Mentoring people and seeing them succeed is one of mining veteran Neil Warburton’s top three career highlights.
His willingness to give back to the industry where he’s enjoying a standout career led to being awarded a WA School of Mines Alumni life membership at WASMA’s Sundowner in Kalgoorlie during Diggers and Dealers.
“To be recognised for the work I’ve put back into the School of Mines and the Alumni itself, I’m very humbled and very proud,” he said.
“It’s a great honour.”
Neil is Chair of the WASMA Advisory Council and has spent 40-plus years in the industry – although mining wasn’t originally on his radar, growing up on a dairy farm near Brunswick Junction in WA’s southwest.
He followed his two older brothers to board at Scotch College in Perth but “a disagreement with the headmaster about how the school should be run” saw him finish his education at Bunbury Senior High School.
The family business had meanwhile been split between his older brothers and father, who told him to find something else to do with his life as they were not going to split the farm again for him – which was “probably the best thing Dad ever did”, Neil said with a smile.
He recalled a school visit by WASM explaining how its graduates were regarded worldwide and was inspired to apply, receiving a scholarship to start mining engineering in 1974 at the Kalgoorlie Campus.
Neil describes his first job after graduation in 1979, with Western Mining Corporation in Kambalda, as a career highlight.
“The amount of freedom they gave me as a junior mining engineer, I think at the age of 24 or 25 I was producing about 8% of the world’s nickel, being in charge at one of the larger underground mines there,” Neil said.
“WMC really looked after people and encouraged new ideas and new technology … and really gave the grads the experience and the know-how and the training that you need to gain a rounded background in all types of mining techniques and challenges.”
His next highlight was joining Barminco in the late 1990s, becoming CEO in 2007 and building up the company (now part of Perenti Group) – doubling revenue and establishing it as the largest underground hard rock mining contractor in Australia and West Africa.
“The third highlight of my career is actually training and mentoring people,” Neil said.
“At one point we had 50 to 60 mining engineers that were working within the Barminco group and the majority of those were out of the WA School of Mines.
“We were fortunate enough to mentor them, train them up to understand that people make good mines work and a lot of them are now running significant, large operations like Bill Beament and Stuart Tonkin to name a few.
“That’s another highlight, seeing them do so well.”
As for his own mentor, Neil named industry icon Sir Laurence Brodie-Hall, who was a director of WMC when Neil left the company in 1988 and had approached him, along with the chairman of Coolgardie Gold, to become managing director of the gold miner.
“Our board meetings used to be in Sydney, so we spent quite a bit of time on the plane every month, going over and back, talking,” Neil said.
He said Sir Laurence provided leadership on how to handle people, crises and go through downturns.
“He said ‘You know, the lights get turned back on again, you’ve just got to buckle down’ – he was an exceptional person, leader and a really good mentor which his wisdom and advice I still use today in the companies I’m associated with.”
Neil is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and a Member of the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, plus sits on the board of several ASX-listed mining and services companies.
He was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Curtin University earlier this year for distinguished service to Curtin and the mining and resources sector.
Neil cited the old adage – the harder you work, the luckier you get.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be lucky enough throughout my working life, and hopefully there’s a few more years yet,” Neil said.
He hopes to see sustained strong leadership and high standards at WASM so graduates continue to be regarded among the best in the world and the school retains its world-wide acknowledged “mining excellence” brand.
He also paid tribute to the Alumni for its role in supporting networking and promoting the industry, saying it had helped improve the perception of a career in mining and associated industries.
“I would certainly recommend it to anyone,” he said.
“The world’s your limit and with the revolution to decarbonisation, the mining industry is now front and centre in this new industrialisation era utilising clean energy metals.”
The space industry is in place in Australia and well underway to keep growing, not only that, it exists right under our nose here in WA. The State already works closely with the Australian and European Space Agencies…. which you can see with the ground stations (aka the dish) in New Norcia!
