Rallying signs a good omen for SA quarry industry

Welcome to Adelaide! We often joke about the South Australian capital’s tranquil, underwhelming character but, like other capitals, it’s a thriving, burgeoning metropolis.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Greater Adelaide area spans 3258km2, including Elizabeth, the Adelaide Hills and some former regional towns. Like other capitals, Adelaide is grappling with population growth. Nearly 77 per cent of SA’s population resides in the Adelaide metro region (1.3 million), creating extra demand on the city’s transport and road infrastructure.

Construction materials have been as much the city’s lifeblood as the River Torrens. In the absence of timber, granite and marble supported many early upper storey buildings, including Parliament House. Sandstone was employed in public buildings in the 1860s and 1870s, including the Adelaide Town Hall, Supreme Court and Edmund Wright House. Limestone quarried on the River Torrens’ southern bank was used in the Holy Trinity Church and Old Legislative Council Building. In the early 20th century, Murray Bridge limestone was utilised in St Peter’s Cathedral, Bonython Hall and the Art Gallery of South Australia. As late as 1990, a revived Murray Bridge limestone quarry supplied stone for the St Francis Xavier Cathedral bell tower.

In addition to traditional materials over the ages, industrial minerals have assisted SA’s manufacturing industries. South Australian production of gypsum (4.4 million tonnes in 2013), a key element of agricultural fertiliser, today accounts for 80 per cent of total Australian production. Cambrian marble has been essential in soda ash production (at Adelaide Brighton’s Angaston Quarry), as has sand in glass manufacture (Tooperang Quarry produces sand for glass container manufacturer Owens-Illinois).

The SA Department of State Development reported in 2014 that the construction materials sector was worth $171 million to the SA economy. The department also acknowledged that the sector generates broader economic activity in building and construction, and that ongoing access to high quality, long life construction materials will underpin Adelaide’s future growth.

To that end, the Department of State Development and the SA Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure have embarked upon the Resource Area Management and Planning (RAMP) project to identify strategic resource areas (SRAs) of key economic importance to government and SA communities. RAMP and SRAs are designed to minimise conflicts from incompatible land use developments and preserve appropriate separation distances between quarry operations and residential areas. The upshot of RAMP for the SA quarry industry is that the siting of incompatible developments will not compromise resource operations’ adherence to legislation.

While RAMP isn’t revolutionary, it shows that SA is thinking ahead. The state has been decisive in identifying the quarries that qualify as SRAs in the Greater Adelaide region and major regional centres. This creates certainty for existing extractive operations in the years ahead.

The major “roadblock” for quarrying in SA is the nation’s poor construction activity. The SA economy has had a number of hits in recent years (eg the impending departure of the car manufacturing industry, the viability of the submarine industry and the deferral of the Olympic Dam open-cut mine expansion). Nevertheless, the SA economy is showing encouraging signs of rallying. Industry groups have hailed the SA government’s recent announcement of the O-Bahn City Access Project as a major fillip. The opening of Cavpower’s $25 million Component Rebuild Centre, which is endorsed by Caterpillar as a world-class, five-star contamination control facility, is also another win.

These are small steps but we all know that, with the right attitude from industry and the political sphere, from small things big things grow. The challenge for the quarrying industry in SA and nationally is to encourage private enterprise and all three tiers of government to invest more in infrastructure to address urban growth.

Update – 5 October, 2015

Another feather to Adelaide's cap has been the recent infusion of almost a billion dollars by the Federal and SA Governments into the new Northern Connector infrastructure project. This apparently represents the single largest investment that any federal government has made towards SA infrastructure. Unfortunately, all the positive publicity surrounding this announcement, delivered on 14 September, was overwhelmed by the changeover in Prime Minister from Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull later that day. That’s a pity because it was good news for SA quarries and another example of the state's steady resurgence.

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