The weather may be brisk in Kalgoorlie, but the line-up of presenters at this year’s Diggers & Dealers conference is as hot as ever.
Despite border restrictions in some parts of the country, around 2400 delegates will flood the halls of the Goldfields Arts Centre over the next three days — the third highest attendance in the forum’s 30-year history — where the top dogs of Australia’s mining industry have flocked to talk shop, network and celebrate the jewel in our country’s economic crown.
It kicked off this morning with an opening address from Diggers chairman Jim Walker, who made no bones about the role the sector has played for him personally.
“I am fortunate enough to have had a rewarding career in the mining industry that has allowed me to meet some incredible people and travel the world, and I'm a strong advocate for the mining sector, and have encouraged my children and my grandchildren to consider a career in the industry,” he said.
“Encouraging the next generation to pursue a career in the mining industry is becoming a lot easier as the community is beginning to recognise our contribution.”
His speech was followed by the highlight of today’s events — a live-streamed keynote address from University of Oxford professor of globalisation and development Ian Goldin. Former vice-president of the World Bank and one-time advisor to South African president Nelson Mandela, Professor Goldin spoke extensively about the pandemic as “an accelerator,” which he said has brought forward innovations and ideas we might not have seen for decades.
“Things that you would have thought would have developed over the next 10 to 20 years are going to have to happen in the coming couple of years,” he said.
While gold prices might already be near record levels, Professor Goldin added that he remains bullish on the commodity as a store of wealth in uncertain times. But the real growth, he claims, will be seen in battery metals like lithium and nickel, where prices are likely to increase “eight to 10 times at least” as the demand for electric vehicles surges.
The most notable point in his almost hour-long address, however, had nothing to do with mining.
While the West’s deteriorating relationship with China is breaking news to no one, it’s a situation Professor Goldin believes is cause for concern.
“The threat of a new cold war is my greatest fear at the moment,” he said.
Such a development would render our current challenges like the pandemic and climate change almost unaddressable, just as it would the threat of cyber or financial crises.
“It’s also a growing threat that countries have to ‘choose’ as they did in the old cold war with the Soviet Union, and those of us who were around then remember how terrible that was — how it led to skirmishes, how it led to a fragmented global system.”
When asked how we should handle the relationship given its obvious importance and the potential implications, Professor Goldin stressed that “talking up tensions is not the right approach,” and that “sabre-rattling” was certainly no help.
“My own view is we should disagree fundamentally on human rights [...] on the trampling on democracy in Hong Kong, on what’s happening to the Uighurs, on other concerns,” he said.
“[What] we need is de-escalation, an agreement to talk fundamentally on the things, the principles we uphold, but not allowing that to get in the way of business and agreeing to work together to solving global problems.”
Other presenters included IGO (ASX:IGO) chief Peter Bradford, whose talk focused heavily on the Perth-based giant’s transformation over the last year, and Kam Leung, vice-president of upstream at Lynas Rare Earths (LYC), who doubled-down on Professor Goldin’s sentiments regarding the electric vehicle market.
Tomorrow will see more presentations from other big names, like Evolution Mining (EVN), Pilbara Minerals (PLS), Northern Star Resources (NST) and Chalice Mining (CHN), while Kirkland Lake Gold (KLA) will present on Wednesday before the final talk from Fortescue Metals (FMG) boss Elizabeth Gaines.