Up to $4 billion in minerals exported through Geraldton in 2018-19

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Gavin BoxGeraldton Guardian
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Mid West Ports Authority chief executive Rochelle Macdonald at Geraldton port, as an iron ore ship is loaded in the background.
Camera IconMid West Ports Authority chief executive Rochelle Macdonald at Geraldton port, as an iron ore ship is loaded in the background. Credit: Gavin Box

Geraldton has always had a reputation as a grains exporter, but the lion’s share of commodities traded through the port is in minerals, worth an estimated $4 billion in the 2018-19 financial year.

By weight, minerals represent 80 per cent of trade through the port, with grain, fertilisers and fuel making up the remaining 20 per cent.

“We don’t get actual values from our customers, but projecting on the basis of current prices this financial year we are looking at about the $4 billion mark,” Mid West Ports Authority chief executive officer Rochelle Macdonald said.

“It’s a bit higher than what we’ve been projecting in previous years, which is around $3.2 billion.

“That’s due to the increase in the commodity prices (from about $65 to $95 a tonne for iron ore) and exchange rate movements.

“It’s great for our region.”

The authority’s business development manager, Ian Hind, estimated $4 billion would equate to about $200 million in State royalties — a huge boost for WA.

“There’s also a significant impact on the local economy because a lot of the (mining) operations have Geraldton-based staff,” he said.

“Karara has a significant Geraldton workforce, while Iluka and GMA Garnet both run mines and processing plants not far from Geraldton and also have a significant Geraldton employment base.”

The $4 billion figure is mind-boggling, underlining the significance of mining to the regional and State economies, but it still pales compared with the mineral-rich Pilbara.

“It’s not in the world of the Pilbara,” Dr Macdonald said.

“But then they are the largest iron ore tonnage ports in the world, particularly with the amalgamation of the Pilbara ports to include Dampier and Port Hedland, etc.”

By weight, iron ore makes up 85 per cent of minerals exported out of Geraldton port, the bulk of which is magnetite from the Karara project.

The remaining 15 per cent is made up of mineral sands (8.2 per cent), base metals (3.4), garnet (2.2) and talc (1.1).

This financial year (2018-19), an estimated 16 million tonnes will have been shipped through Geraldton, which Dr Macdonald says is on par with the previous five years.

“We’ve got quite a steady state of throughput at the moment,” she said.

“We have seen a slight drop-off in trade with Mount Gibson Iron completing their mining operations at Mount Gibson, however, with the increase in the iron ore markets they’ve been able to sell some of their stockpile, so we’ll be recommencing trade with Mount Gibson Iron in June.

“We’ll start railing the material later this month.”

Mr Hind said Mount Gibson Iron had stockpiled low-grade (50-55 per cent iron) hematite which had previously been uneconomical to ship.

“With the recent price spike, Mount Gibson Iron have now been able to sell that into the market,” Mr Hind said.

“It’s not a huge quantity – about one million tonnes. (Trade through Geraldton) will continue for about six months.

“That certainly has a bit of an impact (positive) for jobs in the area — for truck drivers, train drivers and port employees.”

Mr Hind believes the volume of mineral exports through Geraldton are unlikely to change dramatically in the short-term.

“What we will see after this low-grade project with Mount Gibson Iron finishes is a drop-off in their iron ore,” he said.

“But what we are seeing is a number of projects — supported by stronger commodity prices and positive exchange rate environment — and a significant number of new projects in the region anywhere between 12 months and three years away from development. So as some of those new projects come through it will supplement what we potentially lose from Mount Gibson Iron.”

Dr Macdonald said the authority was also actively working to attract trade through Geraldton.

“We’ve been actively going out to talk to potential new customers, to see how we can help them get their projects up and also how we can attract them to come to our region,” she said. “That 80 per cent figure for minerals throughput (2018-19) is less than previous years — about 86 per cent — so we really are looking at how we can diversify our trade.

“With Ian coming on board – and the new management team – we really have a focus on building the business. And it being regionally staffed and regionally promoted internally as well. We are also spending a lot of time connecting with the community. The community is incredibly important to us.”

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