The mining industry has come a long way from the early 1900’s mining leases in Kalgoorlie. But it’s almost like this happened in another lifetime…
The Hon. Norman Moore, Minister for Mines, Mr Peter Jones, Chairman of the Australian Mining Hall of Fame, dear friends and colleagues. It is a great honour to be here this evening, along with the memory of the other six inductees. Of the other six, I was fortunate in knowing three of them personally, so I suppose I’m the living link between them and tonight’s ceremony.
Talking of living links, I’m fortunate that they changed the eligibility rules some years ago. Originally, all nominees had to be dead, but for a particular reason the rules were modified to read, ‘dead or nearly dead’, so I just made it. The three nominees whom I knew, I’ll mention now.
Edgar, Ken and Maureen
Edgar Elvey was one of the most admired mine managers on the Goldfields. He played a major role in steering the industry through all those difficult years when the government had set and fixed the gold price. His generation of mine managers held the industry and its workforce together, so we were ready and alert, to fully participate in the nickel boom, which arrived in 1966.
That’s when talented people like Ken Shirley, flocked to the Goldfields, (now the gold and nickel fields). When I first met Ken he was working for Utah Development Company, pegging ground for them in the Laverton area. He had a falling out with Utah and Norm Shierlaw signed him up to work for Norm’s company, Poseidon Limited.
The ground he then pegged for Poseidon contained the famous Windarra nickel discovery and one day I ask Ken, why he had pegged that particular ground, expecting a technical answer. Ken simply said, “Well that was ground I was going to peg for Utah the very next day but then we had the bust-up so I ended up pegging it for Poseidon instead.”
So that’s how fate steps in!
The third inductee, I got to know more recently when she participated in Mannkal Economic Education Foundation’s student lunches when young scholars report back after attending various internships, in all parts of the world. Maureen Muggeridge had a great style of constructively coaxing information out of the students and I always valued her input on these occasions.
One of the students later told me, “Hey, she’s great. We don’t meet many people over the age of 50 who are across so many issues.” That student was very perceptive.
So I feel very fortunate to have known Edgar Elvey, Ken Shirley and Maureen Muggeridge.
The mining industry
The CV’s of the other three inductees are equally impressive, so I am in excellent company tonight. I’m sure that each of them, along with myself, felt and feel equally privileged to be connected and a participant in this magnificent industry that we call the mining industry.
While I’m up here could I, on behalf of all of us thank Minister Norman Moore for getting behind the Australian Mining Hall of Fame and recruiting the current excellent and effective board of directors. This puts the ownership of the project right where it belongs, with Australia’s mining industry. I’m sure that our Mining Hall of Fame can now fulfil its vital role, particularly at this time when the industry is continually singled out for regular beat ups.
I said that the Mining Hall has a vital role in explaining our industry to the general public. The Mining Hall being just one step away from the companies themselves can develop an educational degree of credibility. One of the things that fascinates me about our mining industry is that we fanaticise that we have a great image amongst the general public and that some of us, like our politicians, feel that just a few perfunctory gestures and frequent use of the word ‘sustainability’ will buy sufficient respectability for us to stagger forward.
Our young people are very sceptical about such trivialities and they are hungry for heroes, on which they can base their aspirations – witness the Steve Jobs phenomenon. We, as an industry, are not developing our own heroes and do not acknowledging them sufficiently.
Our industry is not developing its own narrative, and since Professor Geoffrey Blainey and legendary figures like Sir Arvi Parbo covered earlier generations of our industry, we are virtually without a ‘poet laureate’ or an ‘industry philosopher’ to give the bigger picture, far beyond our individual company presentations.
Our industry has created some great Generals and they are successfully running their companies. However, we desperately need a ‘poet laureate’ if we are going to successfully defend our industry in this ongoing battle. Talking about battles and the need for a poet-philosopher brings to mind the American War of Independence where George Washington was battling the British. George Washington was in the frontline like our modern day CEO’s, but behind the scenes was their poet laureate, Thomas Paine, producing his regular pamphlets called ‘Common Sense’.
Paine’s words set the mood for public opinion and his words presented the American Colonists with an argument for freedom from British rule at a time when the question of independence was still undecided. Paine wrote and reasoned in a style that the common people understood. The importance of Thomas Paine was later summed up by the words of another American Founding Father, John Adams, as follows:
“Without the pen of, Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense, the sword of George Washington would have been raised in vain.”
