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The Queensland Government is providing a financial leg-up for the  $1.4 billion Sconi cobalt-nickel-scandium project in North Queensland.

The amount involved remains confidential and it comes with a range of conditions, including that Sconi developer Australian Mines completes construction by July 2023.

The State financial support package comes after the Queensland Government last year granted Sconi ‘prescribed project’ status to streamline the approvals process.

Australian Mines has successfully completed production runs of battery-grade cobalt sulphate and nickel sulphate with ore from Sconi, near Greenvale.

The project will feature a 2Mtpa ore processing plant producing an estimated 7000 tonnes of cobalt sulphate and 46,800 tonnes of nickel sulphate per year over the mine’s initial 30-year life.

“Having the opportunity to access state funding for Sconi sends a strong message about the quality of the project and Australian Mines’ ability to progress its development, despite the broader economic uncertainty being caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” managing director Benjamin Bell said.

He said the terms and timeframes set out as conditions of the government funding aligned with Australian Mines’ expectations.

They include that it secure an offtake agreement by September this year for 100 per cent of the cobalt sulphate and nickel sulphate to be produced and that it reach final investment decision in December.

It must also employ at least 191 people in Queensland in full-time ongoing roles by June 30, 2024.

“We are making good progress in seeking to secure the offtake and financing agreements needed to access this funding,” Mr Bell said.

“The development of Sconi would provide significant economic, employment and infrastructure benefits to Greenvale and Northern Queensland for, at least, the next three decades.”

The government funding will come through the $175 million Jobs and Regional Growth Fund managed by the Department of State Development, Tourism and Innovation.

Member for Townsville Scott Stewart said the wider North Queensland region would benefit from the project, which is expected to support an estimated 500 jobs over a two-year construction period and create 289 long-term positions once fully operational.

“Not only do you have the jobs at the mine site, you have all the supply chain opportunities,” Mr Stewart said.

“The Greenvale community and its local economy and further down the pipeline to Townsville will see an estimated increase in Gross Regional Product by $2.2 billion over the life of the mine.

“That’s important for local manufacturers and local manufacturing jobs.”

Another critical minerals project received a government boost today, with a Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) loan approved to develop one of the world’s largest minerals sands project in Western Australia.

A NAIF loan of up to $150 million has been approved for the Strandline Resources, Coburn heavy mineral sands project, north of Geraldton.

Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt said the project was expected to benefit the local region to the tune of $922 million over 25 years and could create up to 315 jobs during the construction phase and up to 190 jobs during the operations phase.

As global demand for critical minerals that underpin the world’s advanced technologies continues to grow, Mr Pitt said the government was committed to supporting projects across the sector’s supply chain.


Adani Mining has kicked off work on the box-cut for its Carmichael coal mine, in what new chief executive officer David Boshoff hailed as a significant milestone in the construction schedule.

“We are on track to export first coal in 2021,” Mr Boshoff said.

“It’s great to see our big new gear, the Liebherr R 996B excavator and CAT 796 dump trucks, hard at work.

“In time they will reach the coal seam then we will be excavating coal as we need to remove around four cubic meters of rock for every tonne of coal we mine.”

The company says there are now more than 700 people working on the mine and rail project construction.

Numbers are growing as more contractors arrive to build the coal handling plant and to work on the railway.

Mackay-based G&S Engineering was awarded the contract earlier this month to build the coal handling plant, a task expected to support 200 jobs.

“The expansion of our mine accommodation to 400 beds is complete to cater for the additional workforce and we will soon be able to accommodate another 1200 people in our temporary rail accommodation villages,” Mr Boshoff said.

“We remain on track to deliver 1500 direct and 6750 indirect jobs.”

The coal will be mined using conventional truck and excavator mining techniques across the project.

“Our first five mining trucks and excavator have arrived on site and are operational and the assembly of our second excavator will commence in the coming weeks,” Mr Boshoff said.

“We will also add more than a dozen mining trucks to our fleet over the coming months. The trucks will be assembled in Mackay, with each taking a team of about 40 men and women up to 10 weeks to put together before they are transported more than 300km to site.”

The Carmichael coal mine is expected to produce 10 million tonnes of high-quality thermal coal per annum.

Adani says its low-cost profile – such as its 4:1 strip ratio, the quality of the resource and forecast demand from target markets in India and South-East Asia mean that the project’s economics are strong.

IMAGE: CEO David Boshoff celebrates the start of work on the Carmichael coal mine box cut.

Local businesses across Queensland are receiving a significant financial boost from resources companies, with a 16 per cent increase in local spending over a 12-month period.  

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane said the industry’s latest Local Content report found buying locally was a win-win for the industry and local communities.  

The Mackay local government area was the greatest beneficiary after Brisbane in 2018-19, followed by Gladstone and the Central Highlands (see table below).

“Expenditure from the resources sector with Queensland suppliers jumped from $19.3 billion in 2017-18 to $22.4 billion in 2018-19, which is the highest investment recorded in four years,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“Almost $70 million was invested with indigenous businesses, which is a 72 per cent increase on the $40.5 million in 2017-18.

