The Northern Territory is better known for its tongue-in-cheek tourism campaigns than it is for its mining industry. 

But renewed investment and exploration has seen a growth over the past few years, with many pointing toward positive times for the sector’s future. 

“There is certainly a real air of confidence around the territory,” NT Minister for Primary Industry and Resources Paul Kirby said. 

“We have probably seen some of the best investment figures since the last decent mining boom and we are confident it will put us in a good position going forward.” 

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released data in September, which revealed the NT mineral exploration expenditure in the 2018-19 financial year was 21 per cent higher than the previous financial year. 

The NT mineral exploration expenditure for 2018-19 was $131.9 million – the highest figure seen for eight years. 

Mineral production in the NT reached a record $4.49 billion – a 24 per cent increase on the previous financial year, and the first time the value of the territory’s mining sector has passed the $4 billion mark. 

In February 2019, mining in the territory accounted for 3600 workers, according to the ABS. 

The territory has nine active minesites, up from six in 2016, covering a range of minerals, from gold and bauxite, to manganese and zinc. Three mines recently opened or reopened in the past 24 months. 

Six further projects are pending development in the next 12 months, with 13 potential developments set to begin within the next 12-60 months, according to the Department of Primary Industry and Resources. 

Out of the 25 potential operations in the pipeline, six are reopening mines, two represent expansions of existing operations, while the rest are new operations. 

While well known for uranium mining, there are currently no uranium mines in operation or in the pipeline over the next 60 months in the region. 

“As the batteries and the renewable industry expands through the country and through the globe, we know we will be well positioned with some of our rich tenements of rare earths,” Mr Kirby said 

“We’re extremely close to the majority of the markets in Asia, which is a very good competitive advantage.” 

One of the NT’s biggest mining operations, Newmont Goldcorp’s Tanami gold mine, is undergoing a second expansion. 

Newmont Goldcorp President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Palmer said the Tanami region in NT was a core jurisdiction which would continue to offer significant value and generate opportunities for its shareholders. 

Another substantial operation, Glencore’s lead-zinc McArthur River mine, also announced expansions recently approved by Mr Kirby. 

The investment flurry is exciting, given the territory is in the second year of its $26 million Resourcing the Territory initiative (2018-2022). 

The initiative hopes to support resources exploration and make the territory a preferred destination for exploration investment. 

Some key themes of the plan include upgrading geophysical data, stimulating greenfields exploration and issuing grants. 

Previous issues which have stymied progress have been floated by some in the industry, including red tape, logistical and transport issues and remote locations. 

Mr Kirby said the government was committed to running things smoothly and responsibly. 

“As ministers we are really cognisant of getting those projects underway and making sure things don’t sit on our desk, and we get approvals and processes through as quick as we possibly can,” he said. 

“We certainly make no apologies for putting a responsible environmental regime in place. 

“We know we have put strong regimes in place, but they are no obstacle for people getting off the ground. Exactly the opposite, we are open for business. 

“We’re pretty sure we have got the coexistence mix right, in making sure these mines have a sustainable future and our pristine waterways and national parks are looked after. 

“Ongoing development of the mining industry in the NT is important. Our government expects it to be done in a sustainable and responsible manner, maximising economic benefits while focusing on minimising environmental impact.” 

However, Mr Kirby said he understood operating in the territory could also be hard work. 

“The distance and the heat and some of the obstacles you need to overcome, I understand the business can be easier interstate, but we have opportunities in the territory other states don’t have,” he said. 

“With a number of projects now well advanced through the approvals process the industry is in a healthy position to continue to expand.” 


Image: Geology team members at Newmont's Tanami operation.