Mount Isa and the North West Minerals Province economy and outlook
The Mount Isa economy is built on a highly innovative mining industry and a world-class mining resource. Mount Isa’s mining industry also supports the broader North West Minerals Province, underpinning the rationale for existing and future infrastructure investment, as well as through innovation in the processing sector. The economies of Mount Isa are the North West Minerals Province are all supported by substantial service sector industries, and the local governments are all determined to expand and diversify their economic bases. The North West Minerals Province is typically defined by the local government areas of Burke, Carpentaria, Cloncurry, Doomadgee, Flinders, McKinlay, Mount Isa and Richmond.
Mount Isa as a high value, mining-led economy
The Mount Isa economy is built on a world-class mining resource continuously mined since the early 1920s, directly generating $1.3 billion in value added terms in 2014-15, predominantly comprised of:
- copper core mining, representing $784.2 million in value added terms
- silver-lead-zinc core mining, representing $343.6 million in value added terms.
The mining sector has enabled a range of other industries to operate successfully in Mount Isa, either directly through mining-led service demand, or indirectly by providing a critical base of population and skills.
Both Mount Isa and the North West Minerals Province have a thriving services sector, worth a combined $759 million in value added terms per year, which is driven by the mining sector but also by the demand for services from across a wide area of northern Australia. The region is a hub of demand and supply for services including business, health, education, retail and wholesaling, transport, mechanical repairs and hotels and restaurants/cafes.
An economy built on cornerstone mines
The cornerstone of the mining industry in Mount Isa for nearly a century has been its giant mines, including the Mount Isa underground mine and open pit operations. The Mount Isa underground copper mine is the largest copper mine in Queensland. It has historically produced copper of a very high ore grade of 2.3 per cent, which compares to a more typical global standard of 1 per cent. Other significant mines are the Mount Isa Mines silver-lead-zinc mine and the George Fisher mine.
The North West Minerals Province delivers most of the copper and silver-lead-zinc metal in Queensland and accounts for close to all of the State’s copper production.
Mount Isa plus the Cannington mine in the McKinlay Local Government Area accounted for 100 per cent of Queensland’s lead production in 2015-16, and over 98 per cent of zinc production in that same year. Dugald River in the Cloncurry region, primarily producing zinc, will account for upwards of 152kt in lead and zinc production from 2017-18.
High value adding employment and innovation
Mount Isa supports high value adding employment for its workers and is the largest population and employment base in inland regional Queensland with the exception of Toowoomba. There were approximately 10,950 employees in Mount Isa in 2016. Wages of $372 million were paid to mining industry employees or an average of $132,800 per full time equivalent employee in 2015-16.
Mount Isa’s mining industry has been highly innovative in both mining and processing operations. For instance, Mount Isa Mines has been a great innovator across a range of areas including underground mining techniques, the scale of blasting use, mine fill and tailings disposal techniques, the automation of processing and control facilities, and the development
of new equipment and techniques for fine particle flotation. In addition, Mount Isa Mines has developed techniques to successfully recover sulphuric acid as a part of its normal production cycle for use in the production of fertiliser at
The recent announcement of Sun Metals’ expansion of their refinery capacity in Townsville will be positive for Mount Isa, with some zinc concentrate produced from Mount Isa being refined at Sun Metals.
The non-mining economy
The non-mining industry in Mount Isa is comprised of services, construction, utilities and agriculture. Agriculture is the only
sector in Mount Isa’s economy that is relatively independent of mining-led economic activity and the population and skills base that it supports. However, agricultural value added currently represents a very small share of Mount Isa’s
economy, and one that is dependent on cattle.
The northern areas of Australia have vast amounts of undeveloped land, currently used mainly for grazing.
Currently aquaculture in Queensland is conducted primarily along the coastal regions in the Northern, Far North and Brisbane/Moreton Bay areas. However, the CSIRO has recognised that there is an opportunity for inland freshwater aquaculture. Environmental factors make the Gulf of Carpentaria (including the Leichhardt River) a favourable location for
aquaculture, however, its development may be limited without accompanying infrastructure investment to facilitate its transportation to markets.