According to data released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), near record levels of investment in exploration for minerals and metals is continuing to back Australia’s economic recovery.

Investment in minerals exploration has increased 14% to $3.2b in 2020-21, the highest spending since the peak of the mining boom in 2012. Gold exploration – up 32% – has been the main driver of this growth, accounting for 48% of all exploration investment in Australia for the last financial year. Victoria and Queensland have shown particularly strong trends in exploration expenditure in 2020-21.

In the June 2021 quarter, $55.7m was spent on minerals exploration in Victoria, bringing total minerals exploration expenditure in the 2020-21 financial year to $184.9m – the highest annual expenditure on record since the ABS commenced exploration data collection in 1988.

Victorian exploration spending is critical to delivering new mining projects in the future to employ regional Victorians, and to increase geological knowledge across the state.

A recent survey by the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) found that minerals exploration companies and mines in central and northern Victoria employ 1,000 locals directly, pay $115m in wages and spent $48m supporting 590 local businesses – more than half their total Australian supplier spend – in the region in 2020.

The state’s total exploration expenditure for the past financial year has risen by 11 percent to reach $708 million, compared to $638 million in 2019-2020, which is Queensland’s strongest result since 2014-15.

Queensland Resources Council chief executive, Ian Macfarlane, said very strong September and March quarters had more than made up for a slight drop in expenditure in the June quarter.

“These latest figures show our explorers have managed to continue to expand their exploration programs over the past 12 months in spite of Covid-19’s impact on their ability to recruit skilled workers and source equipment from overseas and interstate,” he said.

Across the states and territories, gold has been a stand-out for exploration, with a 43% jump in expenditure in Queensland. Although coal exploration is on the decline, base metals and minerals exploration has also attracted investment. The use of base metals in technologies and the manufacturing of renewables has driven interest and demand.

In a statement from Tania Constable, chief executive of the MCA, the importance of exploration to drive Australia’s post-pandemic economic recovery was a key issue.

“Attracting new exploration investment is essential to Australia’s post-COVID economic recovery — providing jobs for thousands of Australian geologists, drilling crews and laboratory workers every year — and is vital for discovering the mines that will produce minerals critical to global economic progress such as battery minerals, base metals and rare earth elements.”