In August, the WASM Alumni collaborated with AROSE (Australian Remote Operations for Space and Earth), a member driven consortium based in WA, to open up the discussion between resources and the space sector, to inspire and excite! The opportunities are already here to transfer space technology into mining, and to leverage the wealth of experience we have in our long history from remote operations in the Pilbara… directly into the Australian lunar rover space mission!
We heard from ….
The first AROSE Chair and unofficially Chief Inspiration Officer at AROSE, David Flanagan AM CitWA (and WASM Alumni!)
Space Director at Fugro, Dawn McIntosh (and a 20 year NASA Alumni!)
And our panel chair, AROSE Program Director, Michelle Keegan (also WASM Alumni!), and
The States first Space Director at JTSI, James Yuen.
In April, we held our second Resources Innovation Collaboration (RIC) event for the year. It was held online, however all upcoming events are planned to continue face to face.
We were lucky to have three great Alumni members speak at our last event, with the theme focused on backing their commodity. Working across both gold and battery minerals, we had some healthy competitiveness displayed across the panellists. Backing Lithium was Pilbara Minerals CEO Ken Brinsden, backing Nickel was Blackstone Minerals MD Scott Williamson and long time gold supporter Bellevue Gold CEO Darren Stralow.
At such an important time globally, every one of their commodities is critical to what we need on our decarbonisation paths. While not as critical to building batteries, it was very exciting to hear the Bellevue Gold story to be the most sustainable gold miner…. right here in the Goldfields. Thanks again to Ken, Scott and Darren… great work all round on the panel and driving your commodities
We look ahead to June for our next event where WASM:MECE will showcase their research into both battery minerals and also the integration of digital technology into our operations.
In 2021, Kurt Charlton was awarded the WASM Alumni Gold Medal. The medal is presented to a WASM:MECE graduating student who not only achieves academic excellence, but demonstrates community involvement and industry engagement.
Kurt exemplified everything WASMA was looking for in a recipient. During his studies in Chemical Engineering and Finance, Kurt gained experience producing ammonia in the Pilbara, refining crude oil in a refinery in Melbourne, researching a chemical which has uses in cancer treatment, staying with rural families in Cambodia, working with students on the autism spectrum and much more.
A year since graduating, Kurt says he has done a lot of learning as he’s navigated his way through a new career as a Process Engineer with Clough. He has also maintained his links to his community work, staying involved with Youth Outreach in regional WA.
“In my first year I have worked in a variety of teams, some where the people closest to my level were 10-11 years my senior,” he explained. “So, I have had to learn quickly to get up to speed.”
During the past year, Kurt has also spent six months as an intern with Clough client Inpex, providing him with variety in his experience.
“I have enjoyed getting to expand some of my existing technical skills, like process modelling, as well as learning new skills and processes, like pressure relieving, depressuring and process safety time calculations,” he said.
“It’s also been interesting working with senior staff, and understanding the hierarchy and quality assurance processes, which was all new to me.”
Kurt said one of his biggest learnings has been that there can be as much focus on non-technical work as there is on technical work, and that it is important to work closely with clients and to manage his time.
Time management skills have come in handy as Kurt has juggled his involvement with Youth Outreach in regional areas. Through his voluntary work with Engineers Without Borders, Kurt took part in a trip to the South West where 13 volunteers worked with 1500 students over the course of a week to provide STEM based learning activities.
He was also part of a trip to the Goldfields, to work with 221 students, including students at remote communities.
“It has been really rewarding work,” he said. “Particularly working in remote communities.”
The team is now working towards another program to the South West this June, which aims to be bigger than last year’s. However, work commitments mean that Kurt won’t be able to take part in all programs.
In terms of advice for other students, Kurt recommended gaining a variety of experience during University studies. “One thing that I wanted to do while I was at Uni was both operator and consulting internships,” he said. “This would have given me more experience coming into this work, but I didn’t have time to do both.”
Opinion piece by Prof. Odywn Jones AO
Emeritus Professor at the Western Australian School of Mines
Most operating mines in Western Australia utilise a FIFO workforce which include persons of both gender, and for quite some time there has been growing evidence of increasing occurrences of worksite sexual harassment and bullying, etc.
