BHP Billiton wants a Silicon Valley-style hub in Australia where more than 60,000 workers could be trained for the booming resources industry.
BHP Billiton chairman Jac Nasser said Australia could suffer a decline in living standards unless it lifts its productivity levels through initiatives such as creating a “global resources centre of excellence”.
“Without productivity improvements, it’s hard to see how Australia can address the challenges that we face, including climate change, an ageing population and a high exchange rate,” Mr Nasser told a luncheon in Sydney.
He said the nation’s productivity had gone backwards over the past five years and those who had called for increases in productivity had not provided enough detail about how it could be achieved.
BHP Billiton, which is eager to keep its long-term labour costs under control, this week acquired a mining services provider from leighton Holdings as part of its plans to move from contract mining to owner-operated mining.
Mr Nasser said that while Australia should feel “quietly confident” amid the current worldwide market downturn, it needed to take advantage of the one in 100 year mining boom by boosting productivity.
A centre of excellence for the resources industry would “drive productivity and therefore underpin living standards,” he said.
But “taking a bet” on one sector or another was not the answer.
“A better long-term strategy is to have a balance of manufacturing, services and resources all working together to improve the standard of living of everyone living in Australia,” he said.
The technology hub of Silicon Valley in California was a prime example of world’s best practice and there was no reason similar things could not be done in Australia.
“We may not have Silicon Valley, but we do have a resources industry that is the best at what they do,” he said.
60,000 mining workers needed
He highlighted Darwin as a prime candidate to become a “major centre of excellence” as well as the resources centres of Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide.
Houston in the US had been transformed after attracting some of America’s top energy companies, he said.
Industry forecasts show more than 60,000 workers will be needed by the resources sector by 2020, as part of the $78 billion committed to iron ore projects in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
Industry could work “strategically” with state, local governments and universities to help create centres, he said.