Western Australia's mining boom

Chinese demand for minerals has created record levels of employment and growth.

    There are nearly 30 iron-ore mines built or
    planned in the Pilbara region alone
    The prolonged boom in the Chinese economy continues to provide knock-on benefits to many other parts of the world.

    One such area is Australia, particularly the state of Western Australia where a massive demand from Asia for natural resources has pushed prices to record highs and unemployment in the state to record lows.

    People in the state are calling it the "golden age" and the biggest resources boom in Australian history.

    Western Australia is four-fifths the size of India and covered by parched earth packed full of valuable minerals.

    In one region, the Pilbara in the north-west of the state covering over 500,000 square kilometres, Al Jazeera visited the giant mining company Rio Tinto's operation digging for iron-ore, the main ingredient of steel.

    It is a massive operation that runs 24 hours a day. In the Pilbara alone, there are 15 other iron ore mines like this one, with another dozen awaiting approval.

    The output from mining and energy projects in Western Australia only, is worth $80m a day.
    Chinese demand

    Tim Shanahan from the Western Australia chamber of minerals and energy says huge demand from Asia is the main driving factor behind the boom.
    "Certainly China is making the difference," he says.

    "It has really been China in the last four-or-five years that has created the additional demand that has generated these record levels of value, the record levels of employment."

    Chinese iron-ore carriers are never
    empty these days when they leave Australia

    Chinese influence is obvious in the waters off the Western Australian coast where iron ore carriers bigger than the Titanic, often dozens at a time, wait to load up and head for the steel plants in Asia.

    The trains carrying the iron ore to port are 2.5 km long, arriving by the hour before heading straight back to load up again.

    China's seemingly insatiable appetite for resources has already pushed Australian exports to record levels but the boom may not have yet peaked according to David Smith from Rio Tinto.
    "The average Australian consumes 50 tonnes of steel through their lifetime," he says.

    "It's much less in China so there's still enormous room for growth in China."
    Keeping up with current demand sometimes creates challenges for engineers.

    At one manufacturer visited by Al Jazeera, the tyres simply cannot be made quick enough and delays cost the mining company money, so they have had to adapt.

    Now when trucks are fully loaded they drive them shorter distances to give the tyres a longer life.

    Property boom
    The demand has also caused a shortage of skilled workers, but for a mining company, it's a worry worth having. 
    "I've been on the other side when we've been looking out at the horizon waiting for an iron ore ship," says Smith.

    "And even though this is taxing and a little bit stressful at times, I'd much rather have this sort of stress."

    Not everyone is entirely happy with the results of the boom. Marcia Langton, an aboriginal academic, compared the commodities boom to the 19th century colonisation of Africa in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald this week.

    Langton said Aboriginal Australia was a "heartland of instability" within a booming economy.

    Kevin Rudd, the new leader of the opposition Labour party, has also said the boom will not last forever.
    But most people in Western Australia are not thinking that far ahead.

    The state's economy is growing faster than China's, unemployment is the lowest it has ever been and property values are rocketing.
    In the state capital. Perth, riverfront mansions could now be worth as much as $30m.
    As Willie Porteous, a real estate agant from the town says: "I think people are realising that Perth and West Australia is a very desirable place to live considering we have a third of the continent and there's only two million people in the whole of the state."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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