This article was first published in the 2015 edition of WA Mining Club‘s Minesite, an annual collection of the club’s activities as well as those of its members. Ron is an active participant of WA Mining Club and never misses an opportunity to pen a few words.
Minesite prides itself in offering a wide range of perspectives from its knowledgeable contributors, giving readers a strong array of angles from a variety of backgrounds to satisfy. Outspoken educator Ron Manners, from Mannwest Group and the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation, is a regular provider who, again this year, does not fail to deliver with his thought-provoking opinions worth the time to contemplate. Unafraid to throw the gauntlet down, Ron conveys an impassioned challenge to leaders and would-be aspirants in today’s resources industry to step up to the heights of resilience and self-improvement displayed by other sectors such as those in the sporting field.
Nobel Laureate (1969) Paul Samuelson was once challenged by the mathematician Stanislaw Ulam to “name me one proposition in all of the social sciences which is both true and non-trivial”. It was several years later that he thought of the correct response – comparative advantage. That it is logically true need not be argued before a mathematician; that it is not trivial is attested by the thousands of important and intelligent men who have never been able to grasp the doctrine for themselves, or to believe it after it was explained to them. PA Samuelson, The Way of an Economist, 1969.
I humbly suspect that our mining industry’s bright and intelligent people were among those who did not appreciate this concept of comparative advantage, otherwise they would have resisted repeated attempts by various opponents of our industry to de-knacker it. This has led to a decline from ‘hero’ status to ‘pathetic performance’ status, where investment returns are such that no one in their right mind would rely on dividend flow from our resource companies to finance their future. If what I am saying is true, then this reflects badly on our industry leadership.
Mannkal Foundation ran an essay contest last year at Curtin University, WA School of Mines. The contest challenged students to search for leadership in the resources industry and report on examples they could find. There were 35 finalists in the contest. Overall it confirmed that apart from the courageous few (three or four), there exists a leadership crisis in our industry.
Sir Arvi Parbo concisely summed up Australia’s business environment in an interview in the October 1995 edition of Director:
“Today when you do something, you know that from the first day probably half of the country is working against you in some way or another. Half of the government is working against you. You will have departments in favour of what you are doing, and probably an even number of departments very much against it. They will want to hem you in and stop you from what you are doing, or at the very least, make sure that you can only do it in a restricted manner”.
That is when the leadership of our industry should have taken up Sir Arvi’s challenge and instituted a set of rules for our industry that would have restored our comparative advantage. Now in 2015, it is late, but not too late to do something about it. However is anyone doing anything?
I should caution against adopting a ‘victimhood’ status for our industry – victims cannot be leaders. We must get up off our knees and change ourselves; it is part of the individual responsibility package that comes with true leadership. Earlier this year in Hong Kong at a large rugby commemorative dinner, I heard two rugby legends each speak for 40 minutes. They both spoke without notes and with great passion. I sat there wondering why our industry – the most imaginative and creative industry in the world – does not have a significant collection of people who can speak with similar passion about this industry?
I hope we have not lost our ability to sell our industry as an exciting, creative and profitable endeavour.