Our say: Inquiry mining to the heart of the issue

WHETHER you like it or not, mining plays a huge role in Australia’s economy – but how much of a role does it play in regional Australia’s economy? And is that role big enough?

Barnaby Joyce’s parliamentary inquiry in to the relationship between the mining sector and regional businesses is delving in to this question.

And it’s not the mining junket many people think it is. Mr Joyce is focusing on how mining communities can benefit more from the billion-dollar industry.

Yes, the mining industry brings jobs and money to town.

But the trucks travel and wear down council roads. The dozens of trains that pass through places like Werris Creek cause delays and cut the town in half many times a day.

Are councils properly compensated for this? These are problems they wouldn’t face without the industry. The state government receives 10 per cent of all profit from minerals extracted, raising millions for its coffers. 

In Tuesday’s hearing, Mr Joyce heard that a train passes through the Liverpool Plains once every 27 minutes. Each train has 82 carriages filled with coal, which is currently selling at about $140 a tonne. 

A former accountant, Mr Joyce crunched the numbers, and worked out roughly $66-million worth of coal was passing through the region everyday – which means the state government is making $6.6 million every day from the region’s coal. 

But how much of that wealth is coming back to the region it was taken from? 

Liverpool Plains mayor Andrew Hope says his council dreams of one day building a railway pass for Werris Creek, so emergency services and travellers don’t have to stop and wait for a train to pass.

It’s estimated at $14 million, a project that would take years to get funding for. But as Mr Joyce pointed out, that’s just two days worth of royalties.

Mining royalties are entirely within the state government’s domain, so while Mr Joyce can argue for more of the wealth to be spent in the region it’s taken from, it remains to be seen what, if any, change he can affect.