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The Queensland Resources Sector Demonstrates its Resilience and Strength Under Pressure During the COVID-19 Pandemic

20 May 2021 2:34 PM | Dr Marcus Smith (Administrator)

It was a pleasure to hear from the Chief Executive of the Queensland Resources Council (QRC), Ian Macfarlane in his speech this week to the Israel-Australia and Brisbane West Chambers of Commerce, providing a business briefing on the resilience of the state’s resources industry and how it is navigating the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the China trade embargoes, and the uptake of renewable energy.

Mr Macfarlane noted that almost a quarter of member company CEOs expect to increase employment across their Queensland operations this year, building on the past 12 months where the industry has added more than one extra job an hour over the twelve months to February this year.

Indeed, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) detailed, quarterly labour force data shows that the number of employed persons in the mining industry grew by around 10,250 (+15.4%) on a year-on-year basis to  almost 77,000 direct jobs in February 2021, consisting of an increase of almost 12,500 full-time jobs accompanied by a modest decrease in part-time positions.

Furthermore, this represents a 36% increase in direct jobs over a five-year period to February 2021, again, predominantly made up of full-time roles.

According to the latest QRC data, female participation in the sector had risen by 25% from 5,500 in 2018-19 to almost 7,000 in 2019-20 while Indigenous employment in the sector had grown from 4% to 5%.

The latest ABS business counts data estimates that there are around 1,800 businesses operating in the mining industry in Queensland, which grew by 0.4% over the financial year to June 2020.

Figures compiled by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade  illustrate the substantial contribution the resources industry makes to merchandise exports shipped from Queensland as well as how the interruptions from the onset of the pandemic affected international trade to June last year.

Queensland coal exports fell by $7.522 billion (-19.8%) in 2019-20 despite continuing to be by far the largest merchandise export item by FOB value at $30.385 billion or almost 40% of the state’s $76.631 billion in total goods exports.

The DFAT breakdowns showed that falls in coal export values in 2019-20 were largest in key Asian markets including India which fell by almost $2.6b (31%) to $5.848b, by $1.572b (26%) in Japan to $4.552b, and by $998m (28%) in South Korea to $2.614b.

While natural gas is not itemised due to being classified as confidential, LNG exports comprise the majority of the confidential items category, which fell $3.889 billion (14%) to $23.754 billion.

As a proportion of total merchandise exports, the confidential items category maintained its weight of around 31% of merchandise exports over the year.

As the largest state export commodity, data from the Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM) recorded total coal production in Queensland to be 239.08m tonnes during 2019-20.

Metallurgical coal, or coking coal, which comprised almost 64% of the total saleable coal production during the year was down by 2.4% to around 152.479m tonnes, while thermal coal production was down by 8.9% to 86.602m tonnes.

By volume, the DNRM data showed that 213.051m tonnes (89%) of the state’s total production was exported to markets predominantly in Asia (88%) and Europe (9%), of which coking coal represented almost 72% of total shipments from the state.

Most of the Queensland’s coking coal (65%) is mined in the Northern Region (boundary defined to just south of Dysart), while half of the state’s thermal coal is mined in the Southern Region (boundary defined south of Calliope).

As well as opportunities for the sector to build on traditional commodities including coal, gas and minerals such as copper, zinc and bauxite, Mr Macfarlane was bullish about further opportunities in emerging areas such as hydrogen and critical minerals needed for renewable energy infrastructure.

Confident that coal and gas demand would continue to improve in the future, he said the world also "urgently needs" new discoveries of copper, gold, vanadium, bauxite, silver, lead, zinc, indium and cobalt to support the development of renewable energy technologies, which is illustrative of an example that up to 600 kilograms of rare-earth minerals are required to operate just one windmill.

Moreover, annual demand for rare-earth metals has doubled in the past 15 years to 125,000 tonnes and is projected to grow to 315,000 tonnes by 2030. 

Despite a challenging period over the past year for the sector, the industry chief acknowledged this presented an opportunity for the mining sector to demonstrate its resilience and strength under pressure, and that the job creation over this period is a tribute to the companies and their hard-working people as well as supportive suppliers and communities across Queensland.

The industry head noted that the state’s resources sector supports more than 420,000 jobs both directly and indirectly across the state with about 1,000 resource-related job vacancies at present providing plenty more job opportunities to work within the industry.

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