Australia has the world’s largest identified resources of nine minerals including gold, according to the government’s annual resources report.

By the end of 2016, Australia topped the global list of known resources for:

  • Gold
  • Iron Ore
  • Lead
  • Nickel
  • Rutile
  • Tantalum
  • Uranium
  • Zinc
  • Zircon

Not surprisingly 2016 saw big increases in our known reserves of battery metals such as lithium (70%) and cobalt (13%) as well as tantalum (9%), mineral sands (11%), potash (73%) and tin (12%), according to the government’s annual Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources report.

“Improved markets for these commodities, particularly for those associated with battery technology, has stimulated exploration and resource delineation,” the report noted.

“We are also the world’s largest producer of five commodities — including lithium, a mineral resource with potential that is just beginning to be unlocked through new and emerging technologies,” federal resources Matt Canavan said in the report. (The other four were bauxite, iron ore, rutile and zircon.)

On the other hand, resources decreased for antimony, bauxite, iron ore, manganese ore, tungsten, uranium and particularly diamond.

Diamonds aren’t forever

Australia’s diamond reserves fell by a huge 45 per cent as the Argyle mine in Western Australia wound down.

Aussie diamonds would be exhausted within eight years at current production rates.

We had only 18 to 33 years for mineral sands, 32 years for nickel, 22 years for gold and 19 years for iron ore.

But we had enough bauxite, black coal, copper, lead, manganese ore, silver, uranium and zinc to last 40 years.

The most common types of mines in Australia at the end of 2016 were gold (130), black coal (93), copper (34), iron ore (29) and silver (22).

Much less common were mines producing nickel (13), zinc (13), lead (13), zircon (8), ilmenite (7), rutile (7), bauxite (6), uranium (3), manganese ore (1) and diamond (1).

A crucial part of the economy

Mining remained a crucial part of the economy in 2016-17, accounting for 7.4 per cent of gross domestic product and 230,000 jobs.

The main mineral export earners remained the same as the previous year: iron ore (36 per cent of $151 billion), black coal (26 per cent), gold (12 per cent), copper (5 per cent), alumina (4 per cent), aluminium (2 per cent), nickel and zinc (1.5 per cent each).

However, only iron ore and gold earned more income in 2016 than in 2015. Iron ore export income improved by 10 per cent and gold by 28 per cent.

“To remain internationally competitive as an investment destination for resource companies, we must continue to explore,” Mr Canavan said in the report.

“Only the highest quality deposits with low operating costs will attract the investment needed for development and insure our future economic prosperity.”

The figures come in light of the latest quarterly exploration results by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Total mineral exploration expenditure for the period increased by 2.3 per cent to $457.1 million – the largest contribution to the increase was NSW — up 7 per cent.

In contrast, petroleum exploration fell 13.2 per cent to $254.3 million.


Download the government’s annual Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources report (PDF).