Paul Everingham: one year on from COVID-19 onset, WA mining and resources has a lot to be proud of

Paul EveringhamPilbara News
Rio Tinto's Paraburdoo mine site.
Camera IconRio Tinto's Paraburdoo mine site. Credit: Tom Zaunmayr.

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA will host its AGM in a few weeks.

This wouldn’t ordinarily be the kind of thing I’d lead a column with, but as I look ahead to this year’s event I’m reminded that we weren't even able to host an AGM in 2020 because of COVID-19.

Strange as it may seem now, only 12 months ago there were many things we couldn’t do.

We couldn’t gather in groups of more than two. We couldn’t go to a local restaurant for a meal.

We were unable to travel between different regions and travel to other States was pretty much out of the question.

A year on and interstate travel can still be complicated but other than that life is pretty much “business as usual” for most of us personally and many of CME’s member companies operating in the Pilbara, North West and Kimberley.

The 13 or so months since COVID-19 started impacting WA haven’t always been straightforward for the mining and resources sector.

One of the biggest initial challenges was not just to continue operating effectively and efficiently but also to do so in a way that didn’t put at risk the health and safety of both our workers and the wider community.

As a recent Navigating COVID-19report published by CME and EY made clear, the pandemic wasn’t an event anyone would realistically have planned for.

A lot of behind-the-scenes and on-the-fly work was necessary to make sure we met our priority objective of keeping everyone safe. But looking back, that work was clearly worth it.

Data released last week showed a record average of 140,940 people were employed by WA’s mining and resources sector in 2020.

A little more than half were employed by iron ore operations, while nearly 54 per cent of the mining workforce was in the Pilbara and Kimberley.

Overall, our sector experienced record sales of $174 billion in 2020. Iron ore accounted for $116b of that, with oil and gas combining for $26b.

Those figures paved the way for $9.2b in royalties paid to the WA Government, a contribution that made up nearly 29 per cent of all State revenue and will help fund education, healthcare and key services in WA.

Record sales also allow CME member companies to embark on hundreds of community ventures across the State each year — including a COVID-19 support initiative that raised $9 million for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Foodbank WA and Lifeline WA.

It’s still a little jarring to think back to April 2020 when seemingly “normal” freedoms could suddenly no longer be taken for granted.

But when I reflect on how far WA and its mining and resources sector have come since then, I feel like we have something everyone in the State can be proud of.

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