Sir Arvi Parbo

I rise tonight to pay tribute to a titan of Australia's resources sector. On 1 May this year Australia lost one of its greatest contributors to our nation's mining and resources industry with the sad passing ofSir Arvi Parbo. Sir Arvi's long and successful career in Australian business continues to have its legacy felt today, and it will be felt for many decades more. His life and achievements contain many lessons for us.

Arvi's story was a common Australian one, but he had an uncommon impact on the lives of so many. As an 18-year-old he fled his Estonian homeland ahead of the Soviet occupation and migrated to Australia in 1949. He apparently chose to come to Australia instead of his alternative option of Canada because Australia was further from war-torn Europe than Canada.

After completing an engineering degree on a Commonwealth scholarship, he joined the Western Mining Corporation in 1956, where he would work for the next 43 years. Arvi was heavily involved in the development of some of Australia's greatest resource projects—some of our greatest nation-building endeavours—like Olympic Dam, the Kambalda nickel mine and the aluminium industry. Arvi's well-regarded leadership and vision made Australia a wealthier nation, and he helped improve the lives of thousands.

In the mid-1960s, Arvi, while at WMC, was a key driver in taking a risky decision to build Australia's first nickel mine at Kambalda. At the time there was a global temporary shortage of nickel, and the Western Mining Corporation had to act fast if it was to take advantage of this temporary shortage. Arvi and his team succeeded in delivering nickel concentrate to Japan and Canada within 18 months of the first drilling. They first drilled and found nickel on 28 January 1966 on the shores of Lake Lefroy, and by August 1967 the first consignment of nickel had left.

This was a nation-building achievement at a record pace. Later, the Western Mining Corporation was to develop our first nickel smelters and refineries. Today, nickel exports contribute $3 billion to Australia's economy, and we're the fifth largest miner of nickel in the world. Arvi's vision and achievements have put Australia in a strong position to take advantage of increasing demand for nickel in batteries and other modern products.

Despite entering tough times in the 1970s during a downturn in worldwide commodity demand, Arvi sustained WMC's famously aggressive exploration activities. Arvi declared in 1974 that, and I quote, 'When you're exploring today, you are thinking about conditions in 10 years time.' That investment was to pay-off, ultimately, with the finding of the massive Olympic Dam deposit in South Australia. Unlike Kambalda, however, Olympic Dam was not built in 18 months. By then the law books had been built up like massive hurdles to job creation in Australia. Arvi would comment later that WMC could never have delivered the Kambalda project in today's regulatory environment.

This is an ongoing issue for our country. Our share of global mining exploration spending has fallen from over 20 per cent at the start of this century to around 10 per cent today. In the time that it took the Queensland government to assess a black-throated finch management plan for the Adani Carmichael mine, Arvi and his team had drilled exploration holes, built a mine, built a railway, founded a whole new town and shipped nickel concentrate overseas—all in the same time.

It does make you a little sad. In some respects, life has never moved faster than today, with instant communication and speedy air travel, yet the spider web of modern regulations makes us all progress slower. We're running faster to get nowhere, while our forebears appear to have achieved more real results faster with a pen, a slide rule and basic common sense. Most of these delays today are due to overlapping regulations and the politicisation of mining investment. Even back in the 1980s, this led Arvi to the view that business leaders must get more involved in the political process. In 1986, Arvi said:

The realisation of what happens in the public policy arena is today often more important in determining the success or otherwise of a mineral enterprise than what happens in the mine or the mill has brought about fundamental and permanent changes to the industry.

That fact led Arvi to take on the challenge of being the inaugural president of the Business Council of Australia. His foresight then remains as relevant today, especially for the resource sector.

Like most people with a passion for mining, Arvi was most passionate about the people who were involved in the industry, not the rocks under the earth. That meant, as chair of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Arvi visited 37 of their 38 branches around the region—Bougainville at the time was inactive. He met the people at the coalface of the industry. As a result of these travels, Arvi compiled an amazing and remarkable pictorial history of the Australian mining industry. In the preface to that history, Arvi wrote:

The discovery and production of minerals have made a tremendous contribution to the betterment of human life since the beginning of civilisation. We in the mineral industry in Australasia are very good at what we do. We have been, and are now, amongst the world leaders in our industry. But we have also been, and still are, very bad at explaining what we do, and how this benefits the community.

These words are probably still true today.

It was actually a picture of Arvi himself as a young man that struck me the most while looking at his remarkable career. The picture was taken in 1948 and it shows Arvi as a young man outside the Bergmannsgluck coal mine in Germany. With his face blackened, back stooped and leaning on a rail, Arvi shows the exhaustion of a hard day's work. It is a visual reminder that those that get things done tend not to mind getting their hands dirty. Arvi got things done. Arvi is a great loss for our nation but he contributed so much, and I pass on my deepest condolences and respects to his family.

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