CIVIC STRUC­TURES WERE ES­TAB­LISHED IN THE FACE OF HARSH CON­DI­TIONS

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ross Fitzger­ald

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

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