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'Significant step forward' for disputed Yorke Peninsula copper mine

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SA miner Rex Minerals has partnered with the multinational company that delivered the Carrapateena copper project to build a proposed Yorke Peninsula mine at the heart of a community and political backlash.

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Rex Minerals has received all the necessary government approvals to develop its Hillside Copper Project 12km south of Ardrossan and 3km north of Pine Point.

The Adelaide-based company this week announced a partnership with Brisbane-based multinational Ausenco to provide Engineering, Procurement and Construction Management (EPCM) services for the project.

Rex is expected to make a final investment decision on the project before the end of this year. If it decides to go ahead, an additional $560 million in capital expenditure ($US410 million) will be required to construct the open-pit mine.

It estimates the mine will be staffed by 430 full-time workers during production following a 20-month construction period.

In the past 10 years, Ausenco has delivered copper processing facilities and infrastructure into projects totalling almost $10 billion globally over the past decade.

Ausenco also delivered the Carrapateena copper project in South Australia for Adelaide-based Oz Minerals in 2020 – the most recent large-scale greenfield copper concentrator installation within Australia.

In the past 10 years, Ausenco has delivered copper processing facilities and infrastructure into projects totalling US$7 billion globally. In Australia, Ausenco also successfully delivered the Carrapateena copper project in South Australia in 2020.

This is the most recent large-scale greenfield copper concentrator installation within Australia.

In a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange this week, publicly listed Rex said Ausenco offered a proven global track record and added value through capital efficient concentrator and layout designs.

The company raised $50 million in the second half of 2021to take it through to a final investment decision on the Hillside project.

Rex Minerals’ CEO Richard Laufmann said the company was now defining and advancing the best financing options available and bringing Ausenco into the project would have an immediate and positive impact on the project.

“As medium-to-long-term ‘green’ copper demand is championed across the globe, near-term copper production at Hillside has just taken a significant leap forward,” he said.

“These are very exciting times for copper, for Rex Minerals and its stakeholders – copper will play a defining role in reshaping our lifestyle on a global scale.

“We remain very positive in relation to the project’s economics and the longer-term supply-demand fundamentals for copper.”

The proposed mine on prime farmland in central Yorke Peninsula has faced strong community opposition and raised concerns about mining exploration rules on productive agricultural land.

State parliament crossbenchers Fraser Ellis, Sam Duluk and Troy Bell last year joined with the Labor Opposition and independents Geoff Brock and Frances Bedford to establish a select committee into land access provisions for mining companies under the state Mining Act.

The committee spoke to landowners and mining companies with interests on Eyre Peninsula, Yorke Peninsula and the South East before publishing its final report in November.

It made six recommendations aimed at giving farmers and other landholders greater protection and compensation from prospective miners.

The recommendations are yet to be adopted and neither major party has taken a strong stance one way or the other.

The state electorate of Narungga covers all of Yorke Peninsula.

Liberal candidate Fraser Ellis was elected in 2018 but he has sat on the crossbench for the past year since being charged with alleged misuse of the Country Members Entitlement allowance.

He also crossed the floor to help establish the select committee.

Ellis is running as an independent in this month’s state election after the Liberal Party opted to seek a new candidate in Narungga – effectively disendorsing him.

Grain Producers SA yesterday hosted a forum on Yorke Peninsula, attended by Ellis, Narungga Liberal candidate Tom Michael and independent Dianah Walter, where the proposed Rex Minerals project was a hot topic.

All three candidates said they support the adoption of the recommendations by the select committee into land access.

Ellis told the forum the recommendations had been lifted from other jurisdictions such as Queensland and New South Wales where they had worked successfully and he still hoped they could be implemented in SA.

However, he said a total veto on mining in certain areas of the state does not currently have sufficient political support.

“There is not the will of the former parliament that there be any right of veto or any ban of mining in any particular part of the state,” he told Tuesday’s forum in Maitland.

“There will be opportunities to capitalise off the (Rex Minerals) project, which has been given approval, and it’s up to the community now to make the best of the situation.”

Michael said there was a need for mining and agriculture to co-exist but he did not see a place for mining “on some of the most premium land in the state”.

He said his commitment to the electorate would go beyond party lines if necessary.

“Yes, I would be willing to cross the floor if I absolutely had to but I would much prefer to negotiate behind closed doors,” the Barunga Gap grain farmer said.

Walter said she was running as an independent because she was fed up and frustrated with the lack of action by the current state government, including its failure to implement the recommendations of the select committee into land access.

“There is a really incredible opportunity for the community to look at where they can move to become the environmental defenders and ensure that any mining access regardless where it is in the state is done within the guidelines,” she said.

The state’s peak resources body the SA Chamber of Mines and Energy has called on the major parties to continue bipartisan rejection of a landholder right to veto and no new moratoria to be introduced as part of its state election platform policy.

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