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Don't undermine our future

By Greg Barns - posted Friday, 28 September 2012


Reports about the end of Australia's decade long mining boom have led to some believing that this country ought not to focus as much on digging minerals out of the ground. The Greens in particular, are enamoured of this view. Greens Party Leader Christine Milne told the ABC's Fran Kelly on August 24 this year that "it has been very clear that Australia needs to have a strategy of getting away from its too great a dependence on digging up, cutting down and shipping away." And later that same day she went a step further and effectively said 'let's close down the mining industry'. There "is a real lack of understanding in Australia at how both the Government and the Coalition are putting the future at risk by not diversifying the economy and getting out of the resources and getting more into investment in education, training, research and development and commercialisation of new industries, the whole green economy."

Coupled with this hostile view of mining is that which is defensive about suggestions that Australia is China's quarry. Recently both Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Treasurer Wayne Swan have been at pains to point out that this is not the case. It's a legitimate point to make but the trouble with it is that it puts mining down. It sees mining as a low level skills enterprise which is not the case. And is assumes that mining is a finite industry with an end date in sight.

These perspectives on mining are missing a fundamental point, and that is that Australia remains under explored and the mining industry will be with us for many generations to come. In a world where the rise of the middle-class in Africa, China and India is the major consumption story Australia will be well placed to continue its very successful economic strategy of allowing the world to buy our minerals. Why would this country say no to the further development of an industry which is a major source of income and employment?

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In March this year Dr Chris Pigram, the CEO of Geosciences Australia which is a Commonwealth Government agency, outlined just how much this ancient continent promises in terms of mineral deposits that are undiscovered. Referring to an analysis of data undertaken by Geosciences Australia, Pigram observed; "Analysis of a wide range of geological and geophysical data reveals that many geological provinces associated with known mineralisation extend under cover into so called greenfield areas, challenging the widely held belief that Australia is a mature exploration destination."

Dr Pigram said that "unexplored areas have the potential for world class deposits which could bring economic and social benefits to rival existing mineral provinces such as Mount Isa, Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie."

As Dr Pigram told a March 26 conference in Perth, we need to remember that most of the major mineral deposit discoveries made in the past 50 years, with the exception of the massive copper-gold Olympic Dam deposits in South Australia, have been in areas of rock outcrop and within about 100 metres of the surface.

Not without coincidence is that Australia is a leader in mining, exploration and mapping technology and this along with high quality data means that Australia has unprecedented opportunities to explore otherwise inaccessible areas, Dr Pigram said.

Dr Pigram and Geosciences Australia's view of Australia's mineral potential sits uneasily with those like Senator Milne and others who want the mining industry to shuffle off into the economic history museum. But the facts are irrefutable - this nation is sitting on gold mines, copper mines and various other commodities which are going to be big money spinners in the future.

In other words, it is not correct to assert that Australia's 21st century economy will not include a growing mining industry. It has to - not only because, as Geosciences Australia has found, we are under-explored and under-developed, but because the development of new deposits of minerals employs thousands, generates billions of dollars in incomes, and enhances the intellectual property and research and development capacity of this country in areas like geoscience, mining technology and exploration data gathering and assessment.

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To give into the mantra of Senator Milne and to continue to be somehow embarrassed by being a quarry is irresponsible on the part of politicians and commentators. Not only that, it is unfair to future generations of Australians to deny them the opportunity to sell our products to the developing world, and reap the economic benefits of such sales.

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About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

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