In this edition of Queensland Mining and Energy Bulletin we talk to Asset President of BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA), Lucas Dow, about his company’s approach to the current tough market conditions.
The downturn in resources has many mine operators in Australia re-thinking their approach to business. What is BMA’s main focus in the current economic climate?
The Australian coal industry is continuing to go through a tough transition to stay globally competitive – and BMA isn’t immune from this. However in the last 18 months, we’ve worked hard and made solid improvements to reduce costs and improve productivity through encouraging a culture at our sites that focuses on safety, productivity, performance and identifying efficiencies.
This year we remain focused on continuing this work and getting even more from our assets. This means targeting 6,000 hours per annum for our trucks and 8,000 hours for our wash plants – which when you consider there is only a total of 8,760 hours in a year, are certainly ambitious targets.
Before the state election earlier this year the Labor party suggested they would look at banning 100 per cent FIFO at mines operating close to mining towns. With the change in government, what advice would you give the new Premier on this matter?
BMA is committed to choice. We believe residential, drive-in-drive-out or fly-in-fly-out workforces all have a role to play in the resources industry in generating wealth for the Queensland economy.
Across our eight operating mines in Central Queensland, 90 per cent of our 9,000 employees and contractors live locally or commute from CQ coast communities of Mackay, Whitsunday and Rockhampton regions and 10% fly-in-fly-out. We remain a major employer in Queensland and major contributor to Queensland’s economy.
BMA continues to be a strong supporter of community partnerships and local development projects across Central Queensland including community services, education and accommodation; as well as providing ongoing community infrastructure support.
“Everyone still needs to dig the coal up. It’s core business. The global market is still there and it will increase as demand for energy and steel consumption grows…”
What feedback have you had on BMA’s Local Buy Program? What is the level of interest in local communities?
Since it commenced in 2012, 571 local suppliers have registered to deliver goods and services to BMA across the Bowen Basin and Mackay through our Local Buy Program. More than 3,800 work opportunities have been made available and total approved spend since the program commenced in 2012 is $41m. This of course goes back into local businesses within the communities we operate in.
These numbers only continue to increase, indicating the program remains a valuable tool for local suppliers and businesses to engage directly with BMA sites.
Where do you see the coal sector in Queensland headed in the next five years? Do you have hopes of an upswing in the near future?
There’s no denying that it is still a challenging environment for many and the mining industry is no exception to this – we operate in a cyclical environment. At the moment, this cycle has seen the lowest prices for metallurgical coal since 2010.
Although we’re a Central Queensland business, we operate in a global market – so while we can’t do anything about low global coal prices – we need to do more with things we can control. This means continuing to focus on productivity – and looking to do things differently, and smarter. If we can continue to drive productivity, we have confidence in the long term outlook for the coal market.
What projects is BMA implementing in the near future to improve productivity and also safety across their Queensland operations?
Safety, productivity, performance and identifying efficiencies are the key focus for our business this year. Above all, it is imperative to me that our employees go home to their families at the end of their shift in the same condition that they left them. That’s why we recently took 148 site leaders away from their daily activities to spend time in the field engaging with teams on site, to work together in identifying areas we can do even more to improve our safety performance.
I believe everyone in our business can contribute to BMA’s productivity agenda but unfortunately, in a business of our size, it’s not always easy for ideas to be heard by the right people.
In order to encourage people to challenge the status quo and contribute their suggestions about doing things differently, we have introduced an interactive online ideas hub. This platform enables employees to share their ideas with the decision-makers directly, and to also receive feedback on their contribution and any progress.
In the near future, we look forward to extending this online ideas hub to our key suppliers, so that they too can work with us to share some of their great ideas on improvements and ways of doing things differently.
Before moving to BMA as Asset President in 2013, Lucas spent two years as Head of Group HSEC at BHP Billiton, having previously performed the role of Asset President Pampa Norte in Chile.
Lucas has worked across three of BHP Billiton’s businesses: Coal, Manganese and Copper and, externally, he worked in the energy coal sector.
A mining engineer by training, Lucas commenced with BHP Billiton at Goonyella Riverside Mine as a graduate in 1998. He has since worked across technical, business planning and operational roles in both owner-operator and contract-operated environments.
Lucas has also held roles as a Mine Operations Engineer, Business Planner and Senior Engineer, as well as Production Manager and General Manager within the Manganese and Copper businesses.