Last month’s annual Diggers and Dealers mining forum is well and truly done and dusted, with a record attendance of mining and resources industry stalwarts enjoying their time in WA’s historic gold mining centre of Kalgoorlie. 

Each year brings fresh topics of discussion to the Goldfields Arts Centre, and the standout themes of 2023 from RSM Australia’s perspective were ESG and battery minerals. 

Our firm’s ongoing support of the nation’s flagship mining event now extends beyond a decade.

Working in the industry as RSM’s Mining and Metals Lead, there’s plenty to see, hear and learn – and it’s always great to catch up with old friends and make some new ones. We noticed many familiar faces who were unequivocally vocal regarding the challenges and opportunities facing both upstream and downstream mining operations across the country.

I have closely watched the critical minerals space since the conference wrapped up and investor money is clearly focused on this segment.

Major miners keen to secure positions in minerals like lithium combines with market trends pushing companies to diversify and possibly pivot their assets.  

I am expecting a surge in mergers and acquisitions, expanding the reach and capabilities of big players, while benefitting smaller companies. But it's not all smooth sailing.

The challenges of inflation and interest rates raises questions about financing new projects, and uncertainty clouds forecasts, limiting smaller players in securing the capital they need from risk averse investors.

Having resources in the ground and being able to use them to meet Net Zero targets are two different things: the journey from discovery to production and selling into emerging markets will be one to watch.

Australia could be leading the burgeoning critical minerals industry; a truly exciting proposition for my colleagues in ESG advisory and corporate finance, in particular.

RSM Partner and Director of Risk Advisory specialising in climate change and sustainability services, Catherine Bell, attended this year’s D&D for the first time.

She was encouraged by the considerable focus on sustainability-related issues such as ESG and critical minerals.  

“While the keynote economist talked of global risks around sticky inflation and recession, the key talking points were centred on the global transition to low carbon, global supply and demand for critical minerals, and ESG,” Catherine said.

“It’s clear that critical minerals projects are actively integrating sustainability into their strategy to help establish their credibility in the supply chain for batteries.”

With the demand for battery minerals only increasing, WA has the opportunity to seize this unique transformation, and Diggers showed mining companies are ready to take advantage.

The social aspect of Diggers is the arguably most valuable part of the conference; connecting with clients and contacts was extra beneficial this year, according to RSM Partner and National Head of Audit and Assurance, Tutu Phong, who has attended Diggers every year for the past decade.

“Diggers and Dealers is a great networking forum, and it has certainly changed a lot over the years,” he explained.

“In recent times, there has been a trend of events being held during the day – such as the well-attended SUPER PITCH luncheon hosted by Chris Judd, offering smaller companies the chance to present their most compelling pitches to a room of investors and advisers.”

Many attendees were keen to discuss the broader capital markets, specifically the role of inflation and interest rates. The key question is: what are the next moves by the RBA? But at the moment, there's no clear answer.

Director of Corporate Finance at RSM, Craig Amos, noted the high level of interest in critical minerals where recent deals highlight growing demand.

“We have witnessed significant corporate activity in the sector from capital raising and competing bids to mergers and acquisitions,” Craig said.  

"Australia is well-positioned to play a substantial role in the critical mineral supply, which suggests a thriving future for everyone involved in the battery mineral sector. Discussions suggested that our biggest challenge lies in downstream processing and the extent to which we, as a nation, can be involved in the full scope of mining and manufacturing. How this situation will develop is uncertain, so this is definitely a space to watch.”