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Pilbara’s Koodaideri Iron Ore Project Gets New Road, Sino Iron Mine Still at Shutdown Risk

Two iron ore mining projects in the Pilbara face very different fates; while the Koddaideri iron ore project by Rio Tinto has just announced the construction of 3.6KM of roads to connect the Great Northern Highway and the Koodaideri mine, the Sino Iron project, operated by CITIC Pacific, is awaiting a brave decision by Premier Mark McGowan and Energy Minister Bill Johnston, which will decide its future and save it from closure.

The Pilbara, a mining region in Western Australia, 2-hours-flight from Perth, employs over 60,000 mining industry workers in 30 open pit, underground and other mining projects. 3,000 of these workers are currently employed by CITIC in the Sino Iron project.

For the past few years, Sino Iron has been a source for contention, as since 2009, operator CITIC Pacific and tenement owner Clive Palmer have been battling it out in court. While for the most part, the media covered their high-profile royalties dispute, more recently an entirely different issue dominates the conflict; CITIC Pacific says it’s in dire need of more desert land for an additional tailings dam. However, Clive Palmer, the tenement owner, refuses to allow them to use it despite it having no other use or significant value.

CITIC claims that without the tailings dam, operations at the Sino Iron mine will be shut down. This is obviously extremely distressing to Sino Iron workers and their families, who rely on the project for their livelihoods.

Quite understandably, Premier McGowan and his government, supported by both the WA coalition and opposition, are looking for solutions. After fruitlessly pressuring Palmer to grant CITIC permission to build its dam, McGowan and his team realized a top-down solution is the only way out of this sticky situation.

Premier McGowan announced he was working to alter a state agreement governing the project in order to force Palmer to give CITIC the government-owned tenement land that Palmer is currently leasing. However, a Fake News campaign spearheaded by Palmer has been continuously trying to convince the public that the mine, a lifeline for the WA economy, is a manifestation of Chinese military aspirations in Australia.
This claim has been refuted by experts and Australian officials, who titled it “scaremongering” and “absurd”.

On an entirely different note, at the Rio Tinto-owned Koodaideri mine, construction of a new Great Northern highway road which will connect it to the mine was announced in November 2019. The Koodaideri mine is expected to start first production in late 2021. The mine is expected to have an annual capacity 43 Mt.

The road construction, awarded to Clough JV by Main Roads WA, is a much necessary infrastructural addition to the project. While Rio Tinto realized the importance of maintenance and construction to improve its new iron ore mining project, Clive Palmer, while enjoying $1m-a-day paydays from CITIC’s Sino Iron, refuses to allow the construction of a much-needed new dam.

Mark McGowan and Bill Johnston are still working towards altering the Sino Iron state agreement, with labour minister Alannah MacTiernan reportedly pledging her support in order to stop massive layoffs in the region. This comes as ASIC, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, announced to Parliament that they are weeks away from pressing criminal charges against Palmer in the case of Queensland Nickel’s collapse, in Northern Queensland.

Representatives of WA miners and their families said they support Rio Tinto’s efforts to develop new projects and create new jobs while condemning Clive Palmer’s sabotage of the Sino Iron project, which they say is creating a lose-lose-lose-lose situation: Clive Palmer’s loss of royalties, miners’ loss of jobs, the government’s loss of income through taxes and royalties and CITIC’s loss of revenue on a project that is just now finally in the black.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of EconoTimes.

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