The internationally renowned Diggers and Dealers Mining Forum will be kicking off in Kalgoorlie next week and looks to be one of the biggest yet, according to its organisers.
The annual three-day conference brings together both major and minor players in the mining industry with last year’s event pulling in 2,300 attendees.
Diggers chairman Nick Giorgetta told Small Caps this year’s forum is expected to see the second biggest attendance in its history, bringing in around 2,400 delegates, which he says is “pretty much the limit”.
“Once we had 2,600 [attendees] but we found that it was too many… 2,300 to 2,400 is manageable,” he said.
He said there would be a “good mix of juniors and majors coming” and there was an “amazing” amount of international interest with delegates travelling from as far as London, New York and Hong Kong.
John Howard as keynote speaker
A highlight of this year’s forum is the keynote address, which will be presented by former Prime Minister John Howard.
Mr Giorgetta said he anticipates Mr Howard will talk about Brexit, the US-China trade dispute and discuss how he thinks they will affect the Australian economy and its mineral exports.
Mr Howard, who celebrated his 80th birthday last week, is Australia’s second longest serving Prime Minister and, interestingly, was the last one to complete a full term in office.
After being voted out of office in 2007, he has remained very active in the public sphere.
Mr Howard visited Kalgoorlie three times during his tenure as Prime Minister and has previously said “the mining industry has been the backbone of the wealth of modern Australia”.
In a twitter post, Mr Giorgetta said Mr Howard was uniquely qualified to deliver an educated overview of the economic implications for the resources industry as a result of trade treaties, international relations and domestic political changes, given he maintains a strong interest in current activities and commentates to this day”.
“Mr Howard’s overview of the state of Australia’s political landscape since his retirement will be a topic of interest as will his view on the outlook for Australia’s placement in the world with the shifting dynamic between the superpowers of America, China and Russia,” he added.
According to co-organiser Myles Ertzen, Mr Howard’s guest appearance has been creating quite a buzz.
“People are excited – I’ve had lots of commentary and people want to have photos with him and meet him,” he told media.
Last year’s keynote speaker was former President of the European Commission and Prime Minister of Portugal, Jose Manuel Barroso.
In his address, Mr Barroso berated US President Donald Trump for imposing hefty trade tariffs on China, saying threats to free trade were detrimental to global growth.
Talk of the town
Mr Giorgetta said he expects this year’s conference to have a “very positive” vibe, especially after the ASX 200 hit a new record high this week.
“Given that the ASX is the highest it’s ever been, commodities are going so well and share prices are going up, everyone will be in a good mood,” he said.
Mr Giorgetta said he expects the financial sector and recent high commodity prices will be key topics on the agenda.
It’s no surprise that gold will be a major theme at the forum with many of the attending companies revelling in the current A$2,000 per ounce gold prices.
Close to half of the presentations are gold companies, including Newcrest Mining (ASX: NCM), Resolute Mining (ASX: RSG), AngloGold Ashanti (ASX: AGG), St Barbara (ASX: SBM), previous Digger award recipient Kirkland Lake Gold (ASX: KLA) and forum newcomer Bellevue Gold (ASX: BGL).
The turnaround of the nickel market was a hot topic at last year’s event and is presumed to be discussed again.
This year’s stronger iron ore prices are also likely to be a focus.
Winner winner, chicken dinner
In line with tradition, the event will end with a gala dinner to toast the industry and present awards to its outstanding players.
In 2018, the Digger award went to Kirkland Lake Gold, which achieved a massive boost to production and reserves at its Fosterville gold mine in Victoria the previous year.
Kidman Resources scored the Dealer award for its strategic approach in developing its lithium assets and its joint venture with Chilean lithium major SQM. Kidman has since been taken over by Wesfarmers (ASX: WES) after accepting a $776 million bid.
In the small cap space, Metro Mining (ASX: MMI) won the Emerging Company award for achievements at its Bauxite Hills operation.
Outside of the conference, several networking functions are being hosted by event sponsors and Kalgoorlie-based operators including Saracen Mineral Holdings, Sandfire Resources, Northern Star and Evolution Mining will be conducting site visits.