OPR projects and operations director Jim Netterfield says Oakajee is not a done deal, pointing out there is no commercial case for it to go ahead.
Mr Netterfield was speaking with industry players at the Mining Mid West conference held in Perth this week.
“We haven’t proceeded at this point because, as yet, there’s not a commercial case,” he said.
Mr Netterfield made the comments in the context of the current market environment.
It’s noteworthy that he did not say the project was dead.
Oakajee has suffered many publicised setbacks on its way to development, and is now in limbo as those involved, deal with the uncertainty of current iron ore prices.
Mr Netterfield said a bankable feasibility study still had to be completed at Jack Hills to prove up the resource, which was key to making Oakajee a viable project.
As well as uncertainty around major projects that underpin the port, it must become a win-win-win situation for China, Japan and Western Australia, according to Australia China Business Council president Duncan Calder.
“At a strategic level China, Japan and the people of WA and the Mid West region have an interest in developing a port and to open up a new mineral province,” he said at the conference.
“The general outlook for the Mid West is, unfortunately in my opinion, more uncertain than it was at this time last year.”
Gloomy predictions in iron ore prices reinforces the need for miners in the Mid West to look north for additional funding, as high capital and labour costs have pushed budgets to breaking point.
“In China, concern of whether they’re welcome in Australia is almost now the major hurdle to foreign investment,” Mr Calder said.
“Therefore, how we manage and cooperate with China … will constitute an important part of our overall relationship with China.”
He said WA companies must respond to China proactively, while improving cultural literacy skills.
“The Mid West region can become a key plank in WA’s relationship with China, our largest trading partner,” Mr Calder said.
“All stakeholders share a strong mutual interest to develop an export corridor, the best export corridor, without question, is through a new port at Oakajee.”
“We need to weigh the interests of the State, the interests of the northern corridor mines and the southern corridor mines to ensure an optimal outcome.
“Now is the best time to refine and use what has already been developed: the IP of the port, the IP of the various potential rail routes, and apply a project solution that is most viable.”
Mr Calder said there was a unique opportunity to score investment from both China and Japan for Oakajee, but he highlighted that relationships between the parties must be managed carefully.
“The benefits of opening up a port at Oakajee and opening the Mid West are vast and (we’re) still cautiously hopeful that Oakajee will happen,” he said.“The only questions are in what form, and with what stakeholders, and over what timeframe?”