Edgar Basto

Edgar Basto speech at Austmine Conference 2023

I’d like to start by acknowledging the Kaurna peoples of the Adelaide plains, on whose traditional lands we are gathered today.

I pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and their leaders of the future.

We respect their spiritual relationship with Country and extend that respect to all First Nations Peoples here with us today.

In many places where BHP operates, including South Australia, we do so on or close to the traditional lands of First Nations peoples. 

Here in Australia, we are the largest resources sector employer of Indigenous Australians and a major supporter of Indigenous-owned businesses.

We support the goals of the Uluru Statement including its call for a Voice to Parliament.  

South Australia has taken significant steps to be the first state to enact a First Nations Voice, and I congratulate the South Australian Parliament on that meaningful achievement.

I’m very excited to be here today. This is a time of real opportunity both for our industry and for South Australia. 

I’d like to acknowledge and thank the Deputy Premier, The Honourable Susan Close MP, for her opening remarks.

I also want to extend a very warm welcome to my new colleagues in the audience. 

Last week BHP completed its acquisition of OZ Minerals and welcomed the team into BHP. 

This was a huge moment for BHP; our first acquisition in a decade. 

We are excited to join with OZ Minerals – a company that is a great example of ‘Made in South Australia’.

After 33 years in the industry, I can say for sure that the opportunity we have in front of us is unique… 

To come together, learn from each other and create a future that will benefit our people, local businesses, Traditional Owners and the South Australian economy.

To my new colleagues here today, welcome, I’m thrilled to see you here and passionate about the journey we have just begun together.  

Before I go further, I want to take a moment to reflect on the most important thing in our industry, safety. 

Two weeks ago, safety had a very real and human face for us.

On Anzac Day, our colleague Nathan Scholz died in an incident on an access road at Olympic Dam. 

Right now, our focus is to make sure Nathan’s family, friends and colleagues are supported. They will feel this loss forever.

It is important that we understand what happened and learn from it. 

We are working with the relevant authorities – and undertaking our own investigation. 

As all of us here spend the next two days thinking and talking about the future of mining, we should also reflect on safety, and ask ourselves – are we doing enough to make sure our people go home safe every day?

Today, I want to talk about the opportunities ahead of us – particularly here in South Australia. 

The world will need more copper to power the global energy transition – a lot more.

We expect global demand for copper to increase significantly as the world transitions to lower carbon sources of energy powered by more solar panels and wind turbines.

South Australia is home to some of the world’s best – and certainly Australia’s best – copper resources.

It is a wonderful place to work and do business. There is enormous talent and technical ability here in SA.

The State Government supports the development of innovation and industries that can be globally competitive…

…and more sustainable for the environment and for communities.

I’d like to share some of BHP’s activities in this area.

We continue to support work on the Northern Water Supply Project – and we see this as important to our future success. 

We have in front of us the opportunity to create a new copper province for South Australia that is globally first class.

It can bring new jobs, new skills, local business opportunities and economic growth for this State.

But it will require us all to step up. This is a global competition. 

As global demand for copper increases, global competition for investment, to meet that demand is also heating up.

We are seeing this in places like the US and Canada, which have brought in new policies and strategies to attract major investment in critical minerals.

Here and now, we are facing the battles of inflation and pressures on global supply chains – fuel costs, shipping costs, labour costs. 

Every copper producer globally is facing these same challenges.

Here in Australia, we will have to fight harder. 

South Australia is well placed… and is match fit. 

It knows how to compete with global players – and carve out its expertise – in industries such as aquaculture, in defence, wine, space technology and in health.  

In mining, we must continue to work in collaboration with the government, our Traditional Owner partners, and local communities to realise our potential.

So, let’s talk about opportunities. 

At BHP, we are particularly focussed on “future-facing commodities”.

These are resources that can help meet the demands of decarbonisation, electrification, and population growth.  

The world needs good companies to develop these resources and that presents a huge opportunity for us and for the entire industry. 

The demand for copper is on the rise. 

The world will need more copper to accelerate the energy transition. 

To take just one example, we estimate that electric vehicles – or EVs – could account for nearly 60 per cent of global annual car sales by 2030 and nearly all sales by 2050.

EVs use around three to four times more copper than petrol-based cars.

We often associate EV batteries with nickel and lithium, but they also require more copper – around three to four times more than an Internal Combustion vehicle. 

BHP is already a top three global producer of copper.

We have operated Escondida in Chile, the largest copper mine in the world for more than 30 years. 

I was the President at Escondida for several years, so I can give you a sense of how big it is.

Every year, Escondida mines enough material to fill the Adelaide Oval to the roof 80 times, and produces enough copper to produce around 12 million electric vehicles.

Globally, BHP has the largest copper endowment of any company, based on ownership interest. 

In South Australia we have Olympic Dam, which is one of the world’s most significant deposits of copper, gold, silver and uranium. 

Olympic Dam is a fully integrated processing facility from ore to metal.

We also added to our copper assets in SA with the acquisition of OZ Minerals, bringing their mines at Carrapateena and Prominent Hill into our portfolio.

And, in March, we received environmental approval for our next phase of exploration at Oak Dam, which is around 65km southeast of Olympic Dam. 

