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Olympic Dam ramping up as Weatherill pushes jobs and energy message

Politics

Jay Weatherill piggy-backed on a BHP-sponsored media tour of Olympic Dam this morning - not to announce an election policy but to push his jobs message and, more boldly, to send a message of confidence in the state's electricity system.

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BHP is ramping back up to full operations at Olympic Dam following a $350 million upgrade and associated shutdown for which BHP employed an extra 3100 short-term workers during the second half of 2017, above its everyday workforce of about 3400.

The company replaced one of the furnaces in the mine’s smelter and made major upgrades to another, as well as to the refinery, the concentrator, to “key infrastructure” and to “site technology”.

The smelter was turned back on in December and the mine is expected to be back to full operation before the middle of this year.

The Premier and Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis donned high-vis overalls to join a large contingent of the media and BHP workers for a tour of the facility.

Loaded onto a bus – after six men, including this correspondent, were required to shave off their beards so that respirators would be skin-tight in an emergency – the group passed a variety of the huge steel structures, painted in “Roxby red”, that process the materials.

The group was set down to watch lime green flames blast molten copper, which was poured into casts and cooled.

The party stopped for a press conference, during which Weatherill told reporters: “Jobs are our number one priority (and) energy security is crucial to that – that’s why we’ve invested to take charge of our energy future with our energy plan.”

“We’re very confident about the future of energy, and so is BHP – that’s why they invested $350 million.”

That confidence was sorely tested in late 2016, when the statewide blackout led to a loss of about three weeks of production from Olympic Dam, costing BHP more than $100 million, and denting its production targets at the mine, which has emblematic value in South Australia.

Weatherill added that he wanted to congratulate Olympic Dam Asset President Jacqui McGill and her team on the upgrade project.

He said the Olympic Dam upgrade had “secured the jobs of over 3000 South Australians right here at Roxby Downs”.

“That’s the reason I’m here – to congratulate and to celebrate this extraordinary jobs story.”

McGill told those assembled: “Today marks a pivotal point for BHP and Olympic Dam here in South Australia.”

This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the Olympic Dam mine, which was committed to sustainable growth over the long-term, she said.

McGill told InDaily that while almost all of the standing workforce of Olympic Dam lived in SA – mostly in Roxby Downs – the temporary workforce used for the shutdown and upgrades came from all over Australia and the world.

After everyone got back and changed out of their overalls, the group boarded another bus, destined for the one-room Olympic Dam Airport.

Before it set off, McGill told the assembled reporters that it was “lovely fairy dust that you’ve sprinkled over people today” by reporting on the event and making BHP and its workers feel valued for the work they did.

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