industry has in the last few years utilized the efficient use of technology and innovation as well as excellent management practices to drive operational efficiencies and operating costs in all areas of the industry and are now again reaching levels that allow under reasonable commodity prices companies to deliver sustainable profits. Without an industry that takes a proactive and positive approach to developing new and efficient technologies and innovative operational activities, many existing resources that have generated strong positive economic contributions for companies and the Nation would not have been able to be practically or economically developed. Numerous subsidiary industries have been developed aligned with delivering the new technologies and processes to the industry creating substantial employment. It is impressive that the Government is spending funds and  energy to encourage new ideas and test boundaries and to encourage companies to be innovators and to be bold and take risks. It would be appropriate for the Government to hold the Australian and International resources industry up as providing long term leadership in developing and implementing new technology and innovation. It is appropriate given the success of the industry in this area that scientific and possible associated financial and organizational support be directed to generating the next phase of technology that will drive the next mining boom. After all, this is an industry that has a track record of success in this area and the industry has a strong historic association of collaboration with organisations such as CSIRO, the Western Australian School of Mines and other pre-eminent organisations that can deliver world class research. This industry has always understood that the time to look for new resources and develop new methods of operating is not when the commodity prices are high. The industry understands lead times in generating successful technology through to commercialization and implementation. Commodity prices are showing some early resilience. Let's not ignore our remarkable industry when focusing on technology and innovation. Let's use the expertise we have to tap into the enthusiasm the Government seems to have for new ideas. It would be appropriate in the forthcoming budget where we would expect that innovation and technology will feature, that the mining and resources sector is provided for as a leader and a successful developer of and user of technology and innovation. We are sending a copy of this to the Prime Minister, the Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia and the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science for their reference and we would encourage other organisations that represent various areas associated with the resources sectors and professional organisations that have a contribution to make to consider making a similar submission. If we are silent we will be ignored.