Abbott Says Australia Backs Expansion of Olympic Dam

BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s biggest mining company, will get Australian government help as it consider options for the expansion of its Olympic Dam mine, a plan shelved after metal prices declined.

“I want to ensure that as far as is humanly possible everything that government does is directed towards making it easier, not harder, for this iconic project to go ahead,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters yesterday in Sydney.

Australia’s previous Labor government had discouraged the resources sector from committing to major projects by delaying approvals and introducing a mining profits tax and carbon-price system, Abbott said.

BHP said in August 2012 it was halting investment decisions on several projects as demand for some commodities waned and prices tumbled. Expanding Olympic Dam, located 560 kilometers (348 miles) north of the South Australian state capital Adelaide, would’ve made it the world’s largest uranium mine within 11 years and boosted copper output.

The Melbourne-based miner may need to develop new technology to make a larger Olympic Dam economically competitive and is reviewing its options for the project, Chief Executive Officer Andrew Mackenzie said in September. The venture has an estimated cost of $33 billion, according to Credit Suisse Group AG.

Abbott said that an eventual expansion would boost the economy of South Australia, which is facing the end of manufacturing at General Motors Co.’s Holden unit. The carmaker will cease production in 2017 after 69 years, cutting about 2,900 jobs at sites in the state and in neighboring Victoria.

“The Olympic Dam expansion is the best thing that could happen for the economy of South Australia,” Abbott told reporters. “The Olympic Dam expansion, should it take place, would set South Australia up for decades, absolutely decades.”

Abbott declined to say whether he had been involved personally in talks with BHP on its plans for the expansion.

BHP yesterday declined to comment on discussions with the government.

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