“The total proportion of expenditure with Queensland suppliers has increased to 71 per cent of all spending ($31.5 billion).

“This means jobs now and ongoing jobs for regional Queenslanders and companies are benefiting from the significant increase in capabilities from the well-established supply hubs in Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone and Toowoomba, along with southeast Queensland.

“Queensland’s resources sector understands small businesses are the lifeblood of regional economies and they will be a key part in powering our state’s jobs growth post COVID-19.”

Mr Macfarlane said the results were calculated before the impacts of COVID-19 and, if industry was to continue to spend with local businesses, it needed greater certainty around investment.  

“The resources sector needs the government to endorse our recovery plan to reduce red tape, streamline project assessment and approval processes and provide royalty stability over 10 years,” he said.

IMAGE: Direct impact of minerals and energy sector, top 20 LGAs by expenditure, 2018-19.

Joint venture partners have announced a maiden inferred mineral resource of 9.1 million tonnes, grading 1.4 per cent copper and 0.3g/t gold, at the Jericho project in North West Queensland.

Jericho is located 65km south-east of Cloncurry and within 3km of the Eloise copper-gold mine. Minotaur Exploration and Oz Minerals are partners in the Jericho JV.

Oz Minerals has undertaken mining optimisation studies using the resource estimate to assess the potential for Jericho to be mined as an underground operation.

The JV says those studies indicate that Jericho represents a significant discovery for the Cloncurry district and may be an important component of a centralised minerals ‘hub’ in the future.

However OZ Minerals determined the present resource is not viable as a standalone underground mining operation.

The Minotaur Exploration and Oz Minerals alliance will now direct its near-term focus to the adjacent Eloise and Breena Plains JV areas prospective for complementary base metal deposits.

“With the Queensland border now opening to cross-border travel, preparations are being made to resume on-ground activities in August in both areas,” Minotaur said in a market update today.

Big Foot, located 12km along strike north of Jericho within the Eloise JV area, is a priority drill target.

Hall Contracting and Atlas Heavy Engineering have banded together to build one of the toughest marine digging buckets in the country.

The custom backhoe bucket weighs in at 17 tonnes and has been purpose designed for excavating hard rock.

Hall Contracting chief executive officer Cameron Hall said it had been manufactured for use on Hall’s 65m-long backhoe dredge, Woomera, which is currently tasked with widening the Clinton Channel at Port of Gladstone.

“It’s possible we may encounter hard rock while undertaking these works, so the new bucket ensures we’re well-equipped to manage this material if required,” he said.

“What sets the bucket apart is not so much its size, but its strength.

“Most buckets used in the civil and mining sectors would be unable to withstand the extreme forces this one will be subjected to. It is by far the strongest bucket we own and undoubtedly one of the more robust in Australia.”

Mr Hall said the company had been eager to engage an Australian supplier to undertake the specialised build rather than taking the project offshore.

“Typically, buckets of this nature are made in Europe and Asia, but we really pushed for it to be made here in Queensland for a range of different reasons,” Mr Hall said.

“First and foremost, we wanted to support a local business, and we trusted that the product would be produced to high quality standards.

“Having the bucket manufactured so close to our headquarters in Queensland also provided us with an element of control over the build. We were able to visit Atlas’ workshop (at Narangba on Brisbane’s north) on regular basis to view the progress and provide feedback, which was invaluable.

Atlas Heavy Engineering sales and marketing manager Andrew Moir said the Atlas team had jumped at the opportunity to put their skills to the test on the project.

“We’d manufactured countless excavator and loader buckets previously but had never produced a dredge bucket or any that could withstand such extreme force, so we relished the challenge,” Mr Moir said.

“The build took approximately four months, with around seven team members contributing to the project.”

Pajingo gold mine has 11 drill rigs on the ground, and another on the way, in an exploration and resource definition push.

It is hard evidence of Minjar Gold’s commitment to extending the mine life at the operation, 50km south of Charters Towers, and what general manager Dale Oram has dubbed ‘the year of the drill bit’ at the site.

The work includes two rigs drilling on the surface in the area of the Lynne ore body, soon to be opened up for mining through the development of a new decline.

Mr Oram said intercepts to date from surface drilling were expected to lead to an increase in the known ore reserve there.

He said Minjar Gold had been able to delineate two distinct areas – Lynne East and Lynne West, with intercepts indicating the ore bodies extended further to the east and to the west.

As the Lynne decline advances, further drilling will be able to be carried out from underground as well.

The other drilling work is centred on the existing Vera-Nancy underground operations and there has also been a focus on identifying areas which can be exploited with small open-pit mines.

“We’ve finished drilling out a number of the areas that we’d targeted, and we’re in the process now of interpreting that data and throwing economic shells around the modelled ore zones,” Mr Oram said.

While detailed mine planning and design is still to be completed, he expects some will translate into viable open pit operations by about mid-2021.

“The exploration and resource definition work completed year to date has been as planned with encouraging results in both areas, which is now looking like being able to result in a marked increase in resources and reserves at the Pajingo operation – a great result for the hard work put in by the team,” Mr Oram said.

IMAGE: Diamond drilling at the Minjar Gold site.