Australian mining entrepreneur and Perth Glory Football Club owner Tony Sage has accused the Federal Government of failing to shield mineral explorers from the ravages of COVID-19.
Perth-based Mr Sage is chairman of three ASX listed companies including Cape Lambert (ASX: CFE), which has iron ore projects in Sierra Leone and a copper project in Queensland.
Government not doing enough
Mr Sage has lashed out at the Australian Government claiming that while the onset of COVID-19 had stalled exploration work on his overseas projects due to travel restrictions, the government was not doing enough to keep Australian explorers alive.
“Every other industry it seems is getting support through job-keeper, the loans through the banks but because we’re an explorer as such we have no income,” he said.
“To get these loans from the banks and to get job-keeper you need to show a 30% drop in your income.”
“Anyone in the exploration space knows we have no income. We raise money in equity and go out and drill and find projects.”
Mr Sage went further – taking aim at Federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Attorney General Christian Porter both of whom are WA based.
He said as two of the country’s most senior ministers hailing from his hometown, he was disappointed they were not doing enough for the industry.
“I find it astounding they haven’t thought about the whole exploration industry, we really need help. We want to keep our geologists, our geophysicists and mining engineers on staff, but there is no opportunity for us to do so.”
“What we need is a concerted effort to tell the banks that raising equity is income, and we have had a drop in that … and telling the ATO (Australian Tax Office) which is looking after the job-keeper that a drop in the equity raising is a drop in the income so they allow companies like ours to keep our geologists, our geophysicists – our staff working through this.”
“Otherwise, it’s going to shut down a whole industry and the future of Australia in new mines being opened up … which is just wrong.”
Mr Sage said that he was currently waiting on clarification on whether he was eligible for funding made available through the WA Government.
“The WA minister (Bill Johnston) has put out guidelines, but no specific information on how we can access funds to maintain the drilling program that we planned. It is a shame because what the country needs is more discoveries to keep our reputation as a big exporter going.”
Testing for COVID-19
While Mr Sage calls on the Australian Government to change the definition to enable him access to funding for his exploration companies, he revealed to Small Caps that he has embarked on a plan to import up to half a million kits to test antibodies, similar to what mining giant Rio Tinto has rolled out in the fight against coronavirus COVID-19.
Mr Sage said the test kits were easy and effective in determining if someone was a carrier of the virus.
“It’s a small pin prick, it takes a bit of blood and within 10 minutes you’ll know if you’re clear or not clear for the antibody,” he said.
“If you’ve tested positive for the antibody, there’s more than 95% chance you’ve actually got the virus so you can go straight for the COVID-19 test.”
“And If you pass the antibody test, you’re more than 95% of the time in the clear.
Mr Sage said the kits had already received Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approval and a small batch had arrived this week and had been sent out to various companies for testing.
“If you look at what’s going on around the world, populations will be tested before they go back to work so we’ll end up needing millions of these test kits.”
Impact on the A-League
The effects of COVID-19 on Mr Sage’s business interests have extended to his beloved Perth Glory Football Club.
For the past 13 seasons, Mr Sage has been the sole owner of the 2019 A-League premiers.
But last month he was forced to stand down his players and staff following the suspension of the league.
He is not optimistic about the league kick-starting again any time soon.
Mr Sage said if WA’s border closures continued it would limit or prevent travel for teams and players. On top of that, the league-receives 50% of its revenue from the broadcast deal with Fox Sports but there has been mounting speculation FOX is getting ready to pull the plug.
Sage told Small Caps that if the A-League was to survive against the backdrop of a global pandemic, difficult decisions had to be made.
“When a business has no income and an expense bill of 4.5 million dollars, things have to give. And that is the point I am trying to make to the players, to the staff, things have to move.”
“There has to be a concerted effort by the PFA (Professional Footballers Association) to cut salaries of the players, that’s number one.”
“I made the very hard decision to stand down players and staff without pay. That saved the club a lot of money to make sure that in 2021 we will survive and hopefully get stronger.”
“Now what do I envisage? I envisage a start in January. If the travel bans are not lifted, I can’t see any crowds being allowed to return until then.”
“Perth Glory will survive at the end of it and I’ll make sure of that and I’ll still be owner of the club in that time,” Mr Sage said.