Trying to predict the future has been a fascination of human nature almost since time began. From the use of oracles, soothsayers and psychics to scientific statisticians, knowing what will happen next has always sparked debate.  

The regularity of the future surprising us and not turning out as predicted has not stopped people from being keen advocates of the practice however, and the mining industry is no exception; its future is discussed and analysed on a regular basis, especially when trying to figure out whether an investment is a wise choice or not. 

In this vein, it is the fortunes and future of the Tasmanian mining industry that finds itself inside the crystal ball after a prominent Tasmanian mining expert recently predicted its decline within the next decade. 

University of Tasmania Distinguished Professor of Economic Geology Ross Large was quoted by the ABC to have said the Tasmanian mining industry could end in the next 10 years as a result of decreasing mining activity across the state for decades. 

Professor Large pointed to a lack of significant investment being put back into exploration as a key cause for the decline. 

To discuss this issue further, National Mining Chronicle spoke to Tasmanian Minerals and Energy Council (TMEC) Chief Executive Officer Wayne Bould about his thoughts on the future of the industry in Tasmania. 

Mr Bould said he agreed with some of Professor Large’s comments, despite primarily being of the opinion that there was a strong future ahead for Tasmanian mining. 

“I think it holds a very good future; not for large-scale mining but potentially for smaller niche metals and niche combination metals, such that it can participate for quite a long time,” he said. 

“Professor Large has been a long contributor to successful mining in Tasmania, so he has a good knowledge of the industry – what he is seeing is a lack of opportunity for, or a lack of interest from, project proponents to invest some money to push projects ahead. 

“He’s quite right in saying that – it’s not about a physical issue or whether or not there are sufficient minerals in Tasmania, it’s about whether investors who have some dollars to invest are willing to invest in Tasmania as opposed to investing in other areas around the world.” 

Therefore, the big question is how to encourage investors to view Tasmania as the best place to invest their money. 

Even though there is no simple solution to this quandary, Mr Bould said updated and improved mining legislation would go a long way to encouraging investment in Tasmania. 

“We’ve been working with the government to look at the existing legislation around the grounding of mining exploration and retention licences, some of which dates back to the 1950s, meaning it just isn’t timely,” he said. 

“We’re having active discussions with the government to make sure the updates provide investors with a little bit more surety than we’ve seen in the last five years.” 

Where should the money go? 

Although Professor Large’s comments on the Tasmanian mining industry were primarily concerned with the discovery of new deposits, Mr Bould said investment in brownfields space was just as important as greenfields. 

“Some of the most recent mining activity has been in relation to picking up tailings residue that date back to the 1940s and 50s and reprocessing them with new technology so that some money can be extracted from those,” he said. 

One such example of this is the work being done by Elementos at the Cleveland mine in Tasmania’s north-west. 

The Cleveland mine was originally an underground tin and copper producer that was operated from 1968 to 1986, processing 5.7 million tonnes of ore to produce 

24,000 tonnes of tin and 10,000 tonnes of copper in concentrate form. 

Elementos acquired the mine in 2014 and is currently in the process of a staged development plan to return the mine to production. 

In September 2016 it announced a new development strategy to de-risk and significantly enhance the economics of any future project development at Cleveland. 

Elementos Chief Executive Officer Chris Creagh cited the desire to foster greater investment in mining as the primary driving force behind the acquisition, stating it was vital to the future of the industry. 

“For new projects to be discovered and developed, it is important the industry is able to attract investment to enable explorers and developers to operate successfully,” he told National Mining Chronicle. 

Although Elementos is doing what it can to keep investors interested in the Tasmanian mining industry, Mr Creagh said the real key to success was the continued support of government at all levels. 

“Tasmania has a rich resource and mining heritage and will continue to provide significant rewards for Tasmania as long as the industry is supported by government initiatives and the investment community,” he said. 

Evidence of government support for the industry could be seen via the $9.5 million committed by the Tasmanian State Government earlier this year to reopen the Mount Lyell copper mine. 

Although government support for one of Tasmania’s biggest mines is good, Mr Bould said the real challenge was encouraging smaller miners to look for the niche metals that Tasmania held. 

“The problem is, in Australia, it costs you a million bucks to drill a couple of holes and then you’ve got to go through the regulatory process, which might give less certainty than it does elsewhere in the world, so it might be putting people off investing in Tasmania,” he said. 

“Our job and the government’s job is to encourage and make legislation more sensibly reflective of developing an industry and maintaining an industry. 

“If we can encourage the smaller miners to look for the niche metals it means we can spread the load of responsibility so we’re not reliant on finding another big mine or on one particular mine to keep producing. 

“I think the future lies in more specialised mining for more specialised metals.”