Port Augusta seeks mining boom answers

No one is sure what to expect from the rapid growth in the mining industry, which is becoming more evident in South Australia’s north. Regional cities such as Port Augusta are experiencing significant growth, which is being attributed to the growth in the mining and resources sector. While this is certainly welcomed by Council, it wants to adequately prepare the City for the future.

Port Augusta City Manager, John Stephens, said an article in the Weekend Australian Magazine (2–3 June 2007) about the benefits and downfalls of ‘mining booms’ based on Port Hedland in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, got his attention and prompted him to further investigate what Port Augusta should expect.

“As a Council, we need to find out how the rapid growth driven by the mining industry will affect us,” he said. “The growth in mining is unprecedented in South Australia and we are unsure about what this could mean for our City and the Upper Spencer Gulf region. Based on what I have read and heard about Port Hedland’s experience, high real estate and rental prices are forcing people out of town and very little money has been invested by mining companies and Governments into much needed infrastructure in the community. This is leading to fewer people living in and caring for the community, with many basing their families elsewhere and flying in and out for work. We don’t want to see the fabric of our community seriously affected by such a sudden growth in the economy and we want to make sure we retain our culture and identity.

“While we encourage economic growth and support the mining industry, we don’t want to see Port Augusta deteriorate. We need to be aware of the social and environmental impacts.”

In October, John Stephens together with Council’s Community Harmony Manager, Marie Williams, and Councillor Renee Ellis, visited the town of Port Hedland to ascertain first hand the effect on this Pilbara community.

John Stephens is hoping that from the information the group gathered, they will be able to sit down with the State Government and relevant mining companies to develop formal agreements between all parties. From this, the stakeholders will be able to put a framework in place to prevent Port Augusta heading down a path that will be detrimental.

“Getting the right advice now from a community that has already experienced rapid growth from the mining sector could save our community millions and help us retain our identity and soul,” John Stephens said.

“Over the duration of our one week tour, we visited all relevant stakeholders, including Local Government, the State Government and mining companies. We were able to get a feel for the downfalls and learn from Port Hedland’s experience.

“The main issue we acknowledged was the effect fly-in, fly-out workforces can have on the social fabric of a community. We aim to work with the mining companies to provide infrastructure that will encourage workers to bring their families to Port Augusta and spend more time in the reigon.”

John Stephens said cost of living is another issue that Port Hedland is dealing with, as high wages have forced rental property prices sky high.

“While mining companies offer subsidies for their workers, it has become impossible for locals and small business to survive,” he said.

John Stephens will now visit Chile with a State Government delegation at the end of the month.