Regional communities hope to make most of mining boom

THE mining boom is disproving the adage that good things come to those who wait.

A Regional Australia Institute policy briefing released this week calls for a new approach to ensuring smaller regional communities make the most of the mining boom as it enters the export phase.

The policy paper identifies a number of measures that might help small towns better capture the long-term benefits of the boom, most of which have been flowing to capital cities and large regional centres.

Using a combination of its own independent research and existing work and recommendations, the RAI found the mere existence of a mining project did not guarantee long-term economic spin-offs for local communities.

There was mounting evidence the expected long-term benefits from mining developments simply did not meet community expectations.

The RAI found smaller regional communities needed to be proactive in devising co-ordinated, straightforward strategies to cash in on mining expansion, while also managing the risks and challenges associated with rapid development.

Adopting Community Benefit Plans, such as those used in Canada, are identified as an effective means of ensuring communities survive beyond the life of a project.

"Effective local action is the most important driver of success in capturing local benefits from resource projects," the paper reads.

The absence of an effective plan can actually result in negative outcomes, with the paper pointing to the "consternation" caused by fly-in, fly-out work patterns.

Expecting resource companies and state governments to be the chief drivers of regional development was not realistic, the paper found, although each had a vital role in supporting the process.

Of the three types of benefits that flow from mining projects - direct, indirect and induced - the RAI found it was the latter that presented the best opportunity for long-term regional growth.

Induced benefits include the money spent by mine employees.

The paper outlines a number of ways local businesses can cater for the demand.

But while the policy paper puts much of the onus on communities to seize the opportunities stemming from mining, it also outlines the reasons why better community engagement and workforce management practices is in the interests of resource companies.

"More effective community participation in approval processes should lead to greater community support for projects," the paper reads.

"In return, resource companies can increase the chances of long-term project success by reducing green-tape, workforce costs and avoiding costly delays or project shutdowns."

The paper also queries whether environmental impact assessments are adequate to measure the social impacts of mining on a town, with a suggestion the two are often at odds.

"Improvements to the current system should involve the management of socio-economic issues stepping outside the EIA framework," the paper reads.

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