Since its release in 1989, the JORC Code has required that Competent Persons must belong to either The AusIMM or the AIG, because these are Australasian professional organisations which have adopted the JORC Code and which have codes of ethics through which Competent Persons can be disciplined. This essential link with professional organisations goes back to the first JORC document of 1972. However, the rapid globalisation of reporting standards, and the worldwide adoption of reporting standards based on, or similar to, the JORC Code in recent years, has resulted in this requirement now becoming somewhat restrictive to Australia, and had led to criticism from international mining companies and overseas professional organisations.

In recognition of this situation, the ASX, in 1999, introduced the "recognised mining professional" provision into its listing rules, which gives some relief from the strict requirements of the JORC Code in certain situations. This provision, which itself is strict, was regarded as a temporary solution, until the JORC Code and Australian reporting regime could be suitably amended. The 2003 revision of the Code was seen as providing that opportunity.

In several meetings during 2002, JORC, its parent bodies (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy ("The AusIMM"), Australian Institute of Geoscientists ("AIG") and Minerals Council of Australia ("MCA")) and the ASX, agreed to expand the Competent Person provisions of the JORC Code and ASX listing rules by introducing a system which identifies "recognised overseas professional organisations" ("ROPOs") to which Competent Persons may belong for the purpose of preparing reports on Exploration Results, Mineral Resources and Ore Reserves for submission to the ASX. The recommended system involves the ASX promulgating the list of overseas bodies, acting on advice from JORC working in co-operation with its parent bodies.

The system has its genesis in a similar arrangement introduced in Canada in 2001, which involved the Canadian Securities Administrators ("CSA") publishing a list of overseas professional organisations that it was prepared to recognise as fulfilling the requirements for a "Professional Association" as defined in Canada's National Instrument 43-101, thus allowing members of those organisations to be eligible to qualify as "Qualified Persons" in Canada. Two of the organisations recognised by the CSA were The AusIMM and AIG. South African professional bodies and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange have also been taking action in this area.

JORC and its parents formed a ROPO Taskforce which prepared a list of criteria, signed off by the ASX, that ROPOs would need to satisfy to be recognised. A "recognised overseas professional organisation" must:

  1. be a self-regulatory organisation covering professionals in the mining and/or exploration industry;
  2. admit members primarily on the basis of their academic qualifications and experience;
  3. require compliance with the professional standards of competence and ethics established by the organisation; and
  4. have disciplinary powers, including the power to suspend or expel a member.
These criteria are almost identical with those that define a "Professional Association" in Canada's National Instrument 43-101, the only difference being the omission of the 43-101 requirement that the organisation "has been given authority or recognition by statute".

A list of potential ROPOs was drawn from a compilation of some 35 professional organisations, including those recognised by the CSA, and professional organisations recognised in the national reporting codes of other countries. Some of these bodies were known not to have all the requirements to qualify as ROPOs, but were included so that they would be aware of the Australian ROPO initiative and of the criteria that they would need to satisfy to be included in the ASX's list. Letters of invitation were sent to each of the identified professional organisations (for Spanish-speaking countries, the letter was later translated into Spanish and re-sent).

Responses were received from ten organisations, including two umbrella groups for geoscientists and engineers. Of these, six, plus an umbrella group representing a further ten, submitted applications to be recognised as ROPOs. The Taskforce reviewed the organisations' articles of association or constitutions and concluded that each of the applicants met the specified criteria.

Recommendations, endorsed by The AusIMM, MCA and AIG, were made to the ASX that each of the ROPO applicants be recognised, and in February 2003, the ASX advised that it had accepted the recommendations. The initial list of ROPOs appears above.

It is envisaged that further applications will be received, and the Taskforce will go through the same procedure to review the merits of each applicant before recommending additions to the ASX's list of ROPOs.

As a clarification, the ROPO process applies in respect of reports prepared under the JORC Code. It does not address the issue of companies wishing to report to the ASX under reporting standards other than the JORC Code. This is a matter yet to be formally addressed by the ASX.

It will, of course, be necessary that any members of ROPOs wishing to take advantage of this recognition meet the requirement for relevant experience set out in the applicable clauses of the JORC Code.

As part of the agreement to establish the ROPO system, the ASX required that ROPOs should not only be capable of dealing with ethical complaints made in respect of Competent Persons and the JORC Code, but that they are seen to be actively implementing this capability if any such complaints are made. Therefore each ROPO has been advised that, if one of its members, acting as a Competent Person under the JORC Code, is reported to the ROPO for alleged non-compliance with the JORC Code, and the ROPO's investigations uphold the alleged non-compliance, this finding should be communicated to the Chair of JORC at the same time and in the same form as it is made public.

The Chair of JORC will also be writing to each ROPO once a year or as required, requesting advice as to whether any members have been reported to the ROPO for alleged non-compliance. The type of statement JORC would be seeking would be along the lines: "During the year, the [name of association] investigated, in accordance with the ethical provisions of the association, X complaints with respect to members of the association acting as Competent Persons under the JORC Code. These ethical enquiries resulted in Y of the complaints being dismissed and Z being upheld. Suitable disciplinary action was undertaken".

The ROPO process, in conjunction with the pioneering moves implemented in Canada and South Africa in recent years, has finally resulted in significant advances in the development of true international reciprocity of Competent/Qualified Persons. Continued evolution of these systems to draw in more countries and organisations can only be beneficial for all stakeholders with an interest in the establishment of high quality national and international reporting standards for the minerals industry.