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Forging ahead: How resources industry continues to drive jobs

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Some resources companies expand in regional Queensland, creating much-needed jobs as economies tank from the coronavirus.

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North Queensland’s resources sector is creating much-needed jobs as companies press on with expansions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sun Metals in Townsville is months away from reaching peak construction of its $450 million zinc refinery expansion to increase annual production, mostly into Asian markets.

Executive director Kathy Danaher said Sun Metals would have created 350 construction jobs by about October, and 100 ongoing positions as construction finishes in the second quarter of 2021.

“We’re at the pointy end, we’re seeing buildings going up [and] connections within piping,” Danaher said.

Ravenswood Gold has started hiring the dozens of contractors and 150 permanent employees it needs by mid-2021 as it works to extend the mine’s life with a large-scale open pit at Ravenswood, south-west of Townsville.

“It’ll be better for the state, it’ll be better for the community … and generally better for the business,” CEO Brett Fletcher said.

Resource expansions timely

For years, Townsville’s unemployment rate has been above the national and state averages but it had been improving before the pandemic hit.

Townsville economist Colin Dwyer said the expansions were timely.

“We’re creating jobs. They’re high-income jobs and … they’re going to be spending their money, hopefully, in local businesses,” Dwyer said.

Dwyer said there were dozens of north Queensland construction projects, in a range of industries, that would start soon or had high confidence in proceeding and were just as important in recovering the economy.

For example, 270 construction jobs were expected to be created from November when a technology innovation complex was built at James Cook University.

“It’s that diversification and the essentialness in the projects that are key for recovery,” Dwyer said.

“If we simply had one specialised area with all of those projects in it, and let’s say it’s tourism, we would struggle to recover quicker than other regions. That’s quicker, not necessarily quickly.”

Another Townsville economist, Jonathon Pavetto, agreed, and added a call for more investment.

“If we really want the economy [to grow], we really need governments to open the chequebook when it comes to infrastructure,” he said.

Resource towns least vulnerable to downturn

It’s a similar story in Central Queensland, where a recent study named Emerald among the least economically vulnerable Australian towns to the impact of coronavirus restrictions.

BHP has recently put on 125 apprentices in the region and Pembroke has received conditional approval to build a new coking-coal mine in the Bowen Basin.

ANZ senior commodities strategist Daniel Hynes said Australia’s mining sector had held up relatively well but noted project closures and staff lay-offs for some markets.

“Companies are obviously … looking at costs … and that’s going to result in new projects coming online a little less frequently than we’ve seen in the past,” Hynes said.

He said the expansion of the north Queensland gold and zinc projects made sense.

“The [gold sector] has been in very strong demand. The zinc side, there is still a little bit of uncertainty around what the post-COVID-19 environment will be like,” he said.

“While these decisions are based on long-term dynamics, even the shorter-term issues should benefit from demand for these products.”

– ABC / Sofie Wainwright

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