However, more recently the situation has become extremely serious, as reported in The West Australian January 4, when it was stated the Department of Mines, Industrial Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) Director General sent a letter to a number of the industry’s major employers in December demanding an explanation for unequivocally, unacceptable failure to fulfil obligations to report workplace rapes.
This situation apparently developed, as stated by The West, after the Mines and Energy Minister Bill Johnston said in December that he wanted WA’s big resource companies recalled before an inquiry to be quizzed over whether confidential payments were made to silence victims of the alleged attacks.
It’s appropriate to therefore recognise and acknowledge the importance of the leadership and guidance shown by DMIRS and Johnston. The recent WA Government’s Parliamentary inquiry has proved to be very effective, highlighting the need for operating companies to take ownership of the behavioural culture existing at their worksites.
The McGowan Government has also invested considerable effort in harmonising the State’s work health and safety laws, including adopting the national model. This led to the introduction of the Work Health and Safety Act 2020 (WHS Act) and its three sets of supporting regulations which were due for implementation in April 2022. This Act will apply to general industry and mining workplaces, replacing the Mines Safety and Inspection MSI Act.
The most recent evidence of mining corporations exploring and addressing inappropriate behavioural practices within their organisations is the release, of the “Report into Workplace Culture at Rio Tinto [Ltd]”. This report, overseen by Australia’s former “Sex Discrimination Commissioner” Elizabeth Broderick, indicates the parlous state of behavioural culture across the company’s worksites in 35 countries. It highlights that sexism, bullying and racism are endemic at most worksites with bullying worst in Australia and South Africa and sexual harassment also being worst in Australia.
Duty of care responsibilities
The MSI Act highlights objectives for promoting and improving “occupational safety and health” at mine sites throughout WA. The Mining Industry Advisory Committee (MIAC) has also released a guideline on “General duty of care in Western Australian mines (Second edition)”.
The aim of the existing legislation (MSI Act and Mines Safety and Inspection Regulations 1995), according to the MIAC guideline is to:
Ensure each employer provides and maintains a safe workplace, so far as is practicable, and
Make each person who works at a mining operation in WA is responsible for his or her safety, and for the safety of others who would be affected by his or her actions or inaction
The focus of the legislation is on the prevention of unsafe situations, and inappropriate behaviours such as sexual harassment and workplace bullying are considered a hazard under the MSI Act.
It is also the case that the duty of care applies to both employers and employees at all levels and includes corporations, mining company employees and contract workers, and those who are self-employed as well as supervisors and managers.
Impact of recent inquiries
One can only imagine the impact on parents of reading newspaper articles highlighting that sexual harassment is rife at iron ore mining camps in the state, which provides more than half of the world’s supply of this commodity, especially those parents whose sons or daughters show an interest in careers within the mining industry.
Currently, only about 20 per cent of the industry’s workforce are female; a level which industry employers think is far too low according to Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA chief executive Paul Everingham. His focus remains on trying to get from 20 per cent to 50 per cent. But as he also stated, “certainly instances of sexual assault and harassment will only make the task of attracting talented women into mining even harder”.
We obviously need, as the WA Mines Minister stated, the other major mining companies to follow Rio Tinto’s example. As Rio Tinto Australia chief executive Kelly Parker is quoted as saying in the Weekend Australian (February 5-6) “Management’s new framework should be adapted and localised to different locations, such as mine-sites and city offices”. In her view it should have three pillars:
Leadership capability and training at all levels of management – from senior leaders to frontline supervisors
Provision of safe, secure and liveable facilities for a modern workforce, with the use of alcohol curbed and provision of on-site security, if necessary
Clear and transparent complaints handling system, whereby the complaints of employees are immediately believed and investigated
The report itself concludes its executive summary by stating:
“The real task now is for the organisation to make safety and respect the lived reality for its employees, whoever they are and wherever they work across Rio Tinto – each and every day.”
