It is undeniable that minerals and energy resource development is a key contributor to the Australian economy, and in particular to the state of Western Australia. The recent ‘mining boom’ has been much discussed in the last seven years or so and has brought considerable revenue to state and federal governments. As well as being of economic benefit, mining is essential to providing the raw materials upon which modern society depends.
The sector also has significant inputs to much technological development and environmental research in Australia. Also important is the fact that domestic coal provides in excess of 80 per cent of Australia’s relatively cheap electricity that powers the nation.
On the negative side, there are individuals and groups critical of the resources sector. Criticisms include:
- Australia is merely a quarrying nation with low levels of further processing;
- mining can cause environmental degradation, as well as having health, safety and social impacts;
- consumption of coal accounts for a major portion of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions;
- mining is unsustainable as the resources removed are not renewable.
The recent oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico and the 2009 oil leak in the Timor Sea generated a strong negative public perception of the petroleum sector. Fortunately, land-based resource developments have had a much better environmental record in recent years. However, in times past concerns were raised over issues such as excessively high levels of lead in the blood of children in Port Pirie.
The aim of this paper is not to balance the benefits of mining against its drawbacks; rather it is to provide information on a sector that has become an important national talking point.