Latin America comes to the Pilbara

Richard  Claire Murray  By Richard Neumann, Director, South America and COALAR Section; and Claire Murray, Deputy Director DFAT Western Australia State Office

Australia is an ideal international partner in mining.  We have a well-established framework for community consultation built on two decades of implementing native title legislation that empowers indigenous communities.  We have a good track record of appropriate and sensitive environmental engineering and seek to ensure communities benefit from mining though employment and enterprise. To share our experience with our Latin American associates, we headed to remote Western Australia.

The delegation at the Cloudbreak mine airstrip. Photo: Bryan Charlton

On a rainy day in May, a delegation of Latin American Ministers, diplomats and journalists exchanged the cool climes of Perth’s CBD for the expansive, blue skies and iconic red dirt of the Pilbara region. The new WA Minister for Mines and Petroleum, Bill Johnston MLA, joined them, as did our Ambassadors to Latin America and DFAT officers from Canberra and the WA State Office.

Our destination was Fortescue Metal Group’s (FMG) Pilbara iron ore mining and port operations, a site visit secured by the WA State Office and hosted by FMG. The visit followed the sixth Latin America Down Under mining conference in Perth, with a view to highlighting Australia’s mining and METS expertise to our Latin American visitors.

Cloudbreak Processing
At FMG’s Cloudbreak mine iron ore processing facilities. Photo: Bryan Charlton

Our first stop was FMG’s Cloudbreak iron ore mine, 1400km north of Perth. Here, we learnt about FMG’s remarkable success. Cloudbreak mine, the first of FMG’s four mine sites in the Pilbara, became fully operational only 12 months after construction commenced and today produces 40 million tonnes per annum of iron ore. In less than a decade, FMG has become the world’s fourth largest iron producer.

Our Latin American visitors had the opportunity to quiz FMG staff about the company’s community engagement policies, including local procurement (66% of FMG’s spend in 2016-17 occurred in Western Australia), creating opportunities for Indigenous communities through training, employment and business development (15 per cent of FMG’s workforce is Aboriginal) and gender diversity – all of which FMG told us “made good sense”.

We then set off by bus to view Cloudbreak’s digging and processing operations, before a short flight to Port Hedland to visit FMG’s iron ore rail and port handling facilities. From the plane, we could see some of FMG’s three kilometre-long trains plying the 620km of railway track which connects the company’s four mine sites to Port Hedland. And at port, we watched the continuous process (24 hours a day, 365 days a year) of huge ships being loaded with iron ore, before they navigated the port’s shallow waters out to sea bound for China.

Port Hedland
An aerial view of FMG’s Port Hedland iron ore loading berths. Photo: Bryan Charlton

The visit was a great success.  The remoteness, scale and technologically advanced nature of FMG’s operations were striking for all. In particular, our Latin American visitors had the chance to see that the strength of Australian miners was not only their community and environment programs, but also their ability to manage complex logistic supply chains across hundreds of kilometres.

bday cake
QANTAS found out it was Colombian DHOM Alvaro Enrique Ayala Melendez’s birthday. Photo: Bryan Charlton

Richard is the Director of the South America and COALAR Section, a position he has served in twice. He joined DFAT in 1995 and has served overseas in Beijing, Seoul and Taipei. In Canberra he has mainly worked on major emerging economies including Brazil, China and India.

Claire is currently Deputy Director at the Western Australia State Office. Claire has served overseas as Second Secretary at the High Commission in London and as Special Adviser on Resources and Energy at the High Commission in India (locally engaged). Prior to joining DFAT, Claire was a legal adviser to the UK Government on human rights issues and a barrister and solicitor at the Legal Aid Commission.

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