Friends, our industry desperately need a Thomas Paine, working with the Mining Hall of Fame, to clearly put the case for more mining and more prosperity for our nation and all of its people. Many of us leave it to the politicians, when we get them to open our projects, feeling that it is the only way to get any TV coverage for us.
Relationship issues — it’s complicated
It’s not just me saying this. Dr Nikki Williams, recently speaking as the CEO of the NSW Minerals Council, told a conference in Wollongong:
“The Australian public has a conflicted relationship with the mining sector, which is at the forefront of debates ranging from the carbon tax to the nation’s two-speed economy. We’re the darlings of the business pages, yet we’re painted as demons in the early general news. We help treasurers keep budgets healthy and give Australia the strength to stave off the threat of recession, yet our industry is a lightning rod for the most adversarial of political debates.”
Dr Williams said Australia was in the middle of one of the longest mining booms in the nation’s history.
“Yet we face multiple policies, regulatory and legislative challenges that might collectively render our sector a less attractive destination for international investment than countries such as Indonesia, Colombia or even Mongolia,” she warned.
Friends, Federal Governments will never speak highly of our industry and describe us as a creative, high technology industry, which develops its own people as no other industry does. The Federal Government will never promote our image as being creative as they would never get away with adding yet another tax on top of the other taxes to a ‘creative industry’. However, they can, and will get away with more imposts as long as we continue to be seen as an exploitive industry, which is exactly their description of us, for their own purposes.
Our Australian Mining Hall, through extensive use of social media, could explain how only 200 years ago 85 per cent of the people on this planet lived on less than $1 per day. That was 85 per cent and now it’s down to 20 per cent, largely because of mining.
I know the power of social media as I run one of Australia’s best Facebook sites for economic and policy debate (over 4,500 friends), with contributions from a remarkable range of international individuals, including two former Senior Advisors to President Reagan and the former Prime Minister of Estonia, plus a lot of equally surprising individuals. My Facebook page is so constructively busy that I’ve even employed a Facebook Manager.
So that’s what the Mining Hall should be doing for us as an industry, where it’s not really appropriate for each company to divert their own resources toward social media. We need to develop a narrative of our own to explain mining’s role in increasing the well-being of billions of people, who are being lifted out of poverty.
A better life through mining
Our industry has been largely responsible for increasing the average human life span from 30 years of age (110 years ago) to 67 years of age today. In Australia today there exists evidence that people remain wilfully ignorant about how wealth is created. They take for granted that wealth simply exists, and they focus their attention on a so-called ‘fair’ way to divide it up, such as the more wasteful projects being launched from Canberra like our $500M being sent to Indonesia to build maddrases – Muslim schools.
As long as this absolute waste of resources goes unchallenged, which to my dismay appears to be the case, Canberra’s voracious appetite for further revenue to be extracted from the productive sector will continue. If they actually understood the process of wealth creation they would encourage more mining so that they could receive more revenue, instead they are driving our industry offshore, to so many other countries where Australian capital and personnel are developing mines which will compete with our very own.
Witness the remarkable situation where our Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, is now acting as though he is the Foreign Minister for Africa, announcing all sorts of incentives for Australian companies to invest in African resources, whilst taxing us if we invest in our own country. Tax the industry and the entrepreneurs beyond the point of endurance and the gold and other minerals stay in the ground, and investment and jobs leave on the next flight. Resources don’t benefit the world until somebody discovers them and then can profitably extract process and sell them.
The mining industry needs to do more to promote its socioeconomic benefits to the broader public. This enormous task is being carried on the backs of too few. This is one of the key roles for the Mining Hall of Fame.
The battle continues
Friends, there is a constant battle being fought between the rapacious sector on one hand and the productive sector on the other hand. We need to get our own troops trained and disciplined so may you now support and use our Australian Mining Hall as a key weapon in your arsenal to ensure that our industry prospers under a clear set of rules, regulations and taxes. Under the current regime we are instead subjected to constant whims, threats and disincentives, which only serve to take our eyes off the main ball of being creative and productive.
The Australian Mining Hall of Fame was constructed and funded by the most remarkable and professional group of volunteers that I have ever had the privilege of working with, many of whom are right here with us tonight. We all wish every success to the new team in their challenge in developing our Mining Hall of Fame into an effective player in Australia’s ever expanding resource industry.