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It made for some interesting, if not worrying, reading.

The presentation by Sydney-based consultancy Port Jackson Partners to the Minerals Council of Australia’s minerals week last week in Canberra, the home of mining, pulled no punches.

“Right now, we are not well positioned to attract investment (to mining),” Port Jackson concluded. “Without change, we will be left behind as others grow.”

The consultancy’s solution was wide-ranging, including — perhaps obviously, realigning the tax regime to “predictable, internationally competitive levels”, and getting the dollar lower — but also a more open disclosure about the risks to the current pipeline of projects, fixing infrastructure bottlenecks, “rebalancing capital flows through an offshore-focused, tamper-proof sovereign wealth fund” and fostering innovation.

Port Jackson’s key point is that Australian mining has lost its cost advantage. And it’s also taking about iron ore, apart from all but BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto’s established Pilbara projects.

It says companies can now expect to spend $US235 a tonne to expand Australian ore capacity outside the Pilbara, against just $US135/t in West Africa.

In the Pilbara, it’s a middling $US165/t, aided by the existence of extensive infrastructure.

The numbers don’t guarantee success.

Cape Lambert’s decision last week to postpone the $500 million float of its Marampa iron ore project in West Africa reinforced the severe uncertainty undermining the bulk commodities market.

And further pain can be anticipated this week in the wake of Friday’s worryingly bad US job numbers.

However, Africa will continue to lure Australian explorers, such as Waratah Resources, seeking a company maker.

Waratah, 13.5 per cent owned by nickel multimillionaire Terry Streeter, says initial exploration has confirmed the presence of iron formations grading up to 49 per cent at its Okanabora prospect in the Republic of Congo, south-west of its flagship Youkou project in the emerging Ivindo Massif mineral ore province.

The group plans to accelerate field exploration once the dry season begins this month. in June.

Access remains an issue, with Waratah expecting to airlift a drilling rig into the prospect in the September quarter.

But plans are afoot for the company and other regional holders to upgrade a connecting road from the nearby centre of Kelle.

It may take considerable news flow from Okanabora, though, to turn around sentiment.

Like the broader minerals exploration market, Waratah shares have done it tough in the past four months, falling from 30¢ to 10¢ on Friday.

sean.smith@wanews.com.au

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