THE man at the Australian helm of the largest gold producer in the world remains confident in the country as a foreign investment destination despite the changing tax environment for miners and rising costs.
The regional president of Barrick Australia Pacific, Mike Feehan, said 20 per cent of up to $490 million earmarked for exploration by the Canadian-headquartered miner would be spent searching for more gold assets in Australia.
''Our view of the future is quite positive,'' he told the Diggers and Dealers conference in Kalgoorlie-Boulder yesterday. ''Every country has government issues and regulations that have to be dealt with, but I really don't see those to be a whole lot or significantly different to what I've seen in the United States.''
Mr Feehan stressed it was the responsibility of companies to manage the cost pressures being brought on by taxation changes such as the carbon tax. ''We just to have to do a better job of managing our business to absorb those costs,'' he said.
While gold has remained a relatively stable commodity in what has been a volatile financial year for other key commodities, Mr Feehan was reluctant to speculate on which direction the gold price might move from its present levels of about $US1600.
But he did say companies would start to question the viability of their projects if cash costs, which have continued to rise in Australia, pushed north of $US1000 per ounce at the same time the gold price might take a hypothetical slide. Barrick's present guidance for the financial year ending July 2013 has remained at $US770 to $US800 per ounce.
''Obviously if it were to go to $1000, that's going to put a different kind of pressure on the industry as a whole,'' he said. ''If costs continue to escalate, gold prices remain stagnant or at current levels or decline, then any responsible company is going to take a step back and have a look at what their operations do.
''Fortunately we're not in that position today and it's up to us to manage it so that if that does occur, we're in a much better position in the future.''
Barrick Gold last month revealed a net profit of $US750 million in the half-year to July, down from a profit of $US1.16 billion for the same quarter the previous year.
Higher cash costs were partly blamed, along with lower gold production. But Mr Feehan said an ongoing company review would not limit moves to acquire copper and gold opportunities should they arise in Australia.