Presentation to Darwin Mining Club by General Manager - McArthur River Mining
12 March 2021
Hello and welcome. My name is Steven Rooney and I am the general manager of McArthur River Mining.
Thanks for having me today and taking the time to learn a little bit about our operation at McArthur River and what we are doing to develop homegrown talent, not just for our benefit, but for the Territory and industry as a whole.
Before starting, I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of Gudanji country, on which our mine operates, Yanyuwa country, where our Bing Bong Loading Facility is situated, and of course the Larrakia people, on whose land we are meeting today. I pay my respect to their elders past and present, and also to their emerging leaders.
I would like to welcome and acknowledge Deputy Chief Minister and Minister for Mining and Industry, Nicole Manison and the Leader of the Opposition, Lia Finocchiaro MLA who are here today.
It is great to see our industry come together for events like this and to have the support of government in the room.
We are an open cut mine located around 900 kilometeres south-east of here, near Borroloola. We mine zinc, lead and a little bit of silver, which are processed on site and shipped all over the world from our loading facility, Bing Bong. We are one of the largest zinc and lead deposits in the world – metals that are essential for the roof over our head, mobile phones and other everyday items a modern world could simply not live without.
Our remoteness throws up a few challenges here and there, however, with that comes tremendous opportunity, particularly when it comes to the local community and wider Territory.
Now more than ever, we are acutely aware of our responsibility to give back to the communities in which we operate – the Gulf region and Territory – and we know the best and most sustainable way to do this is through jobs, training and education.
We are not alone in thinking this and there is no doubt mining – operations like ours and yours – will continue to play a key role in the Territory’s future.
I am very proud to say our operation alone contributed almost 20% of the Territory’s metallic minerals production in 2019-20. With this comes opportunity and jobs.
We heard from the Territory Economic Reconstruction Commission last year who reported the mining and energy sector will contribute most to an upward swing in economic growth in the Northern Territory. This is no secret.
The commission said ‘Until such time there is a significantly larger base population, the Territory will continue to rely on interstate and overseas migration to fill ongoing and temporary jobs’, and this is precisely what we are trying to do through our employment programs.
We rely on every one of our 1200 people to keep the cogs moving at McArthur River Mining and if 2020 has taught us anything from a risk perspective, recruiting locals is better. However, for us it extends further than that.
As a major employer in the Territory, we have an obligation to invest in the next generation of workers and make sure skills stay where they are needed here in the Territory.
When people think of jobs in the mining industry they instantly think of big trucks and piles of dirt but there really is more to mining and we are the perfect example of that. As a FIFO site all 1200 of our people play their part in the mine and village running smoothly. From cooks, cleaners, chemists, truck drivers, engineers, plumbers, enviros, security guards and more; we are essentially a small town and with that comes jobs.
When it comes to the Gulf, we know recruiting locally contributes to the social and economic development of these communities with people staying in the region, spending money, raising families and being role models to the next generation. Without secure employment a lot of these people may choose to move elsewhere.
So what are we doing about it? We have a number of targeted recruitment programs and initiatives designed to attract and retain Territorians. And they are working.
Indigenous Employment Program
We recently welcomed 23 new Indigenous trainees as part of our revamped Indigenous Employment Program, with two of these trainees coming straight from year 12 at Borroloola School.
The program is a key initiative under our overarching Cultural Respect Strategy that sets out to create a culturally diverse and respectful workplace at the mine, and increase Indigenous employment at the mine.
The interest from the local community has been overwhelming – which we know is largely due to the success of our local work crew during COVID and opening of a dedicated office in Borroloola.
Our trainees have now been on site for just over a month and are fully embracing life at the mine. Of course there have been teething issues and things have certainly changed along the way but I am very proud that all 23 that started on day one are still with us today.
A big part of the success of our Indigenous Employment Program has been the support from the workforce with all areas of the business getting involved in the program in some capacity. The buy in from our people is important for retention and also feeds back into our Cultural Respect Strategy where we are striving to create a culturally respectful workplace.
While not a box ticking exercise by any means, I am pleased to say we are now sitting at 22% of our workforce being Indigenous, more than double the Northern Territory mining industry rate of 9.4% and 3.9% nationwide.
Mining Engineering Cadetship
I mentioned earlier it takes a lot of people to run a mine and village like ours, but none are more essential at a mine than mining engineers.
Like the rest of the industry we have felt the impacts of the nationwide mining engineering shortage, opening our business up to significant risk.
With limited options to recruit from the Territory or interstate, we took matters into our own hands and created a Territorians only mining engineering cadetship to develop these in-demand skills and make sure they stay in the Territory. It’s a long game, but we know it will pay off in the future.
Our first intake of cadets – four females and five males all from diverse backgrounds – have just finished their first year of the program and I am very pleased to have some of them in the room here today representing us.
The cadets have two years of study remaining and when they finish the program will be offered full time roles at McArthur River Mining and have the choice to continue studying if they wish. There is a long future ahead of them and they could quite easily spend their whole careers with us, in the Territory.
As part of the program, we support the cadets study fees through the WA School of the Mines, wage and allowances. This is a significant long-term investment for us but is worth it not only for our mine, but for the Territory and industry more broadly.
We are just about to welcome our 2021 intake of cadets, who like the cohort before them will dive head first into FIFO life at McArthur River Mine and split their time between working on site, studying and living in the Territory.
We received hundreds of local applications for the roles and this year extended the reach of our recruitment campaign from Darwin to Alice Springs to make sure that no Territorians miss out on the opportunities our mine presents.
I hope that in the not too distant future locally based education providers are able to offer courses attune to a modern mining industry, further ensuring the right skills are built and retained here in the Territory. The success of our mine and the industry as a whole depends on it.
Trainee truck drivers
Our Territorians only trainee truck driver program offers locals another pathway into mining and for many, acts as a stepping stone into bigger and better things in the industry. One of our cadets who is here today actually began his career at McArthur River Mine as a trainee truck driver.
Again, this program is designed to enable Territorians and make sure essential skills are developed and kept right here in the Territory.
The job has been listed for 2-weeks and we have already received over 1000 applications – there is certainly no lack of interest and locals ready for work. About 20 of those are from the local community in the Gulf region, further adding to our contribution locally.
I said it earlier – we are a major contributor to the Territory making up close to 20% of the Northern Territory’s metallic minerals production in 2019-20.
With this comes responsibility.
We understand the criticality of upskilling and offering jobs to Territorians and I am proud of what we are doing and the success we are having in this space.
Success takes many shapes but what it all comes down to is the people.
For me, success looks like our new trainees Antonia and Peter who were the only two students in year 12 at Borroloola School last year and are now working with us.
It looks like Bec Lampton who started at the front desk and through an Indigenous traineeship, is fully qualified to not only run our McArthur River Airport but any airport in Australia.
Success is the 23 Indigenous trainees that started last month and the cadets, come of whom are sitting in this room today.
I know we are not alone in our vision for developing homegrown talent and many of you here today have your own successes.
It is up to us an industry to continue to partner with government and local organisations to create sustainable jobs that support the future of the Northern Territory.