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The Australian National University

The economic impact of the mining boom on Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians

Working Paper 93 / 2014


Until the global financial crisis reduced Australian economic growth in late 2008, Indigenous employment had been increasing in both absolute and relative terms for over a decade. The effect of the international economic contraction has been mitigated by Australia’s booming mining sector, largely due to China’s growing demand for resources. Given that a substantial number of mining operations are on or near Indigenous land, the increase in mining investment may have disproportionately affected Indigenous communities. There are concerns that, in remote mining areas, the increases in housing costs generated by the mining boom mean that anyone who does not work in the mining industry, particularly those who rely on government benefits, will find it harder to afford housing. Localised inflationary tendencies can also affect people employed outside the mining sector, but one would expect that scarcity in the labour market would drive up wages in both mining and non‑mining jobs. This paper examines changes in Indigenous employment, income and housing costs to identify any localised ‘resource curse’ for Indigenous communities and the Australian population at large. The paper draws on data from recent censuses, the geographic location of mines and mining investment to identify some potentially important effects of the mining boom on Indigenous communities. The main finding is that the mining boom has improved employment and income outcomes, but increased average housing costs. While the average increase in income has generally offset the increase in costs, there is some evidence that housing stress for low-income households has increased as a result of the mining boom.

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