Barkly Regional Resource and Economic Development Conference

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the 2017 Barkly Regional Resource and Economic Development Conference, held in the Tennant Creek Civic Hall on 24 and 25 October. The conference was well attended with around 40 delegates over the 2 days.

What was so apparent about the conference was the general air of optimism displayed by delegates, this was evidenced by the positive vibe noticeable throughout the entire conference. With two government Ministers in attendance, Gerry McCarthy and Ken Vowles, the conference attained a level of significance which reflected the importance placed by the Northern Territory Government on the region.

Steve Edgington, President of the Barkly Regional Council, opened the conference with a discussion about the industry skills required in the Barkly Region to meet current needs and ensure the success of upcoming projects.

Following on from Steve, the Chair of the Barkly Regional Economic Development Committee, Greg Marlow, gave a tantalizing preview of some of the big ticket items coming up – Bootu Creek Manganese mine, the Ali Curung Barkly Solar project, an abattoir for Tennant Creek, and establishing the Tennant Creek Mining Hall of Fame. All are great projects.

Mining in the region was highlighted in the presentation from Dr Ian Scrimgeour, Executive Director of the NT Geological Survey. As well as touching on the reopening of Bootu Creek, Ian also discussed the Edna Beryl gold mine, a very high bearing gold ore deposit which is going to be so important for the region. Exploration, as Ian explained, has declined significantly in the region from a high point in 2011, however, things are starting to improve. Several miners are out there looking for, amongst other things, copper, gold, zinc, tungsten, vanadium, and phosphate, all of which can be found in the region.

Many speakers at the conference touched on the proposed Tennant Creek common user mine and processing facility. This project is in its feasibility stage, however, the consensus around the room was that a facility such as this would be very well received by the mining industry in the region.

Jonathan Spinks from Jemena, gave us all a great insight into the Northern Gas Pipeline project. This project has created a lot of employment for locals both in the Barkly Region and across to Mount Isa in Queensland. Significant work is currently underway not only with laying the pipeline but with the Phillips Creek pumping station too.

The issue of employing and retaining an aboriginal workforce was highlighted by Teresa Cummings from NARMCO. Teresa gave a very interesting presentation in which she exposed some of the challenges faced by new aboriginal employees, especially around financial literacy. This lack of financial knowledge can cause some people to take on more debt than they can cope with and is often exacerbated by questionable practices by some retailers. Once in debt it is less stressful for some to quit working and fall back into the more familiar territory of welfare. An assessment of a new employee’s financial literacy followed up by complimentary gap training could assist in alleviating this problem.

One very interesting discussion was held around legacy mine sites which proliferate around the Barkly Region. Mike Fawcett from the Department of Primary Industry and Resources explained how some of these intrinsically dangerous mine sites were being made safe by the Department and turned into attractions which tourists could safely visit.  This could be an exciting opportunity for tour operators to capitalise on what, up until now, has been a liability.

Several other speakers had positive things to say about mining, unconventional gas, agriculture, horticulture and electricity generation. Even our former Chief Minister, Paul Henderson was there to talk about Verdant Minerals, Amaroo Phosphate Project. Personally, the overarching take home message from this conference was that the Barkly Region of the Northern Territory is going to be an economic powerhouse in the coming years.