Poor infrastructure hinders Murray Basin mineral sands development: Study

POOR infrastructure is threatening a potentially multi-million-dollar mineral sands industry in the Murray Basin, a recent study has found.


The report found Australia could be in danger of trailing behind major mineral sands producers in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, India and Sri Lanka if infrastructure was not brought up to speed.

Australia’s mineral sands industry currently generates $1.2 billion and corners 38% of the world’s zircon market.

Forecasts for the Murray Basin estimate it could achieve a production rate of more than 700,000 tonnes per annum. The contained value of the resource is in the order of $13 billion.

The Murray Basin covers 600km, crossing into portions of South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.

Several mines are likely to come on stream in the next few years, but poor infrastructure including roads, bridges, electricity and gas connections in the region has hampered the speed of development.

Exploration to date in the region has been in excess of $100 million.

Sinclair, McKnight and Merz conducted the study for a management committee comprising of representatives from government and industry.

Interested miners in the region include Iluka Resources Limited, Murray Basin Titanium Pty Ltd, Murray Basin Minerals NL, Imperial Mining (Aust) NL, GDM Resources Pty Ltd, BeMaX Resources NL, Basin Minerals Ltd and Probo Mining NL.

Dr Brad Farrell, managing director of Basin Minerals, said the Government’s involvement was mainly political.

“It is unusual to get the Government involved at this early pre-feasibility time of mining - it is more usual the Government will open its purse at the feasibility stage,” he said.

“Politics, in a nutshell, is what it is all about.”

At this point in time, no recommendations have been made to fund additional infrastructure. The report has been handed on to a Murray Basin Mineral Sands Industry Taskforce.

Farrell said each state had its own axe to grind - Victoria was concerned about the rural backlash at the last elections and was acutely aware of neglecting the bush and NSW was concerned about the demise of Broken Hill and the ensuing effects on employment.

The report estimates five opportunity zones have a potential quantity of about 60 million tonnes of coarse-grained mineral sands.

“The area was split into opportunity zones for the sake of ease when reporting,” SKN project manager Phillip Heath said.

“These include Swan Hill [central Vic], Horsham [south-west Victoria], Pooncarie [south-west NSW], Silver City [SA/NSW] and the Murray Bridge zone [SA].”

The infrastructure needs of the five zones vary, but the study found the inland location of the Murray Basin meant efficient and economical transport was crucial to the success of the industry.

Other recommended infrastructure options include:

* Upgrading the existing broad gauge lines into Melbourne and Geelong with focus on product flow from Mildura.
* Construction of container handling facilities at Portland and Geelong where feasible.
* Connection of Geelong Port to standard gauge rail network.
* Upgrading Paringa Bridge to facilitate over-size vehicles.
* Strengthening the electricity distribution systems and gas supply networks.
* Upgrading and gauge standardization of the Mildura Line north of Lascelles with a new rail connection to the Hopetoun grain line.