The Mount Isa copper smelter.
The Mount Isa copper smelter.

2000 jobs hinge on miner’s reinvestment in smelter

Miner Glencore is set to announce a decision soon on the future of its copper smelting and refining operations in North Queensland which will hopefully secure some 2000 jobs.

At least, that is the outcome people will be seeking as Glencore engages with both the Federal and State governments on the challenges facing the business.

The mining group warned last year it could close, rather than reinvest in, the smelter because of mounting pressures on its viability including the availability of metal and the high costs of power, rail, gas and environmental licensing.

But it appears Glencore will choose to continue the operations, which will mean investment of some $30m to $40m on relining the inside of its smelter.

Mount Isa MP and leader of Katter's Australian Party Robbie Katter said he was taking the lack of any announcement so far as a good sign.

"There's a hell of a lot riding on it. "Not getting this across the line has very serious consequences for the region," Mr Katter said.

"I have made it my mission in the last few years to highlight the serious ramifications of the closure of the smelter and the impact it will have on the Townsville region."

The smelter supports the Townsville copper refinery and some 2000 direct and indirect jobs, while it is also linked, through the supply of acid produced at the smelter, with Incitec Pivot's fertiliser plant at Phosphate Hill and, in turn, Townsville's zinc refinery, also through its supply of acid to Incitec Pivot.

A spokeswoman for Glencore said they were completing a review of the copper smelter and refinery and had been transparent about the challenges facing the business.

"These assets are facing significant international competition and high fixed costs in Australia which negatively impacts their ongoing commercial viability," the spokeswoman said.

"We are engaging with both the Queensland and Federal Governments and discussions are ongoing.

"We expect to communicate a final decision on the metallurgical assets (this) month."

Mr Katter said while Glencore might not get any immediate benefit from the proposed CopperString transmission line, because of long-term power supply agreements it holds, the project was nonetheless vital for providing lower cost energy.

"You can't expect businesses to be paying the world's highest electricity prices and compete in manufacturing," Mr Katter said.

He said the viability of the operations rested very much with the decisions of State Government.

Originally published as 2000 jobs hinge on miner's reinvestment in smelter