Ongoing Initiatives by government
DMIRS has been pursuing the increasing need to address these behavioural issues at mining industry worksites for many years. Indeed, specially trained mental health and wellbeing inspectors are appointed to investigate:
Whether mining companies and/ or their contractors have systems in place to monitor and/or restrict on-site consumption of alcohol
Such environmental on-site factors as “controlled and safe access to accommodation”, on-site security and adequacy of lighting etc., all of which are important in reducing the risk of employees being exposed to hazards; behavioural or otherwise
Employer strategies to reduce inappropriate behavioural issues, including gender violence. These strategies may include appropriate training of management and employees, the availability of suitable recreational activities, avoidance of excessive alcohol consumption and the availability of peer support and employee assistance programmes
Appropriate compliance action is taken by mines safety inspectors if necessary and DMIRS works closely with the WA Police if criminality is an issue.
DMIRS is also introducing a number of proactive initiatives to reduce the risk of employees being exposed to psychosocial hazards, including:
The publication of bulletins highlighting the requirement of employees to notify the DMIRS of occurrences of sexual harassment or assault
Conducting mentally healthy workplace audits at mine sites which may identify conditions that may contribute to the increased risk of unacceptable behavioural practices
The development of three new codes of practice dealing with “Violence and Aggression at Work”, “Workplace Behaviour”, and “Psychosocial Hazards in the Workplace”. These will help employers in both mining and general industry to prevent and manage risks associated with inappropriate workplace behaviours
Furthermore, there is the Government’s commitment to the “Mental Awareness, Respect and Safety programme” announced in December 2021, which seeks to address workplace sexual harassment and assault, along with other issues such as mental health, alcohol and drug use and general safety issues.
The employer’s task
Other WA employers in the resource sector need, as a matter of great urgency, to follow the example set by Rio Tinto in order to establish a healthy and respectful workforce of men and women, with supervisors trained to identify and deal with unhealthy behaviour, involving bullying, racism and/or unacceptable sexually specific language and/or behaviour. This is doubly difficult within male-dominated mine sites where FIFO workers live with each other outside working hours; meeting each other at meal times and when relaxing in the wet mess or gymnasium. However, there are ample opportunities for supervisors to notice questionable behaviour and such behavioural issues should be nipped in the bud, with the guilty party being told that such behaviour is unacceptable and could lead to serious consequences, including termination of employment.
This assumes that supervisors are carefully selected and adequately trained to deal with such issues.
Control of alcohol consumption is also important, and many mining companies have introduced a cap on the daily quota (e.g. four mid-strength beers per day), with no alcohol served and consumed after 9.30pm and the prohibition of stockpiling.
Induction programmes for new entrants to mine sites should emphasise that a happy workforce is based on mutual respect and that bullying and/or physical or sexual harassment is totally unacceptable. The existence of on-site complaint handling systems should also be clearly defined, and it may well be necessary to employ on-site security personnel to provide safe environments for female employees during non-working hours.
The remoteness and relative isolation of most mining operations in WA make women employees more vulnerable to gender-based harassment and violence. Consequently, mining companies need to pay particular attention to the:
Establishment of safe and secure accommodation for women employees
Establishment of a pro-active supervisory system, whereby any evidence of bullying and/or sexual harassment is immediately dealt with
Curtailing the availability of alcohol during non-working periods
Establishment of a clearly defined transparent and responsive complaints handling system
Mining companies may also consider identifying counsellors amongst the workforce, such as those well-respected long-term employees, who are trained to be the first point of contact for those of either sex who feel uncomfortable due to unwelcome behaviour or attitudes of fellow employees.
An exciting new transformation at Curtin University occurred at the beginning of 2018 with the powerful resources engineering disciplines of Chemical and Petroleum incorporated into the WA School of Mines and the WA School of Mines Alumni. Mineral and Energy Economics, which for over a decade were located within Curtin’s Graduate School of Business, was returned to WASM .