By Viv Forbes
The Lockdown Depression is rushing towards us. Many in politics, media and industry are digging the hole deeper, some through panic and ignorance, others cynically pushing anti-industry agendas or serving vested interests.
We will never rebuild our industries and jobs with locks, chains, hobbles, handcuffs or handouts. We need to recognise the realities of history, geography, geology and economics.
Australia is a huge dry continent with an empty heart – over 70% is desert, indigenous land or national parks. Outback mines provide some income and employment but a huge area does little to employ, feed or clothe Australians. Too much land is a haven for weeds, pests and bushfires, a no-go zone for water conservation or mineral exploration, and a magnet for over-populated neighbours.
The foundations for today’s Australia were built by aboriginals, explorers, miners, farmers and foresters. The first European explorers marvelled at the vast grasslands and open forests which were created and maintained by frequent aboriginal fires. Then prospectors, miners, drovers and settlers blazed the first wagon tracks and droving trails. Foresters followed to harvest timber thus clearing land for small farms in fertile coastal areas. The mighty Cobb and Co had a policy to “Follow the Gold” and their coach tracks became roads, and their supply stations became towns. The overland telegraph crossed the continent and railways and road trains replaced horse-powered coaches, camel trains and bullock wagons.
Mines built towns and roads everywhere – Mt Isa, Cloncurry, Cooktown, Charters Towers, Mungana, Mount Morgan, Collinsville, Newlands, Moranbah, Dysart, Blair Athol, Blackwater, Anakie, Sapphire, Gympie, Callide, Ipswich, Stanthorpe, Stannum, Broken Hill, Silverton, Cobar, Newcastle, Yallourn, Wonthaggi, Clunes, Ballarat, Bendigo, Renison, Mt Lyell, Roseberry, Whyalla, Port Pirie, Leigh Creek, Lightning Ridge, Moonta, Coober Pedy, Olympic Dam, Kalgoorlie, Coolgardie, Collie, Laverton, Leonora, Marble Bar, Argyle, Dampier, Port Hedland, Halls Creek, Rum Jungle, Pine Creek, Tennant Creek, Groote Eylandt, Weipa and many more. The taxes paid by mines and their employees supported an ever-growing government/welfare sector and their profits funded smelters, refineries and fabricators processing iron and steel, copper, lead, zinc and aluminium.
Our farmers and graziers fed the miners and the rest of the country.
These backbone industries have always carried Australia through wars, droughts, depressions and epidemics. When gold bottomed, wool boomed. Then wheat, beef, mutton, cotton, sugar and rice buffered the cycles in base metal prices; then iron and coal became our backstop industries.
But these work-horses are now heavily handicapped by locked gates and no-go zones, green hobbles, inadequate education in engineering and science, expensive electricity, excessive taxes, and export tariffs, barriers and red tape. Government handouts will create nothing but debt and dependency. Our real industries could pull us out of the looming Lockdown Depression but they must be set free to do it.
The first step is to break the Green manacles on Australia’s backbone industries – exploration, mining and agriculture. Mineral deposits are where you find them – their discovery and development cannot be planned by some bureaucratic model. And it is a scandal that a mining project can take ten years or forever to get through the bloated bureaucracy. Agriculture needs water, so build more dams. And stop prosecuting and fining farmers and graziers for managing their own land and vegetation – this neglect and oppression is sowing the seeds of rural revolt. Kyoto must be unwound.
Secondly, people hesitate to develop businesses or improve assets on insecure title. Governments should quickly offer all leasehold and indigenous land-owners individual freehold title to their lands on attractive terms. Then abolish the capitals gains tax so that aging owners are encouraged to sell to new owners who will immediately start thinking of productive capital improvements.
Thirdly, convert half of the land frozen in National Parks and reserves to freehold forestry, grazing or nature tourism. Locking up so much land for weeds, pests and bushfires is criminal waste.
Fourthly, industry needs low cost reliable power. We must ensure that EVERY electricity generator who connects to the grid can supply reliable 24/7 power using their own backup facilities or via firm contracts.
Finally, abandon the Zero Emissions farce. Bullock-drawn wagons, camel trains and horse teams may achieve the zero emissions dream but they will not keep our cities fed – there are no electric tractors, dozers or road trains.
This Lockdown Depression is giving us a taste of “Zero Emissions”. It is a bitter taste. It leads to unemployment and poverty with no proven benefits for nature or the climate.
“Net Zero – Like Lockdown but Permanent”
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Viv Forbes is a geologist, financial analyst and weather watcher with long experience in Australian rural and mining industries.