Article – Fraser Survey: Australian mining's place in the world

11 March 2014
Cole Latimer
Australian Mining

The mining boom is over. For Australia’s mining industry this has been exemplified by the increasingly higher cost of doing business, as wages remain high and commodity prices slump.

On the back of this are the numerous, seemingly harmful, governmental regulations which many miners have said is harming our international standing – driving away investment and making Australia a less prospective place to mine.

But is this the case?
In the latest annual survey of mining companies by Canada’s Fraser Institute, Aus­tralia has scored better than it did during the peak of the boom, with Western Australia actually being perceived as the 6th best region in the world in which to mine.
Last year Australia had mixed reviews of its different mining regions.
At the time Aussie miners were more pessimistic about regulation than they used to be, and bosses were increasingly wary of public backlash to their operations.
The study, which hands out a ‘policy potential indicator’ (PPI) for every mining province in the world (which has increased from 72 regions in 2009/2010 to 112 in 2013), works by asking managers and key industry figures how they rate government regulation of their projects.
And last year Australia showed a slump.
“The average PPI score for Australia is down slightly from 2011/2012, although there has been an increasing trend over the last five years,” the  2012/2013 study said. “WA is the highest ranked Australian jurisdiction with a global rank of 15 and a PPI score of 79.3.”
“Victoria showed significant improvement in both its PPI and rank, moving from 44 in 2011-12 to 24 in 2012-13 due to improvements in political stability (38 per cent) and the legal system (16 per cent).”
So how has Australia fared this year? Has it recorded an upswing or has it continued its downwards slide?
Across the board Australia has performed well, and been seen as a more prospective place to do business.
Tasmania was the unsuspected star, experiencing the most improvement for any region, rising from 49th in the last survey to 27th now, “reflecting improved perceptions for uncertainty concerning the administration, interpretation, or enforcement of existing regulations (up by 19 points), the avail­ability of labour and skills (up 14 points), uncertainty over environmental regula­tions (up 10 points) and socio­economic agreements/community development con­ditions (up 10 points),” the survey explained.
Unsurprisingly Western Australia has performed the best out of all of Australia on a state by state basis.
For nearly every single aspect of the survey, Western Australia scored well, if not first globally, demonstrating a large turnaround for a state that suffered the most under the commodity slump.
Nearly year on year, without fail, the state has recorded a higher PPI, apart from the slump last year.

Last year it placed 15th out of 96 regions, with a PP of 79.3. This year its prospectiveness has skyrocketed, with WA scoring a PPI of 90.3, placing it sixth out of 112 regions. This is the highest any Australian region has ever scored.
South Australia and the Northern Territory also fared well in the most recent survey. SA was rated just outside of the top ten, sitting at 11th with a PPI of 82.9, the largest increase for the state in the last five years, after sitting around the 75 mark for a number of years. The Northern Territory came in at 13th, leaping up the charts with a PPI of 81.8. A massive rise from last year’s score of 68.5.
Queensland and Tasmania also recorded increases, sitting at 74.3 and 73.4 respectively, placing them at 24th and 27th on the ladder.
Victoria recorded an increase on its PPI to 68.8 from 66, but a decrease in its ranking from 24 out of 96 to 33 out of 112.
New South Wales fared the worst out of all Australian states, scoring only 64.7, and ranking 39th out of 112.
In regards to actual mineral potential, Western Australia again shone, ranking first globally, with Alaska. Queensland was Austra­lia’s next most prospective state, followed closely by the Northern Territory. Victoria was rated the nation’s least minerally prospective region.
In terms of investment attractiveness, Western Australia again took the lead, ranking first globally. The Northern Territory was a distant second, ranking 17th behind British Columbia and Utah. Unsurprisingly, in terms of its legal system, Western Australia again scored highly, coming fourth globally.
While Australia, and Western Australia scored particularly high, when it comes to taxation regimes and their influence on investment, the nation ranked poorly. South Australia ranked top, just edging in in the high twenties. It was followed by the Northern Territory and West­ern Australia, with WA only ranked slightly better than Peru. Queensland was ranked similarly to Tasmania, and Serbia. New South Wales was ranked as having the worst taxation regime.
However surprisingly, New South Wales ranked best in terms of infrastructure, outranking Western Australia.
The desolate Northern Territory scored worst in Australia in terms of infrastructure; however it still ranked well ahead of China over whether this issue would be a deterrent for investors.
What stood out most for miners was the constant uncertainty over the Mineral Resources Rent Tax in Australia, which at the time of publishing was still enforced, and the carbon tax.
The head of an explorer explained that the “introduction of the mining tax – although not far-reaching – puts investor uncertainty up front, and more importantly provides less developed jurisdiction a precedent for increased royalties etc.; without any of the benefits of having stable and developed regulations”.
According to the vice pre­sident of another explorer, “Australian governments need to realise that we have lost competitiveness and therefore find it difficult to attract the foreign capital that is needed to develop mining projects”.
“We have high costs of labour, energy, regulation, and tax. Some of these things need to be lowered if we want to be competitive again.”
A senior manager at a NSW miner said “delays in approval processes, and changes to regulation with poor transitional arrangements” are a problem. The manager also slam­med NSW for the uncertain­ty in the outcomes of the planning process and the gov­ernment not willing to take hard decisions.
However, despite the unnamed vice president stating that “transport distances are significant as are resultant costs,” generally this did not appear to be a deterrent for investment in the industry.
The exploration company vice president also highlighted Indigenous issues, stating that “the whole issue around native title and mining agreements with traditional owners needs to be reviewed, reworked, and refined – it is a serious constraint to attracting investment”.
Another director at a mining junior said, in terms of the Northern Territory native title issues, “the Australian Land Rights Act and Native Title legislation [and the] non-deductibility of Native Title Royalties from the profit based royalty schemes” are an issue.
Environmental issues were a major concern.
“Environmental approvals need to be streamlined and the terms and constraints reduced to attract investment,” the vice president at the explorer said.
Another manager with a junior miner pointed to the tight regulation in Queensland in particular. “The introduction of the Land Access Code (LAC) is the principle reason why my company relinquished several tenements with potential in north Queensland this year,” the manager said.
“Under the previous arrangement we gave notice of entry [we] had a very cordial relationship with the land owner(s)and were able to complete a range of ground and air geophysics surveys, regolith geochemical surveys and completed more than 4000 metres of drilling on the tenements.
“Since the introduction of the LAC it has become progressively harder to get access to the tenements with the land owners making noise about getting unequal amounts of compensation relative to landowners in the coal seam gas areas.”
Whilst there are underlying problems with Australia’s mining industry in regards to taxation, regulation, and environmental issues, the nation’s industry has improved, and is likely to only improve further as more projects come online and begin producing.
Courtesy of Australian Mining