Robert Zoellick – Even the Diggers organising committee could not have foreseen how relevant the former World Bank boss’ address would be. Sure, Diggers has a history of securing high-profile speakers who once were leading figures in the global economic or US political world. But it would be tough to match Zoellick’s credentials and the value of his insights this morning, coming as they do during an unprecedented period of global economic and political upheaval. Geopolitical tensions aren’t new, but a dysfunctional White House administration is, and that at a time of North Korean missile tests, Brexit, the upcoming German federal election and a weak oil price that is undermining Arab states. There should be standing room only in the Goldfields Arts Centre auditorium for Zoellick’s 9.15am address.
In mining we don’t trust – before Zoellick takes to the lectern, of course, we will enjoy a Welcome to Country. There is no need to rehash the bruhaha over whether there should be a Welcome to Country at Diggers. Most delegates will agree there should be a welcome. But – rightly or wrongly – the bruhaha serves as a reminder that the mining industry is on the nose with the community. This is a broadbrush statement, of course, but the recurring perception themes are of an industry that fails to be embraced by the communities in which its wealth-generating operations are based. BHP “Think Big” Billion says it all. Expect to hear a lot of talk over the next three days about community engagement and vows to improve relations – and not just to counter the prospect of a few public protests on the sidelines of the Arts Centre. And we haven’t even touched on gender equality in mining.
Dealing – barely a Diggers goes by without a big deal being announced. Think back to Silver Lake Resources taking over Integra Mining, and the battle for control of Consolidated Minerals to name just two. Most of this year’s focus will be on the gold sector, where the players never stand still. So where to next for Evolution Mining (apart from selling Edna May) and Norther Star Resources? What will St Barbara do with its balance sheet other declaring a first dividend since 1995? Will Regis Resources kick-start its NSW gold aspirations or seek a tie-up with a peer? Will up-and-comers Dacian Gold and Gold Road Resources be embraced by existing producers wanting to replenish their resources? And what is next on Gold Fields’ agenda, having divested Darlot in return for a stake in Red 5? And what about the best non-gold rumour – Anglo American (technical director Tony O’Neill presents this morning) merging with Fortescue Metals Group (Nev Power will present tomorrow)? Probably not, but then we’re always up for a surprise.
The new iron ore – it wasn’t that long ago – think 2008 and 2009 – that Diggers was all about iron ore. Gold was so yesteryear as the likes of Rio Tinto’s Sam Walsh and BHP’s Ian Ashby made surprise appearances in Kalgoorlie, joined of course by Fortescue and the gaggle of emerging Pilbara and Mid West players. Diggers has reverted to a gold forum in recent years but let’s not ignore the battery boom commodities of lithium and graphite. While much of the ASX-listed graphite is in Africa, the Pilbara and Goldfields are destinations of choice for the lithium proponents. The proliferation of lithium plays is not yet reflected in the presenters’ schedule – but it will be a topic of chatter in the marquee. And deals are expected to be done in this hot sector.
Something different – not only gold shines. Mustang Resouces (on this morning) has been talking up its red ruby project in Mozambique, which promises to be one of the more colour presentations at Diggers. One-time Atlas Iron boss David Flanagan is back, this time at the helm of Mozambique graphite hopeful Battery Minerals (presenting tomorrow). BHP Nickel West boss Eddie Haegel (on Wednesday) will shed some rare public light on one of the world’s biggest integrated nickel operations and Superior Gold boss Chris Bradbrook (tomorrow) will fly the North American flag, and talk about how successful its Plutonic purchase has been. And will Peter Cook, this time presenting new-but-old Westgold Resources (late tomorrow) wear his North Melbourne jumper? He certainly won’t cop any flak from West Coast Eagles fans.