2015 Annual Report

2015 was another challenging year economically for the minerals industry, and one that ushered in further political change and debate about Australia’s future prosperity.

Through this period of flux, the MCA has remained focused on its core business of policy advocacy and public positioning on behalf of the industry.

With few exceptions, market conditions remained very tough. Weaker growth in China and other emerging economies, alongside a robust supply picture, continued to weigh on commodity prices in 2015. But there were also ‘green shoots’ as companies demonstrated their commitment to innovation and productivity growth to restore much needed industry competitiveness.

With the ascendancy of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his new ministerial team, the industry took time out in December to thank Ian Macfarlane for his superb record of service as Australia’s longest serving Resources Minister. Pleasingly, his replacement, Josh Frydenberg, quickly demonstrated his commitment to being a forceful and articulate advocate on behalf of the mining industry.

In 2015, the MCA continued to advocate strongly for economic reform in key areas of importance to the minerals industry, including taxation, workplace relations and approvals processes. Responding to major government inquiries on the first two issues, the MCA released major new research alongside detailed industry submissions.

Prominent economist Chris Richardson headlined the MCA Tax Conference in March with a myth-busting MCA monograph. This showed, for example, that mining tax ratios have headed up rather than down over recent years. Indeed, Richardson drew attention to the lack of evidence to support the view that taxes on mining in Australia fell notably during the boom years.

MCA-commissioned research on workplace relations coincided with the Productivity Commission review of the current system in 2015. A study by Alex Sundakov and Michael Schur from Castalia Advisors challenged some of the shibboleths that surround the Fair Work Act, including ideological opposition to individual agreements.

Of course, all involved in the industry are well aware that making the case for reform is a long-term challenge, not least given that 2016 is a federal election year.

Another issue that loomed large in 2015 was the state of Australia’s iron ore industry. Here again, the MCA led the way in putting critical facts in the public domain. Minerals Week saw the publication of a path-breaking historical study on the development of the iron ore industry by historian David Lee. The MCA also published policy papers by Port Jackson Partners and economist Andy Stoeckel, with a common theme being the folly of political intervention in commodity markets.

Another landmark publication in 2015 was a comprehensive study by Professor Marcia Langton of the journey the minerals industry has been on with Indigenous Australians over recent decades. Launched in Parliament House, the Langton monograph provided a valuable opportunity to highlight the industry’s commitment to improving the lives of the first Australians.

Beyond these areas of ‘crunchy’ research, the MCA stepped up its program of events, most notably with the inaugural Australian Mining Industry Annual Lecture.

A master-class oration on ‘Mining and the Australian People’ by Professor Geoffrey Blainey AC drew more than 300 people to the Sofitel in Melbourne in September. Australia’s premier historian provided his audience with a sweeping narrative on the role of mining in Australian life. I’m confident this annual lecture, with generous support from BHP Billiton, will become a signature event on the industry’s calendar.

The health and safety of the industry’s workforce remained, as ever, a central focus of the MCA’s work in 2015. A tragic increase in workplace fatalities in 2013-14 put everyone in the industry on notice regarding the imperative of better understanding the causes of significant incidents. The MCA has worked closely with companies, state chambers and the International Council of Mining and Metals to ensure practical guidance on preventing serious health and safety incidents is available and widely disseminated.

Another major concern is mental health and the MCA has taken a leadership role, including through the release at a specially convened CEO Safety Summit in September 2015 of a new Blueprint for Mental Health and Wellbeing.

Finally, this is my last Annual Report review as Chairman of the MCA. I hope and trust that the MCA can continue to count on your support as it goes about being an effective and efficient advocate on behalf of the minerals industry in the years to come.

Andrew Michelmore

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