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Focus shift for economy

IT wasn’t so many years ago that WA regularly went cap in hand for handouts from Canberra’s money men. In this new century, however, much has changed and the State leads the nation in exploiting its natural resources and exporting them to the world.

Some economists would suggest the turnaround started in 1952, when a storm forced mining magnate Lang Hancock’s plane off course, leading to the discovery of iron ore in the Pilbara. Ten years later, when in 1962 the Australian government lifted export controls on iron ore, the development of the iron ore deposits marked the beginning of WA’s modern economic era.

A 2000 report by the WA Technology and Industry Advisory Council, Drivers and Shapers of Economic Development in Western Australia in the 21st Century, provides a useful guide to WA’s economic history and the shifting focus.

Average living standards in 1962 were about 75 per cent of those in the rest of Australia. Annual exports amounted to just $240 million at current prices, with wool and wheat the main commodities. Today, exports have increased 100-fold to $30.2 billion during 2001-02. While imports, a mere $93 million in 1960, have risen to $9.3 billion a year.

Iron ore remains, as it has for the past 30 years, the largest export contributor, with annual exports of $5 billion, while petroleum sales are not far behind.

Meanwhile, the prominence of wheat has been lost. It now is WA’s 7th largest export industry, valued at $1.3 billion in 2001-02, while wool has fallen to 8th position and is worth just $481 million to WA export figures.

The mining sector was contributing just $32.1 million to the State economy in 1965. Today it represents 21 per cent of Gross State Product, or $16 billion a year.

Agricultural production has risen from $193 million in 1965 to around $4 billion a year today, while the fishing sector has increased during the same period from $14 million to around half a billion dollars a year.

In 1960, the value of agricultural product was six times that of mining. By 1970, however, the value of mining product was almost 1.5 times that of agriculture, and by 1995 it was approaching four times that of agriculture.

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