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A zinc upsurge in North West Queensland and the continued climb in Australian gold prices are among the highlights of the latest resources industry report card.

Australia’s resource export earning are forecast to rise by 0.8 per cent to $282 billion this financial year, following a record of more than $279 billion in 2018–19.

The figures are contained in the latest Resources and Energy Quarterly publication from the Office of the Chief Economist.

But the report also notes a sharp decline in metallurgical and thermal coal prices in recent months.

And it predicts that weaker prices — virtually across the board — and a rising exchange rate, will drive a significant fall in export earnings in 2020-21 to $258 billion.

On the bright side, Chief Economist Department of Industry, Innovation and Science David Turvey says the latest data suggest that mining investment in Australia has turned the corner.

“For the first time in six years, mining companies are planning to
increase their annual spend on building new mines/wells and on
expanding and replacing their fleet of plant, machinery and equipment,” he writes.

Commodity summaries in the latest report include:

Zinc – The rich lodes and tailings of the Mount Isa region are forecast to propel Australia’s mined zinc production to 1.5 million tonnes in 2019—20,
before production tapers off. Production increased by almost 40 per cent last financial year, led by growth in the Mount Isa Region, including the continued ramp-up by New Century.

“New Century’s ambitions to become one of the world’s Top 10 zinc producers were bolstered by a 12 per cent production quarter-on-
quarter increase in June and a landmark royalty agreement with the
Queensland Government. Meanwhile, MMG’s recently commissioned
high-grade Dugald River mine had strong results, despite a planned
maintenance shutdown, and Glencore’s Mount Isa operations produced 59 per cent more zinc concentrate from January to June 2019 than the same
period last year, owing largely to the resurgence of the Lady Loretta mine,” the report states.

But the value of Australia’s zinc exports is forecast to decline from $4 billion in 2018-19 to $3 billion in 2020—21, due mainly to softer prices.

Gold – Australian gold prices are forecast to rise to a record annual average
high of $A2042 an ounce in 2020, due to trade tensions and geopolitical
risks and a low Australian dollar. The nation’s gold exports are forecast to hit a record high of $25 billion in 2019–20, reflecting expected rises in gold prices and a rise in export volumes to 368 tonnes.

Copper – Growing consumption is expected to support prices reaching a forecast $US6620 a tonne in 2021, up from $US6525 a tonne in 2018. Australia’s copper exports are expected to grow, due to higher
production from Australia’s existing mines and new projects. Export
volumes are forecast to increase from 934,000 tonnes in 2018–19 to
985,000 tonnes in 2020–21 (metal content terms).

Metallurgical coal – Australia’s metallurgical coal export earnings hit a record $44 billion in 2018–19, but a forecast decline in prices is expected to reduce export earnings to $35 billion by 2020–21. Export volumes are forecast to grow from 183 million tonnes in 2018–19 to 198 million tonnes by 2020–21, reflecting production growth from restarts and new capacity in the Bowen Basin.

Thermal coal – Australia’s thermal coal export earnings reached a record $26 billion in 2018–19, but are forecast to decline to $18 billion in 2020–21, as the impact of lower prices offsets higher export volumes. Export volumes are forecast to grow from 210 million tonnes in 2018–19 to 214 million tonnes in 2020–21.

LNG – Australia exported $50 billion of LNG in 2018–19. Export earnings are
forecast to lift to $52 billion in 2019–20, driven by growing export
volumes, before falling back to $49 billion, as prices ease.

Aluminium/bauxite – The value of Australia’s aluminium, alumina and bauxite exports rose by 15 per cent in 2018–19, to a record high of almost $16 billion. Bauxite production increased by 4.7 per cent to over 99 million tonnes, propelled by the addition of new capacity at Rio Tinto’s Amrun bauxite project and Metro Mining’s Bauxite Hills project in Queensland, as well as higher output at Worsley’s Boddington mine in Western Australia. However, Australia’s alumina production fell by 0.9 per cent in 2018–19, to around 20 million tonnes, impacted by several cyclones in Queensland.

Zinc and gold shine in latest resources report