Pilbara 2050: ensuring the long term viability of the Pilbara

Regional planning Economic development Pilbara
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The Pilbara could well be seen as the region that has won the lottery twice. In the 1950’s, iron ore was discovered in the Hamersley ranges1 . Development started in 1961 and by the mid 1970’s the region was extracting 100Mtpa in ore (Department of Mines and Petroleum, 2009), which has grown steadily to over 600Mtpa that is worth $50 billion to the economy in 2012 (Department of Mines and Petroleum, 2012b). In 1971, natural gas was discovered, which since 1980 has generated over $300 billion over the past 30 years (Department of Mines and Petroleum, n.d), and is forecasted to continue for the next half a century.

It’s a classic tale for boom growth in a natural resources region, with the boom being faster than the ability to develop infrastructure to service it properly. History shows that, a couple of decades after a classic mine-and-boom phase, one of two things happens: 1. A Californian style evolution into multiple but related industries; or 2. A Geiju, Yunnan style decline into ghost town and tumble weed.

This report argues that the difference between going down route one and route two is something that can be determined by forward thinking planning. It doesn’t have to be left in the lap of the gods. With forward thinking and sound planning, route one can be secured. First of all, this paper gives an audit of infrastructure, policies, programs and initiatives, with a gap analysis of need and a comparison against other places in Australia and around the world. The analysis looks at more than 200 documents, as well as interviews with industry, government and academia. From the gap analysis, and using theories outlined by Nobel laureate Paul Krugman and Michael Porter on agglomeration economies and cluster theory, we develop a wish list of what needs to happen, followed by an investigation about how these could work. The findings of this analysis are summarized by the Long-term Economic Viability (LEV) framework below (see Figure 2). The LEV framework provides a visual representation of the primary needs and opportunities identified for various sectors in the Pilbara. The final subsection of the diagram highlights the actions required in order to work towards the realization of the key objectives. In some cases, such as the agricultural sector, the required actions are currently occurring or being put in place. In other sectors, such as energy, the required actions are yet to be enacted.

Finally, we ask what things could be done to promote the LEV of the region. We think that with proper execution of the plan we outline, the Pilbara can become a sustainable and economically diverse region, creating an intergenerational legacy to benefit the Australians of today and tomorrow.

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