Exploration spending on minerals in Australia is well down from previous highs (a global trend) and the distribution of global spending has shifted (Australia is no longer the number one exploration destination) This matters because exploration today dictates the face of our gold ($5bn pa), nickel ($2bn)pa and base metal ($4bn pa) industries from 2010-2020 and beyond. Australian governments have recognised the threats to taxes, royalties, employment and balance of trade, and supported the Mineral Exploration Action Agenda (MEAA) and Prosser Report (and other initiatives).
Increased exploration investment will certainly stimulate ACTIVITY, but this will appear ephemeral unless matched with discovery. If we can increase the SUCCESS RATE as well as the level of activity, one will support the other. We can influence the success rate by well-directed, leading-edge research that is tailored for Australia’s conditions. This has paid huge dividends in the past (e.g. gold industry), and can do so again.
CSIRO has refocussed its activities over the last few years and is directing significant proportions of its funds into large national initiatives (Flagships) and into building the science capabilities we will need in 2010 and beyond (Emerging Sciences). Within the framework of the MEAA, the Australian Geoscience Council has written to the Federal Treasurer recommending a Flagship in the resource exploration area. Our role in CSIRO is to ensure that we are well placed to maximise the benefits from such an investment, and to help build a compelling case for the investments in exploration R&D. This process will increase success rates, which in turn lead to more discoveries and a longer-term mineral industry.
Professor Neil Phillips is chief of division, CSIRO Exploration and Mining. His career has moved between the exploration industry (six years as General Manager Geology with Great Central Mines group), universities (Inaugural Professor of Economic Geology, James Cook University, Townsville), and CSIRO. His main research interest is gold geology and how it can contribute to successful exploration.