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Minerals and mining

Despite the end of a national mining boom in the second decade of the 21st century, Tasmania’s mining and mineral-processing businesses continued to make a huge contribution to the State’s economy. In 2015–16, metallic ores and metals made up 56 per cent by value of the State’s merchandise exports. Non-ferrous metal exports rose by 23.8 per cent to $1,209 million, accounting for 42.4 per cent of exports. Metallic ores and metal scraps accounted for a further 13.9 per cent. Demand from China for non-ferrous metals helped drive a 12.3 per cent increase in total State exports at a time when national exports were in decline.

Production by mining and minerals businesses has reached $1.5 billion a year and the sector employs more than 3,000 people. Expenditure on operations and capital is close to $1 billion a year.

The sector took a Team Tasmania approach to help the State ride out an energy crisis triggered by a record drought and a Bass Strait cable outage in 2016. During the height of the crisis, businesses reduced production in order to lower energy use.

Major businesses in the sector include Bell Bay Aluminium, Nyrstar (zinc), Temco (manganese ferro-alloys) and Grange Resources (iron ore pellets). Tasmania’s largest mine, Mt Lyell, remained closed in 2016 after a series of industrial accidents.

The west coast of Tasmania is one of the most heavily mineralised regions in Australia and its mineral industry has played a significant part in economic and cultural development for well over 150 years. The major minerals extracted at present include copper, gold, lead, magnetite, silver, tin, zinc and ultra-high purity silica flour. World-class ore deposits lie in an arc of volcanic lavas from Low Rocky Point in Tasmania’s south-west, northwards through the great mines past and present of Mt Lyell, the Dundas mineral field, Henty-Zeehan mineral field, Renison Bell, Rosebery, Tullah, Que River, Hellyer, then eastwards to the Moina mineral field near Sheffield.

Hot metal-bearing fluids, associated with undersea volcanism approximately 600 million years ago, poured out on to a sea floor to form the copper, lead, zinc, silver and gold ore deposits that have supported major mines.

In the 12 months to March 2016, $12.3 million was spent on exploration in Tasmania. Several planned mines in the north-west were on hold because of low international prices.

Mining expertise in Tasmania has evolved from being focused only on winning the resource to providing innovative techniques and equipment, so that operations can be increasingly efficient and environmentally sensitive. Tasmanians sell their hard-rock expertise and the technology they have developed to the mining industry worldwide.

The Elphinstone Group designs and constructs underground mine machinery in Burnie. Haulmax, in Wynyard, manufactures off-highway bulk haulage vehicles for mining applications. Terratec Asia Pacific, near Hobart, designs and builds tunnelling and drilling machines that can be found working in mines around the world. The Centre for Ore Deposit and Research at UTAS has an international reputation for excellence in geological research.

Facts and figures

  • Tasmania’s mining and mineral industry employs over 3,000 people directly and generates another 10,000 indirect jobs.
  • Exported commodities include ores and concentrates of iron, copper, lead, zinc, tin, gold, high-grade silica, bauxite and tungsten, as well as refined zinc and aluminium and ferro-alloys and cement. Tasmania is the major supplier of ferro-manganese to the Australian steel industry.
  •  The in-ground value of discovered minerals has been estimated to be over $31,000 million.

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