An emerging cash crisis for Australia’s junior explorers is threatening the long-term sustainability of the country’s ‘mining boom’ as well as in other areas in which the juniors play a vital role in identifying and proving new deposits, such as Asia, Africa and South America. A national resources development fund paid for by a modest levy on established and profitable mining operations, and proposed by Minotaur Exploration’s managing director Andrew Woskett, is worthy of further investigation by Australia’s decision makers.

At the heart of the proposal is providing an innovative source of access to capital exclusively for the backbone of Australia’s mining future – the cash-starved junior end of the resources spectrum housing those exploration companies responsible for the majority of new mineral discoveries leading to new mine developments.

Andrew Woskett says most juniors now have limited access to venture capital and debt funding. The full 100% levy proceeds would go direct to the fund. The proposal comes as the global economic crisis squeezes the lifeblood out of capital access for Australia’s junior explorers and mine developers, leaving many, he says, facing extinction or merger, despite the quality of their exploration tenements and prospectivity.

“There is nothing more serious right now confronting juniors than the complete absence of risk capital available for explorers and small cap project developers,” he says. “The consequences of capital starvation to the overall well-being of our so-called booming resources sector are intensely serious and with negative global equities sentiment as it is, we need to be more unconventional in resolving how we alleviate this funding gap. A national resources development fund can fill that gap.”

He warns that there is a reality disconnect between the media hype about the ‘mining boom’ - and the facts. “What we are experiencing is a ‘Clayton’s boom’ where junior explorers and small mine operators are facing extended financial pain, if not obliteration, as, simply put, for most in the resources sector, there is no boom.

“The juniors in need of financing going into the new 2012-2013 financial year are confronting survival against a backdrop of easing prices for bulk, precious and base metals. This in turn is, and will impact thereof, the availability of risk capital to fund speculative exploration and therefore and primarily, new mine development - as it is the juniors who are generally on the ground exploring and discovering, not the big end of town.

“A large number of junior explorers and small to mid-tier mine developers or owners are down to their last million dollars or so in the bank. As they seek to bolster cash reserves with assets sales, they will come up against a pool of buyers which has shrunk. Buyers will be looking for a bargain, not necessarily a fair priced acquisition.

“Those explorers and junior project developers in this tight cash position will have simple but tough options through 2012-2013 but if they are ASX-listed, will still face the cash burn associated with retaining an ASX listing and meeting ongoing tenement obligations.

“The big challenge for most juniors will now be access to working capital and, as a direct consequence of that, sustaining exploration momentum and therefore future discoveries. The fundamental outcome, without a national resources development fund, is that new mine development in Australia - boom or no boom – will not eventuate without continuing greenfields exploration investment.”

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Sylwia Pryzbyla, Editor

Sylwia Pryzbyla
Editor, ASIA Miner and Australian Editor, E&MJ
[email protected]

Sylwia Pryzbyla has more than two decades of experience in media and publishing industries.

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