TESTING THE WATERS: The mining slowdown has affected employment in environmental services, among many other sectors. Photo: iStockphoto/Gregor Bister

The inevitable can’t be delayed

The boom-and-bust cycle can’t be managed, but at least we can acknowledge it exists.


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Gold Coast
FYI - I'm doing a PhD on The Boom Bust Mining Cycle (BBMC) in the Pilbara related to a critique of sustainable development policy and action. Prior to the study I worked in the Pilbara for 30 months in various roles, consistent with your "job hopping" comment and investing in my son's education. He topped the State of Vic in the VCE subject Outdoor Education and Environment and is doing an engineering degree at RMIT with plans to specialise in sustainable energy systems and project management. Currently on Gap Year in China on a scholarship to bed down his 7 years of Mandarin. Obviously I'm bathing in reflected glory but the main point of my email is that my research will lead to a better understanding of the Boom Bust Mining Cycle and assist us in deciding whether we want more Ghost Towns in remote areas, such as the Pilbara, or not. In my view we are facing the prospect of seeing two Shell Cities being constructed (Karratha and Port Hedland) and a few public towns (e.g. Newman, Onslo, etc.) if we maintain "Aspirational Policy" of establishing sustainable communities as opposed to Real Policy that plans "assets and abilities" to sustain which include being serious about: industry diversification, higher education versus training, tourism versus FIFO camps, solar power versus diesel power stations, settlement versus increasing the FIFO program, self sufficiency versus dependence, innovation versus importing everything from sandwiches to laundry services (from Perth) and active citizenship versus LGAs being agencies of the state government in remote area communities. The idea of slowing down development is but one small almost insignificant part of the solution but has merit if the strategic thinking and policy is more judiciously enacted to manage the BBMC. Countries from across the globe with significant dependence on the Extractive Industry from Norway to the Gulf Countries, Chile to Brazil and Scotland to Canada are thinking through the problem and coming up with much more creative solutions than Australia. I therefore agree with your last comment "we ought to be better at preparing for them". Unfortunately Electoral Cycle Thinking dominates the policy process so ideas like the Norwegian Pension fund from Petro Taxes, Chile's Independent Panel on Commodity Pricing projections guiding government budgeting, UAE's commitment to investing in tertiary services, higher education, research and development, tourism, etc., Vale in Brazil committing to cooperation with small to medium businesses to assist diversification of industry before mine closure as well as participatory decision making processes to encourage active local citizenship, etc. are samples of what our central governments (state and federal) could be doing. Instead we continue to only talk of attracting more (foreign) investment into mining regions and repeating the market-based policy mantra as if government and serious policy has no role. I beg to differ; we can do a lot better than wishing to slow down the booms so I'm hoping you might explore and expand on the detail beyond hoping we do things better next time. What we really need - as Prime Minister Turnbull suggests - is "smarter and more innovative solutions" in a rapidly changing global economy and World that doesn't keep expanding our mining legacies and leave us with more huge holes full of acid, poisoned underground water basins, destroyed ecosystems, nomadic miners, constantly re-settled aboriginal settlements, degraded rock art collections, unsustainable operational budgets, no serious investment in the future and more mining towns turning into Ghost Towns plus brand spanking new Shell Cities - similar to the Tas. HEC towns built for 1,500 people now housing a handful and Russia's Sochi built for the Winter Olympics - now a ghost town and Chinese suburbs with empty high rise apartments built to re-settle peasant farmers so they can work in factories but not proceeding until a few other things are sorted - like the 300 Major Cities suffering severe pollution from coal power stations, etc. I look forward to seeing your expanded expose on the better alternatives to slowing down the next boom.

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