Academic journal article Rural Society

Mining Developments and Social Impacts on Communities: Bowen Basin Case Studies

Academic journal article Rural Society

Mining Developments and Social Impacts on Communities: Bowen Basin Case Studies

Article excerpt


I n contrast with the economic stagnation and depopulation that bedevil many nonmetropolitan industries and communities, the mining and minerals processing sector in Australia has, until recently, enjoyed several years of rising prices and rapid growth. In just two years from 2003-04 to 2005-06 average export prices for Australian coal more than doubled from $53.63 to $125.16 per tonne; the total value of coal exports increased from $7.2 billion to $17.9 billion; and the number of employees increased from 13,192 to 18,687 (QDME, 2008). Over the same period, the contribution of coal to Queensland's total exports by value jumped from 29.5% to 41% (OESR, 2007). These price rises have generated substantial growth in coal mining, with subsequent impacts on employment, business activity and populations in local and regional mining communities (Rolfe, Miles, Lockie, & Ivanova, 2007).

Despite the substantial economic benefits of this activity, questions are also raised about its social and ecological consequences and the success, or otherwise, of legislative instruments to regulate development such as requirements for environmental impact assessments. While this paper cannot address all such questions, it can contribute to our understanding of social impacts and how these are experienced across a number of communities within the same region; including towns that are exposed to a number of mining developments.

Social impact assessment (SIA) studies are most commonly conducted prior to the approval of large projects in order to predict and mitigate major social issues (Dale, Chapman & McDonald, 1997). As such, such studies are rarely able to offer either comparative analysis of multiple communities exposed to mine development or, alternatively, of the cumulative impacts on individual towns of multiple mine developments (Solomon, Katz & Lovel, 2007). The single project focus of most SIA studies makes it difficult for policy makers to draw more general conclusions about how communities might be impacted upon during fluctuations in commodity cycles when there are broad scale changes in the level of employment and activity, including contributions from specific project developments.

This paper reports research about the broader scale impacts of mining changes on regional communities. It includes a review of four SIA studies of six towns in Central Queensland's Bowen Basin that were undertaken outside legislative provisions for pre-development assessment. All townships were located in proximity to between one and 14 operational mines. Ex post studies of this kind, while comparatively rare, are of particular value in informing predictive SIAs and other assessment and planning processes. They also, we would argue, make a useful contribution to our understandings of regional development and community dynamics in non-metropolitan areas more generally. Before presenting the results of this research, a review is presented of a number of studies that were initiated during Australia's last mining boom during the 1960s and 70s and which, similarly, sought to extend understanding beyond the minimum provisions of existing environmental impact assessment legislation.


The mining boom of the 1960s and 1970s saw a major shift in the focus of mining investment and employment from the more densely settled states of New South Wales and Victoria to comparatively isolated parts of Queensland and Western Australia (Maude & Hugo, 1992). The remoteness of many new mine sites promoted the development of company built and operated towns to house the growing workforces. Such towns represented unique 'social laboratories' and attracted considerable research attention. However, while much research effort was focussed on extremely isolated purpose-built towns in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, more towns were actually under construction in Queensland's less remote Bowen Basin (Parker, 1988). …

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