Mining boom needs 'rebooting': report

WITH phase two of the mining boom coming to an end, a report has lashed out at labour market constraints, red tape and rising capital costs as just a few key issues that will hinder Australia’s success as we enter the next phase of the boom.
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The Rebooting the boom: Unfinished business on the supply side report from the Minerals Council of Australia outlines the challenges that lie ahead for Australia when it comes to the mining industry's future prosperity.

Securing new investment projects beyond 2013 and delivering on project export volume growth beyond 2015 in a tougher global supply environment are listed as the key challenges to reinvigorating the boom.

"What is clear is that inefficiencies which developed or were sustained over the high-price phase of the boom can no longer be sustained over the next decade," the report noted.

Costs arising from onerous approval processes, barriers to labour mobility and disputes associated with environmental approvals were all listed as factors hindering Australia's ability to make the best out of the boom.

The Fair Work Act was blamed as the single largest labour market barrier to rebooting the mining boom.

The report went on to warn that the "easy ride" was over, stating that with the gains of the price boom now over, union-inspired provisions that reduce flexibility, drive up costs and delay project completions needed serious re-examination, ideally by a productivity commission inquiry.

"For close to a decade we haven't had to provide more 'bang for the buck' as the world was willing to pay so many more 'bucks for the bang'," the report said.

"No longer."

The release of the report comes at a transition time for the mining boom, with phase 2 ending and phase 3 beginning.

Phase 2 of the boom ran from the price trough in the September 2009 quarter and ended two years later.

Phase 3 of the mining boom is defined by the ramp-up in mining investment which, according to the Bureau of Resources, Energy and Economics, stands at $268 billion worth of resource projects under construction.

But against the backdrop of project delays and rising capital costs, the report said there was no guarantee Australia would capture the next generation of resource investment.

The report also made note of the union backlash received when the enterprise migration agreement was given to Gina Rinehart's massive Roy Hill project, enabling the company to bring in foreign workers.

The report called for renewed policy focus in a bid to reboot the mining boom.

"It is only by stripping out inefficiencies across our export supply chain that Australia can reap the rewards on offer from the next phase of the boom," the report said.

The report was written by University of Wollongong infrastructure economics Professor Henry Ergas and research fellow Joe Owen.

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