Oak Dam is an exciting prospect and potential growth option. We’re undertaking further exploration to better define the resource and inform our future planning.

Anyone who is familiar with the geography of the Gawler Craton will at once see the opportunity that all of this presents. 

We have three existing mines that are attractive in their own right, but if we start to look at them together, we see the longer-term opportunities and potential synergies to build a copper province that could put SA on the global copper map. 

The integration of these new assets into BHP is part of my portfolio and I spent a lot of my time last week at those sites meeting with the teams there. 

Right now, I’m focussed on three core objectives.

Firstly, delivering safe and reliable operations at Olympic Dam, Prominent Hill and Carrapateena.

Secondly, integrating the BHP and OZ Minerals businesses with a focus on people and culture. 

And thirdly, developing options to build a copper province here in South Australia.

I have said I’m ‘excited’ many times in the past week… because I truly am.

The way in which our new colleagues innovate is something we want to learn from – that’s why people and culture is at the heart of our approach to integration.  

By combining BHP and OZ Minerals’ assets, and the skills and technical expertise of our people - we can build something that is greater than the sum of our parts. 

A South Australian copper province is an exciting opportunity.

It has potential for all of us here today, as the State Government has set out in their copper strategy. 

The local industry, the communities, our partners in the government. And, of course, the Traditional Owners of the lands on which the province will operate, are important partners in this endeavour. 

It’s also about the potential for the next generation of people who will enter this industry. 

I know the government is focussed on supporting high-skilled jobs in South Australia and that’s a commitment that we share. 

I’m deeply passionate about new people joining our industry, and taking opportunities to grow and pursue rewarding careers. 

We’re investing heavily in skills and training.

At the end of 2020 we pledged to fund 2,500 new trainee and apprenticeships across Australia over the next five years.

To date, we’ve welcomed 800 new students and more than 350 have graduated.

In South Australia, we established the Olympic Dam Underground Mining School of Excellence, to create new opportunities for people without experience in mining.

Around 300 people complete the program each year and enter into roles at Olympic Dam. 

Our people are paid to train and move into roles with BHP when they graduate.

These programs, in addition to our graduate and intern programs, ensure that we’re reaching all the big thinkers and bright minds to open up opportunities here in SA.

This is not an overnight endeavour, and we can’t do it alone. 

There is value here for everyone and our collective effort will help us seize this opportunity for SA and for Australia as a whole. We will listen and learn from our stakeholders and approach this challenge in partnership. 

We recognise we haven’t always got it right in the past. 

But we are committed to working together to create a future that benefits us all. 

At both state and federal level, government and the industry need to work together so the policy choices and investments we make will support Australia’s prosperity, and importantly, support South Australia to compete in the global marketplace. 

Let me provide some global perspective. According to Geoscience Australia, Australia is ranked number 2 in the world for copper resources but number 8 in the world for mined copper production. 

Last year, BHP produced more than 1.5 million tonnes of copper globally. 

This year, we expect to produce around 200 thousand tonnes from Olympic Dam. 

And, around 115 thousand tonnes from Carrapateena and Prominent Hill.

Here in South Australia, we have nearly 70% of Australia’s copper resources but we produce just under 30% of Australia’s mined copper production. 

The Gawler Craton has huge un-tapped potential… just imagine for a moment that we can develop a mining hub centred around a smelter that brings even more of SA’s high quality copper to global customers. 

It’s an exciting prospect.

The world needs more copper supply to be brought to the market more quickly. We are part of the start of that supply chain.

We must grow the supply of these commodities safely and more sustainably. 

We are committed to working with governments and other stakeholders to drive better performance in water stewardship, biodiversity and Indigenous cultural heritage.

Here in South Australia, one of the challenges facing greater development in the Gawler Craton is the potential impact on local water resources. 
We are working closely with the South Australian government on the Northern Water Supply project. 

This would reduce the reliance on the Great Artesian Basin and the River Murray, and provide a sustainable source of water for a range of industries, supporting more jobs and investment in the region.

In the technology and innovation space, our Innovation team is actively testing new ways of finding and extracting copper. 

We are looking at technologies to improve efficiency in metal recovery, reduce environmental footprints and conserve water. 

For example, this year we’ll be executing the largest ever hard rock 3D seismic survey to explore and define our resources quicker. 

In partnership with some new startups and tech firms, we’re testing new ways of breaking and separating mineral particles, to reduce energy consumption and improve throughput of our mills, which are a high energy consumer for the Olympic Dam operation. 

The Carrapateena team partnered with Australian companies on a world first trial to use battery electric trucks for heavy haulage across long distances. 

The batteries being trialled can be exchanged within five minutes and retrofitted into any prime mover to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when combined with power from renewable or other low carbon sources. 

Who knows…this could potentially be the future of modular batteries on all mine sites!
The opportunity in front of us is huge.

I see the potential for great prosperity as we collaborate to discover the commodities of the future…faster, more efficiently and more sustainably than ever before.

There is an exciting path ahead.

South Australia has the potential to be a global leader in the race for critical minerals.

I hope that you all share my excitement about this potential.

And I hope I leave you with a sense of determination to capitalise on this opportunity, safely and sustainably. 

Thank you.