Costs, change, concerns: Council calls for competitiveness 

There is an urgent appeal for more mining investment in Australia, as costs continue rising, living standards declining, and the urge for change is becoming more critical. 

In the Minerals Council of Australia’s (MCA) Pre-Budget Submission for 2024-2025, the MCA flags the need for a ‘sustainable, strong, and growing’ economy in order for the country to remain ‘prosperous’. 

In its submission, the MCA says the problem is mining costs are rising faster than competitors. If existing operations are financially unviable, the outlook for new investment is not favourable.

The council continues to call on the federal government to put business growth and investment at the centre of its policymaking. It says government inaction over the past year clearly shows this message is ‘falling on deaf ears’.

Mining’s capital stock, which is the largest contributor to the economy’s growth, has plateaued at just under $1 trillion over the past 7 years as a result of what the MCA suggests are poor policy settings. 

When costs are high, policy settings matter. We need to be better than our competitors around the world

The MCA adds: “When costs are high, policy settings matter. We need to be better than our competitors around the world.

Government’s policy settings are imposing unexpected and inefficient costs on business that will only harm investment growth and hamstring the nation’s economic potential. Current policy settings are impeding investment in mining projects. Australia’s marginal effective tax and royalty rate on mining investment is high and internationally uncompetitive.

Workplace relations rules are complex, confusing and productivity destroying. Environmental regulations and project approvals processes are inefficient and unnecessarily costly for proponents.

Climate change and energy policies risk putting Australian exporters at a competitive disadvantage. And lack of a well-coordinated national workforce plan for the clean energy transition increases the risk of skills shortages across the economy.”

Structural deficit 

There is a structural deficit forecasted to drag out past 2030. Had the resources sector’s ‘significant’ tax contributions of $167.9 billion from 2012-13 to 2021-22 not been provided, Australia’s debt levels could have been far worse. 

As this news service previously reported, Australia’s mining sector contributes about 13.4% to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and remains a key player to the overall economy.

For the Australian minerals and resources sector to remain sustainable and competitive, there still needs to be more willingness to invest, the council adds. 

In November 2023, BHP (ASX:BHP) reported in its Recapturing Australia’s Competitiveness report, that the nation can potentially double its critical minerals investment pipeline if it lifts production to equal its shares of global reserves in critical minerals, such as copper and nickel. 

BHP says this is only achievable if Australia capitalises on its ‘first-class endowment’ of critical minerals, including lithium, nickel, graphite, and rare earths.

The Recapturing Australia’s Competitiveness report notes that achieving the aims of the Paris Agreement requires rapid and widespread deployment of clean energy technologies such as renewable energy, nuclear power, battery storage, and EVs 

The report adds this transformation will only be possible through scaling up mineral production – with estimates suggesting up to 140 new copper mines, 60 new nickel, 50 new lithium, and 17 new cobalt mines will be required by 2030 alone.

If Australia were to increase its production of the commodities central to the energy transition, this could deliver up to A$20 billion in annual investment for years to come

The capital investment required to unlock this production is estimated at an additional US$100 billion per year. However the Recapturing Australia’s Competitiveness report says global competition for this capital is intense and growing. 

Seizing its share of critical minerals investment will support Australia’s future economic prosperity.

The report continues: “If Australia were to increase its production of the commodities central to the energy transition, this could deliver up to A$20 billion in annual investment for years to come – supporting high-paying jobs in regional and remote areas, and new opportunities for Indigenous participation.”

Meanwhile, the Minerals Council says competition for investment continues to increase from other established and emerging mineral and resource-rich countries, such as Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, India, and the Middle East. 

As previously reported, in a wide ranging interview with Mining.com.au, MCA Chief Executive Officer Tania Constable highlights the ‘struggle’ to compete against other global jurisdictions. 

“Investment is going to the US, Canada, South America, Africa, and certainly Asia. We need to stem that tide by focusing back on what opportunities are there,” Constable says.

Many other countries are beginning to implement comprehensive industrial policies for the supply of clean energy materials and technologies, leaving Australia lagging behind, she adds. 

Picking up the pace

For Australia to be considered in the same race as other countries, Constable says government policies must reduce the distortions and disincentives  limiting the ability to attract investment in mining and downstream processing.

The MCA says international competition for investment in mining, processing, and manufacturing sectors is ‘fierce’.  But, ‘we need to be better than our competitors around the world’.

As per the Minerals Council’s submission, mining by nature is considered a ‘risky’ business, as it is fraught with hurdles — exploration can be scarce, investments can be large, and commodity prices can change dramatically. 

Lithium prices are a prime example of how erratic prices can be. The MCA reports lithium prices fell to a low of US$15,500 a tonne after it had reached a high of US$72,000 over the last year. 

We also saw this with the uranium price change dramatically in early January 2024,when the spot price surged over US$100 per pound as Mining.com.au previously reported.

The MCA has 8 recommendations for the 2024-25 budget for the government to implement to enable the Australian economy to capture these ‘significant’ opportunities presented by the global clean energy transition.

The government must ensure tax settings stay stable and internationally competitive, workplace relations rules do not increase business costs and undermine conditions for improving productivity, and environmental policies do not impose added project burdens without improving environmental outcomes, Constable says. 

In its submission, the MCA flags how critical the emissions reductions and improved energy security is without compromising the economy. 

A recent proposal from The Superpower Institute to impose an additional tax on Australian industry was opposed by the Minerals Council’s CEO who says it will seriously undermine international competitiveness and result in job losses across the country, as reported.

According to PwC in its Aussie Mine 2023 Critical choices report, Australia has the chance to create more than 330,000 jobs by 2040 and generate more than $170 billion in GDP.

Write to Aaliyah Rogan at Mining.com.au     

Images: MCA
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Written By Aaliyah Rogan
Relocated from the East Coast in New Zealand to Queensland Australia, Aaliyah is a fervent journalist who has a passion for storytelling. When Aaliyah isn’t writing stories, she is either spending time with friends and family or down at the beach.