The year ahead

The coming year will be an exciting and productive one for our Institute.  

The recent Council elections were only the second time in AIG’s history that an election for vacant council roles was required.  The call for members to consider roles as AIG’s directors attracted a number of great candidates.  The response by members to the election has delivered the most diverse Council our Institute has had since its inception.  Diversity here refers to a range of measures, extending beyond gender to professional experience and fields of practice.  I’m confident this will help to provide the basis for continued improvement in the range and quality of services available to AIG members.

Several Councillors stepped aside at the end of their terms in May, most after a number of years of service, all of whom deserve acknowledgement for their contributions. 

Mike Erceg, Past President, performed his role under difficult circumstances created by his work on a fly in-fly out basis with difficult access to Internet and communications while at work, on-site.  Mike was ably supported by Wayne Spilsbury who, while no longer a Councillor, will continue his work as Chair of AIG’s Professional Issues subcommittee.  

I’m especially pleased that Kaylene Camuti will also continue as Chair of AIG’s Education subcommittee, with responsibilities including management of the highly successful geoscience student bursary program.  All members can be proud of the bursary program’s success since its inception, in supporting talented undergraduate and postgraduate students to complete their studies at Australian universities.  The program has been generously supported by companies and individual geoscientists through significant donations, accompanied by many members’ contributions to the program through AIG’s Education Foundation.  The foundation is a deductible gift recipient for Australian taxpayers.  These funds have also been supplemented by profits from AIG state branch activities and other Institute revenue.  

Brendan Howard’s contribution as the Chair of the Risk, and Audit and Nominations subcommittees, both established by the former Council.  These subcommittees had an immediate impact on AIG’s governance and interest amongst members in management roles, without which AIG would not be able to function.

The past year provided an opportunity for detailed discussion of AIG’s future direction.  A proposal to engage a professional CEO to be a spokesperson for the Institute and take responsibility for implementing strategy was not supported by members who preferred AIG to remain a member-managed Institute, relying on dedicated volunteers.   Capable, back-office support provided by AIG’s Executive Officer, Lynn Vigar, and our outsourced secretariat provided essential back-office services and ensured our complete compliance with Australian corporate law.  Contracted management of AIG’s member publications and web site by MRGraphics Pty Ltd also helped to keep members engaged and informed.  Council resolved that Lynn will take on management of AIG’s membership application process and database, arguably AIG’s most valuable asset, while the secretariat will continue to ensure smooth running of AIG’s business affairs working closely with Council.  The contracts for the provision of these services will be reviewed during the coming year.

Our new Councillors take up their roles at a challenging time.  The geoscience profession, globally, is facing increasing public scrutiny. Demonstrable maintenance and continuous improvement of professional standards will be an important means of addressing this. 

There are a number of specific challenges facing professional institutes.  First and foremost is the relatively low level of both professional institute and learned society membership amongst geoscientists in Australia.  This, at a guess, is about 30%.  The figure is a guess because, while we have details of the numbers of members in different institutes and societies, the Australian census no longer collects information on the number of Australian residents in specific occupations. Estimates, consequently, rely on the membership data of kindred societies.  There are relatively small numbers of students graduating with geoscience qualifications.  Students graduating now, commenced their studies at a time of depressed employment opportunities for geoscientists in Australia due to a cyclical downturn in exploration and mining activity.  Although geoscientists in Australia work in a variety of fields, mineral and energy resources industries continue to provide about 80% of career opportunities, making this linkage hard to avoid.  

The proportion of geoscientists working in mineral and exploration is quite different to that in other parts of the world.  The European Federation of Geologists (EFG), this week, released the results of their first employment survey conducted in 2018, which shows that the sources of career opportunities for geoscientists in Europe are quite different to Australia, with Europe’s resources industries accounting for only 50% of geoscientist employment across their continent.  The statistics in Canada are closer to those in Australia.  Small to medium sized companies provide a high proportion of employment opportunities, resulting in access to capital for exploration essential.

Linkage of geosciences with exploration, mining and energy resource development results in the public being focussed on issues including the quality of information provided to investors and whether new minerals projects are sustainable by delivering returns to all stakeholders that exceed those of alternative land uses in the long term. This encompasses more dimensions than just the environment.How the questions being asked are answered plays a major role in shaping public perception of our profession.

These issues are central to shaping of strategy for professional institutes.  The challenges to be addressed include:

  • demonstrating the value of professional institute membership to geoscientists, particularly early career geoscientists whose experience in the first years of their careers will help to shape their views in the longer term;
  • Delivering professional development and networking opportunities to members;
  • Exposing members to developments across the geosciences; and,
  • Raising the public perception of geosciences, particularly their frequently unrecognised contribution to important aspects of society.

AIG’s National Graduate Group has made important progress on the student and early career geoscientist front.  The continued success of an outstanding mentoring program that is now accessible by members in all regions of Australia is a direct outcome of this work.  

Professional networking and development opportunities delivered to members are also critical.  AIG has consistently delivered through hard work by State Branch committees.  Council recently resolved to cover the cost of video recording state branch technical talks and seminars wherever possible in order to make their content accessible by a wider audience and provide an incentive for greater participation in these events.  We also have plans in place to make AIG publications more accessible and attractive to authors which will begin to deliver benefits in the coming year.

Work remains to be completed on improving AIG’s governance, which will make the Institute’s management of day to day business more efficient and transparent, and benefits to members more deliverable, which will gradually be put into practice this year, based on groundwork started by the previous Council.  An objective of this work, importantly, includes clarifying the roles and responsibilities of Councillors, who carry the full responsibilities of company directors and require the support of the Institute to execute these responsibilities. The frequency of Council meetings was increased last year and the conduct of meetings streamlined to help deliver more timely decisions regarding Institute management.  This to will receive further attention in the coming year.

The AIG Council meets face to face once every year.  The meeting for 2019 is in Adelaide in the third week of June, where the strategy for our Institute going forward is always the main agenda item.  In past years, the focus has been on strategies for growth, funding AIG’s management and having a stronger voice on professional issues.  Delivery has been problematic, possibly due to the strategy being misaligned with member’s views.  Consultation is key and I really encourage all members with an interest in this area to let their opinions known.  Send me an email, speak with any Councillor or state branch committee member over the next couple of weeks, or at any other time an issue attracts concern, to ensure that AIG is an informed and responsive advocate for our profession. I am also planning to get to branch meetings and events throughout the coming year to improve contact with Council, branch committees and members.

AIG is partnering with ASEG and PESA to present the Second Australian Exploration Conference (AEGC2019) in Perth this September, with the theme “Data to Discovery”.  The first AEGC, held in Sydney in 2018, was an outstanding conference where attendees could hear from speakers in fields of practice vastly different to their own, but addressing comparable problems with innovative solutions reflecting their different experience.  AEGC2019 will be even bigger.  Planning for AEGC2021, which will be held in Brisbane, is also underway.

There’s lots to look forward to in the coming year.

Andrew Waltho
President 2019-2020