An explorer's lament

IN A crisis nobody hears the drillers scream. Or if they do, it appears they do not listen. That is the situation Australia’s exploration companies have found themselves in when it comes to the federal government’s $130 billion JobKeeper scheme.
An explorer's lament An explorer's lament An explorer's lament An explorer's lament An explorer's lament

Explorers still want a piece of JobKeeper funding.

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On the face of it exploration companies are not eligible for the scheme that even Australian Football League clubs are lining up for and, as a result, there could be up to 600 jobs at risk.

The scheme has been introduced to help businesses keep employees they would have otherwise had to lay off as a result of any massive revenue downturns their business would be facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For businesses turning over less than $1 billion - the most likely scenario to suit explorers - a revenue downturn of 30% over a month would be enough to make the eligible for JobKeeper. That means each of their employees would get a $1500 a fortnight payment.

However, exploration companies do not generate revenue. They raise money from the financial markets and then spend it on their exploration activities.

While miners have been given a host of exemptions to ensure they can remain operating, explorers have not been quite so lucky.

Explorers are stymied on two fronts. First off, it is a very tough market to be raising funds in at the moment and secondly, more and more are being stopped from doing any exploration.

Various parts of different states and territories are being closed off to protect vulnerable Aboriginal communities from the spread of COVID-19. That has led many exploration companies to suspend their operations.

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies is continuing to campaign for mineral explorers to be given access to JobKeeper funds.

It first wrote to federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg and resources minister Keith Pitt and followed that with a detailed submission pressing the explorers' case.

AMEC has also taken its case to commissioner of taxation Chris Jordan.

Association of Mining and Exploration Companies chief executive Warren Pearce said he believed there might still be an opportunity for explorers to be deemed eligible.

‘The legislation says the Commissioner of Taxation Chris Jordan has some discretion on eligibility," he said.

"We're taking our advocacy to him. We're petitioning him for an indication whether explorers will be able to access the scheme.

"All they will give us in terms of information is that companies can apply and it will be decided on a case by case basis."

The association has been led to believe the issue is being further considered by Treasury and the Australian Tax Office and it is being supported by Pitt.

"We are hopeful this will lead to a positive outcome for members shortly and we will continue to work towards achieving this outcome for our industry," Pearce said.