28/01/2009 - 22:00

Stunned community contemplates future

28/01/2009 - 22:00

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Ravensthorpe is still coming to terms with the impact of last week’s closure of its nickel operations, one year after its official opening.

Stunned community contemplates future

THE president of the Ravensthorpe Chamber of Commerce says BHP Billiton's closure last week of its nickel operations is an unmitigated financial disaster.

Rick Beffo says the mining giant went to great lengths to import and accommodate its workforce but failed to adequately consider the impact of the closure on the local residential and business community.

"I'm very disappointed about the way they have handled this given the way they moved into the area and worked very hard to win the trust of the community; now they've let them down so badly," he said.

Mr Beffo said the decision had come as a shock to the people of Ravensthorpe, with the financial pain likely to worsen as many new residents left the area.

He stressed the importance of looking forward and acting to reduce the fallout of the closure, which resulted in 1,800 lost jobs and lost revenue to local businesses, many of which had set up to support the mining presence.

"BHP have made it very clear that they will not re-open this mine, so we have to look forward; where do we go from here?" he said.

Mr Beffo said the council needed to understand the needs of the community and work to keep people in the area.

"We have to get these houses filled one way or another. If we can fill the houses up, then the businesses will remain viable. If we don't fill these houses up nothing short of full compensation will alleviate the burden," Mr Beffo told WA Business News.

He considers it BHP Billiton's responsibility to fill the two residential villages of 104 houses built to accommodate the mining community and associated workers.

If they can't be filled, Mr Beffo said a compensation package should be paid to those who committed their futures to the town.

Premier Colin Barnett and National Party leader Brendon Grylls visited Ravensthorpe last week to meet with the council, affected workers, and members of the local community.

The premier pledged $5 million to those affected but no decisions have been taken on the form of assistance.

Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union state secretary Steve McCartney said workers should be given immediate access to job network providers with extra assistance for older workers, relocation allowances should be paid, and free financial counselling should be available.

"The state government should be holding mining companies accountable," he said.

"If government funds are going into projects there should be caveats on getting the money back if companies close down mines."

Infrastructure and other investment in Ravensthorpe cost the state $18 million and the federal government $9.8 million.

Mr Grylls confirmed that plans are in place to fast-track mining lease applications to enable mining companies to move into the area quickly, bringing jobs and people.

"We are in discussions to get some activity down there," he said.

Another option that has been flagged is for BHP to offer local residents fly-in, fly-out work opportunities at its other operations in WA.

BHP says that it is evaluating options but it is too early to make decisions.

"My concern is the people of the town," Mr Grylls said. "If you're the local shop owner, and 75 per cent of your income is coming from the mining workforce, you can't wait for the mining explorers to move in. It's the same with tourism."

Mr Beffo said the town would be open to any sort of industry that would fill the hole left by BHP, but the community would be suspicious of another mine.

"I don't think they would welcome any other mining company. It's going to be a very long time before they believe in another mining company again," he said.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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