CIVIC STRUCTURES WERE ESTABLISHED IN THE FACE OF HARSH CONDITIONS
landscape. But as Eklund suggests, imagine Australia without Mount Isa or Kambalda: it would be geographically more homogenous and culturally much less diverse.
As newer mining companies reduce their commitment to the idea of building towns, he argues, workers are likely to have a very different relationship with the place they work in. It seems indisputable that fly-in, fly-out workers will not build a Broken Hill or a Queenstown, or even a company town such as Kambalda. The temporary camps and dongas, he says, will probably ‘‘ not be the subject of nostalgic reminiscence, and are unlikely to leave any substantial material remains’’.
Eklund’s eloquent conclusion, ‘‘ Space has been truly mastered by capital, but at what human cost?’’, segues nicely into Paul Cleary’s Mine-Field.
Cleary, a senior writer on this newspaper, writes well and argues cogently. As he explains, from the mid-1980s various Australian governments stared down the powerful banking and manufacturing lobbies and slashed tariffs, deregulated the financial system, floated the dollar, applied a consumption tax to most goods and services, and introduced robust regulation of companies and financial institutions. In stark contrast, regulation of our resources sector remains in the hands of poorly resourced and often opaque state government departments that lack independence.
The fact is, in present-day Australia, state governments carry most of the responsibility for regulating increasingly complex mineral projects that are part of our resources rush. Yet as regulators and as revenue collectors, state governments remain deeply conflicted.
It is difficult to dispute Cleary’s conclusion that, in comparison with the institutions that govern the rest of the economy, ‘‘ resource regulation in Australia resembles those of Third World countries’’. Not that the global resource giants are complaining! It is also hard to disagree with Cleary that, rather than royalties and other imposts, the mining industry should be subject to profits-based taxation that will return a greater share of revenue to Australian citizens.
Surely resource companies should be at least partially responsible for the numerous health and safety problems that arise from the dangerous combination of employees working 12-hour-plus shifts at 24/7 operations? And for the many difficulties workers face through commuting by plane or roadbetween mining sites and their homes and families?
Cleary makes a strong argument that the human and agricultural costs of the mining juggernaut, which has rolled across communities in the Darling Downs, the Hunter Valley and elsewhere, are too high a price for us to pay. Giving mining companies such sweeping access could result in permanent damage to Australia’s food bowl and to water resources.
These are matters for serious debate, but unfortunately the issues have become politically clouded and various ideological battles are being fought over them. But, as these splendid books suggest, all Australians have a stake in the future and although mining is important it should be regulated and scrutinised and the massive profits shared.
investors at Mount Morgan in the 1890s