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The Drift: Australian mining suppliers look for matchmaking opportunities

Australia's leading mining industry association seeks to arrange partnership opportunities with Northern Ontario companies
Austmine 4
Robert Trzebski, Austmine's vice-president of international business, makes his introduction to the Sudbury crowd at a meet-and-greet at the NORCAT building.

Collaboration, not competition, was the objective behind a trade mission by Australian mining suppliers to Sudbury this week.

Austmine, the Down Under version of MineConnect, brought representatives from 13 companies to the Nickel City to meet-and-greet with mining companies and area suppliers to get a feel for the market and determine if there are any alliances to be had.

“For us, it’s fact-finding reconnaissance trip,” said Robert Trzebski, Austmine’s vice-president of international business and leader of the 15-person delegation.

The trip into Sudbury was on the back half of their two-week trade mission to Montreal, the mines in northwestern Quebec, and the Sudbury mining camp.

The delegation dropped into the NORCAT building this week to deliver elevator pitches on their individual company’s expertise before doing a networking event with local suppliers.

It was part of a full agenda in Sudbury that involved meetings with the major mining companies, huddling with Cambrian College staff from the Centre for Smart Mining, and a stop at NORCAT’s Mining Transformed event at its Onaping underground centre. 

Marla Tremblay, MineConnect’s executive director, said the Australian companies are here looking for partnership opportunities and possible joint ventures with local suppliers in this market, not to steal business from Canadian firms.

“The goal is not to come here and cut our grass — that’s not the point. The point is to find ways that they can collaborate.”

There’s a global shortage of people needed to fill jobs in the mining industry, capacity issues, and always new and evolving approaches and technologies to share, she said.

These trade missions and relationships with industry associations are intended to be reciprocal, Tremblay added.

“When we go there, we expect them to help us.”

Austmine is a national body representing 700 member companies in the Australian mining equipment, technology and services (METS) sector, ranging from large multi-national OEMs and engineering firms to the smart innovation outfits in the SME space.

The association provides members with opportunities to build global relationships, boost their profile, and access domestic and international supply chains. About 70 per cent of the membership are exporters.

In organizing the trip, about 30 Australian companies expressed interest. Profiles were sent to mining and supply companies in Ontario and Quebec and based on the level of interest from Canadian companies, Austmine and MineConnect put together the roster of 13.

Based on the feedback received so far, “we’re definitely looking at collaborating with the local suppliers,” Trzebski said.

Canada is considered a strategic partner country in their eyes. In polling among their members, Canada consistently ranks as a favoured export market along with the U.S., “by far.”

In last few years, there’s been an incredible amount of exploration investment and mining acquisitions by Australian companies in Northern Ontario, especially in the gold and critical minerals space in the northwest.

“Because it’s a very friendly mining jurisdiction,” replies Trzebski.

Melbourne-based Newcrest Mining acquired the Brucejack gold and silver mine in British Columbia last year, Evolution Mining picked up the Red Lake mine complex in 2019, Sayona Mining grabbed the Moblan Lithum Project in northern Quebec last fall and, of course, Wyloo snagged Noront Resources and its Ring of Fire assets in a bidding war with BHP last spring.

And there are plenty of commonalities between the two countries' industries in terms of legalities, openness to investment, the way companies and operations are run, and in working with Indigenous people.

When he started with Austmine 15 years ago, Trzebski said Canada was considered competition by its membership.

“But that’s wrong; we need to collaborate. In terms of globalization, we can’t work in isolation.”

Each country’s service sector brings certain strengths to the table, he said. Canadian companies are particularly strong in underground operations while Australian companies are well versed with open pit mines.

Combining the expertise from these two countries, Trzebski said, “makes a strong and compelling proposition.”

Suppliers from Australia and Canada are familiar with working in extreme environments, albeit at the opposite ends of the spectrum, he said.

“We talk to some of the mining companies and they ask, ‘Is your equipment frost-resistant to minus 40?’ But we’re asking the same question, ‘Is your product heat resistant up to 50 degrees plus?’”

He encourages more Sudbury suppliers to expand their horizons and learn what’s going on in Australia, South America and Africa. At the same time, Austmine can open doors for Canadian companies in Asia.

Trzebski said they’ve already fielded interest from Canadian suppliers wanting to come to Australia.

In less than six weeks, there’s a major mining event in Sydney which will be attended by Ontario and Quebec suppliers looking for matchmaking opportunities with partners in Sydney, Perth and Western Australia.

Back in June, Austmine signed a memorandum of understanding with Mining Suppliers Trade Association (MSTA Canada) looking to expand collaboration between the two organizations.