Mining changes Regions

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THE Australia Institute's Mark Ogge will speak at the a free public forum at the Supper Room at the Bundaberg Civic Centre on Monday at 7pm. In the article below Mr Ogge lays out the effect mining has on the communities it touches.

SO FAR, the Bundaberg region has escaped the large gas and coal projects that have transformed neighboring regions including Mackay and Gladstone.

This could soon change with the entire Wide Bay-Burnett region covered with coal oil and gas exploration licenses, including the towns of Bundaberg, Avondale and Rosedale. The region could now be subject to coal mines, coal seam gas, shale gas, oil shale or underground gasification projects.

Some will see this as an economic bonus for the region, while others will be worried about the potential implications. One thing is for sure, if the coal and gas expansion spreads to Wide Bay-Burnett, the region will change forever.

One of the coal projects proposed for the region is the ironically named New Hope Coal's Colton mine near Maryborough.

New Hope Coal has another famous coal mine. It's near a town called Acland in the Darling Downs near Toowomba. Just as with the Colton proposal, before the Acland mine was built there were promises of jobs and economic benefits to the region.

10 years later, Acland's streets are not paved with gold, in fact the town now faces being completely surrounded by massive mining pits, and only one resident remains. But the impact spread further than Acland.

The nearby town of Oakey, was a thriving service center for the local farming community. However when New Hope bought out around 60 farms in the region to make way for the open cut mine, it removed a large chunk of the local economy.

This had big impact on the local saleyards which ultimately closed, along with around 30 other businesses in town from the local GrainCorp depot to banks, garages, the stock feed manufacturer, vet, the main street shops and many others.

Farmers and agricultural businesses generally spend a lot of money in the local economy. They employ people from the local community, source supplies and services locally, and because most farmers live in the area, a lot of the profits are spent locally.

However resource projects spend only a tiny proportion of their turnover in the local community. They have a predominantly FIFO or DIDO workforce, supply chains are centralized and the profits go largely to overseas shareholders Mining in Australia is 83 percent foreign owned.

There were some winners from the Acland mine. It created some jobs for locals, and there would have been some businesses that benefited, but it also caused many farms and other businesses to close and jobs to be lost.

The main thing to understand is that it will dramatically change the local economy, and there will be winners and losers.

Motels, fast food chains some businesses that directly service the mining industry will do well, at least for a few years.

But for non-mining businesses, labour costs will skyrocket, tourism will suffer as the region is industrialised, and ratepayers will foot the bill for the stress on roads and other infrastructure.

Remember too, that most of the economic benefits will be short term. The majority of the jobs are during the construction phase, which lasts a few years at the most, and businesses that gear up for this phase will struggle when it ends. The coal industry in Queensland has dumped 11,000 workers, about 20 per cent of its employees in the last 12 months.

There will always be winners and losers from mining projects. The main winners will be the mining companies themselves, and although there will be some local beneficiaries, the people of the region need to be very careful about they wish for.