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IQA conference lives up to hype in the Hunter

The green, serene hinterland of the Hunter Valley was home to this year?s meeting and a ?seachange? from the venues of recent years, which had included the Gold Coast, Perth and Sydney.

Close to 350 delegates converged on the Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley on 12 October. The official proceedings for the conference commenced that evening with the Hitachi-sponsored welcome function on the Plaza?s Pergola. The delegates mingled and were treated to finger food and noodle boxes whilst being entertained by flame-twirler, White Fire who eschewed conventional fire safety!

The next morning delegates assembled in the appropriately named Semillon Ballroom for the opening ceremony which included a performance by the Hunter/Central Coast Wind Ensemble, comprising talented musicians aged between 11 and 15. Alison Davey, the Mayor of Cessnock, officially launched the conference, remarking that quarries have been essential to providing road infrastructure for the Hunter Valley wine region in recent years. This is particularly important for a region whose mining industry closed in the early 1960s and which today relies heavily on tourism (the Hunter wine country employs approximately 800,000). Today, there is only one mine in Cessnock, a Chinese-owned operation, and it has little engagement in the local community.

Mark Campbell, the CEO of Holcim Australia, gave the opening day?s keynote presentation. In tune with the conference?s theme of ?Tomorrow?s resources today?, he discussed the challenges facing the quarrying and extractive industries in a time of rapid change, both locally and globally. In addition to the newly passed carbon tax legislation, which will raise the costs of fuel, electricity and gas for the industry, and the Fair Work Act, which has created a more complex bargaining environment and increased industrial activity, he said the industry was also having to come to terms with the rapid changes to environmental and planning legislation by state and local governments. He stated that as more local communities become more activist, so quarries will need to act early and proactively to ensure valuable stakeholder engagement and trust.

Campbell also discussed Holcim?s longstanding commitment to safety, particularly in safe behaviour, serious injury and fatality prevention and health and wellness programs. And he reiterated Holcim?s triple bottom line on sustainable development, which has traditionally embraced the notions of ?People, Planet, Profit?.

?It?s all about finding the balanced approach to business,? he said. ?We need to focus on the inputs and the drivers, not just the outputs.? He added the industry would not prosper/profit until it could achieve this balanced approach to sustainability.

The other plenary sessions on the first day featured some excellent speakers and some very insightful, stimulating perspectives. Professor Bill Mitchell, a professor of economics and the director of the Centre for Full Employment and Equity at the University of Newcastle, provided delegates with a fascinating overview of the global economy in the last 30 years and how the ?neoliberal? practices of that era led to the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. He was not afraid to argue (quite controversially, in fact, to an audience of producers, suppliers and manufacturers) that the private sector had proven it could not self-regulate and that the world economy is still so sluggish because governments worldwide (including Australia) have introduced stimulus measures to save their economies from financial collapse, but have then withdrawn them before their financial systems have had the opportunity to recover. He argued that realistically it will take the private sector at least another five to eight years to pay back its debts. According to Mitchell, it is ?madness? for the Federal Government to commit itself to bringing the budget back to surplus, as it has promised to do by 2012-13, as it will endanger rather than restore prosperity. He argued fundamental financial reform is required ? in effect the re-regulation of the private sector economy ? and that governments will have to commit to more stimulus spending in order to ?de-leverage? their economies.

The afternoon plenary sessions opened with a presentation by Dallas Wilkinson, the vice president of Orica?s Operation CISMAC. Wilkinson provided a fascinating perspective of how extractive operations, including those of Orica, operate overseas, particularly in second and third world countries. Health and safety, cultural customs and beliefs, transport risk, security, the environment and corporate social responsibility present their own unique challenges in countries as diverse as Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Dubai, Zimbabwe and other parts of Africa and are light years behind the standards we would expect in Australia.

Chris Harrison, group general manager of Engineering Technology Services at the NSW Road Transport Authority (RTA), discussed the RTA?s continued commitment to road infrastructure and its maintenance program, which comprises repaving (incorporating quarry products) and funding to cover damage from natural disasters. He also provided an update of progress on the redevelopment of the Pacific Highway, a joint NSW/Federal funded program which will provide a four lane carriageway between Hexham and Tweed Heads between now and 2016 at the earliest. He also discussed how the RTA and the NSW Maritime Authority will soon be incorporated into a new integrated transport authority called Roads and Maritime Services (RMS). This new body will have a service focus and will continue the delivery of road building and maintaining road infrastructure.

The final plenary session for the day focused on future resource and sustainability issues, improved community engagement and recruitment/retention of staff and was perhaps the most informative and entertaining of the day?s sessions. David Cilento, IQA President and Metromix general manager, Geoff West, general manager of Rocla Quarry Products and Leanne Parker, the manager of people development, at Hanson, each described their interpretations of what the quarrying and extractive industries will need to do to be sustainable now and into the future. They then convened as a panel and participated in a proactive question and answer session with IQA members and other delegates.

After such an impressive final session, let alone an action-packed day of stimulating presentations and discussions, delegates could have been forgiven for just retiring to the bar. But instead they dressed in their finery and kicked up their heels for the Komatsu Off-Site Dinner at the nearby Lindeman?s Winery. This closed off an excellent second day?s proceedings with an evening of fine wines, meals and music and entertainment by the Super Supremes (think Diana Ross and the Supremes wannabes!). It was the perfect tonic for delegates to cool their heels before returning to days three and four of the conference.

A more detailed report on the IQA conference will appear in the December issue of Quarry magazine. Further updates will also appear on the Quarry magazine website.

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