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Curtain falls on Mt Isa underground copper mine

18th October 2023

By: Esmarie Iannucci

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor: Australasia

     

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PERTH (miningweekly.com) – After more than 60 years of copper mining, the Mt Isa underground copper mine and concentrator, in Queensland, as well as the Lady Loretta zinc mine, will close in the second half of 2025, with the state government providing a A$50-million support package to assist mineworkers affected by the announcement.

Diversified miner Glencore on Wednesday said that Mount Isa Mines’ other metal assets, including the copper smelter, George Fisher mine, zinc-lead concentrator, and lead smelter in Mount Isa, as well as the copper refinery in Townsville, would all continue operating. 

“We know this decision will be disappointing for our people, our suppliers, and the Mount Isa community. The reality of mining is that mines have a beginning, middle and end. And unfortunately, after 60 years of operation, Mount Isa’s underground copper operations have now reached that end,” said Glencore Australian zinc asset COO Sam Strohmayr.

“We want to give our people as much time as possible to consider the best options for them and their families, which is why we are notifying our workers and the community almost two years before these mines close.  

“Our focus over the coming months will be to work closely with our people and contractors, our suppliers, and the Mount Isa community to provide support as we move towards closure of these assets. 

“Our Mount Isa underground copper mines, copper concentrator and supporting services currently employ around 1 200 people. 

“It’s too early to put a figure on how many people may receive redundancies until we work through a process of speaking to each worker and discuss options around retention, redeployment, and retraining. Redundancies are the last resort and will be offered only when other options have been exhausted,” Strohmayr said.

The decision to close the underground operation and copper concentrator followed a range of studies and reviews by Glencore to further extend the life of the underground copper mines.

The studies revealed that the remaining resource was not economically viable owing to low ore grades and areas where, due to geological conditions, safe extraction could not be achieved using current technology. This was further aggravated by ageing infrastructure.

“Glencore will continue to invest in the long-term future of Mount Isa Mines, including the George Fisher mine with a current life of mine to 2036, and our zinc-lead concentrator and lead smelter,” Strohmayr said.

“We also expect the copper smelter and refinery to continue operating to 2030, subject to approval of additional capital investment. These are important strategic assets, not just for Glencore but for the North West Minerals Province and the future of Queensland’s critical minerals industry.”

Meanwhile, the Queensland government on Wednesday announced a A$50-million support package for the mine workers and the Mt Isa community, of which up to A$30-million would be used to accelerate the development of resource projects in the North West Minerals Province in the next five years, and up to A$20-million to be matched dollar-for-dollar by Glencore, for an economic structural adjustment package for Mount Isa and North West Queensland.

The matched funding for the structural adjustment package is in addition to any support Glencore intends or is obliged to provide to their affected workforce.

The package will be delivered by the Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning and will be tailored to provide support for workers and the community.  

“For 100 years, Mount Isa has been part of Queensland’s mining heritage. We’re determined Mount Isa and North West Queensland will be at the heart of our state’s mining future as well,” said Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

“Our number one priority is to protect jobs and retain skilled workers in this important region. I understand many workers and their families will find Glencore’s decision a difficult one to accept. But we will always do what we can to support workers and their families to find new, good, secure jobs.

“North West Queensland is central to the delivery of critical minerals needed for global decarbonisation and skilled workers like those at Glencore are vital for this new industry that is set to generate thousands of jobs,” she said.

The Queensland Resources Council (QRC) on Wednesday said that Glencore’s decision around the Mt Isa underground copper operations and the Lady Loretta zinc mine was unfortunate, but understandable.

QRC CEO Ian Macfarlane said the announcement highlighted the need for new resources investment in Queensland to develop new projects as major mines like this reach their end of life.

“The future success of the resources sector cannot be taken for granted by governments and we need policies that encourage investment in new Queensland resources projects as more mines reach their end of production in coming years,” Macfarlane said.

“The Queensland government needs to start listening to the many warnings about the threat to future investment as a result of its snap decision to impose the world’s highest coal royalty tax rates.

“In the current global economic climate, the state government should be doing all it can to attract investment in new resources projects in Queensland. It’s time the Queensland government started encouraging resources investment, which will support exploration and investment in new projects, rather than discouraging it with the world’s highest royalty taxes and endless approval processes,” he said.

“Queensland’s North West Minerals Province offers enormous potential for the resources sector with abundant reserves of many the critical minerals the world needs to develop the new technologies for a decarbonised future.

“That potential can only be fully reached with the backing of investors providing the billions of dollars to develop the projects that will provide future jobs and economic benefits for Queensland.

“Sudden government policy changes and over-complicated red and green tape and regulation will do little to encourage investors when they have more attractive options in other states and countries.”

Meanwhile, the Australian Workers Union (AWU) has also called on the state government to encourage further investment in the resources sector.

I have been in contact with Treasurer Cameron Dick and I have made it clear that our members expect the government to leave no stone unturned when it comes to providing direct support to the Mount Isa community and affected workers,” said AWU Queensland secretary Stacey Schinnerl.
 
“Now is the time for the government to cut through the green tape and fast-track approvals for new mines in the region to provide a suitable transition for affected workers. We are also calling on Glencore to provide redeployment opportunities to local workers who will be affected by these closures.
 
“Glencore has been using foreign labour and fly-in, fly-out labour hire on their other operations in the region. It is our expectation that local workers who are affected by these closures are given priority access to these roles.

“This is a fight for Mount Isa, the capital of the North West Minerals Province and the epicentre of the next mining boom. We will do everything in our power to hold the government and Glencore to account in delivering the support and dignity that the Mount Isa community deserves,” said Schinnerl.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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