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Australia must play to its natural strengths and innovate to compete

Australia’s mining and resources sector has been told to “play to its strengths” but also warned that a global tech race is on with “genuinely fierce competition”.

Speaking at the Resources Technology Showcase in Perth, Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) Deputy CEO Tim Beresford said Australia – and WA in particular – would continue to prosper from an abundance of natural resources.

But Mr Beresford noted continued technological advancement from competitors around the world, such as Germany, Japan and Singapore. Australia currently ranks third in the world for technological innovation behind Germany and Japan.

“We have natural strengths – and we must continue to play to those natural strengths,” Mr Beresford said.

“But global competition is genuinely fierce. We also have to continue to innovate to preserve the prosperity of Perth, of WA and of Australia.”

Mr Beresford echoed Wednesday’s suggestion by BHP CEO-elect Mike Henry that WA’s mining scene could be compared with Silicon Valley.

He said the process of extracting materials from the ground and then refining them was “every bit as complex as the production of the latest silicon chips”.

But Mr Beresford noted there were bigger-picture issues beyond the extraction and refinement processes which needed to be addressed.

And there is an onus, he said,  on developing technologies that can help address them.

“Everyone wants to know what’s next on the horizon and over the horizon. What are the emerging technologies?” he said.

“We have to work together to solve the issue of global waste. All stakeholders involved have an interest in minimising the footprint of mines.”

Signing off with a telling observation that “technology was not just a way forward, it’s the only way forward”, Mr Beresford was followed on to the stage by Jean Savage, the Vice-President of global equipment manufacturer Caterpillar.

Ms Savage said automation and artificial intelligence had profoundly changed the face of the mining and resources sector.

But she said the transformation so far reflected only “the tip of the iceberg” and that a change in mindset – particularly at the management and executive levels – was needed for it to fully take hold.

“You can have all the technology and equipment set up to automate – but unless you go through the process of training your people and making them aware of their roles and responsibilities, it won’t work,” she said.

Ms Savage said her own company’s interactions with clients and customers had altered significantly in recent years.

Whereas as once Caterpillar simply sold equipment and then followed up with after care, Ms Savage said today’s relationship was a far more collaborative process.

“Now we are working with (clients and customers) to help solve problems,” she said.

More than 800 delegates from around the globe are attending the two day Resources Technology Showcase in Perth.

Simon White is Cannings Purple’s Content Editor and manages The 268, our content and news hub, which was a finalist in the Branded Journalism category of the 2019 Asia Pacific SABRE Awards. He is a former editor of both thewest.com.au and WAtoday. Email Simon.

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