Mining has been a constant driving force in the Australian economy and the country’s history. Australia, especially Western Australia, enjoyed a recent boom in the mining economy, and related construction jobs. Declining prices for iron ore and a tightening market for coal have ended the boom, and the mining industry and the economies and governments reliant on mining are revising their approach to business and regulation.
- On 6 May 2015 BHP Billiton's shareholders voted overwhelmingly in favour of its demerger, which it saw spin off a portfolio of its non-core assets to a new company, South32. South32's management is led by BHPBilliton's former Chief Financial Officer, Graham Kerr and its business will concentrate on coal, manganese, aluminium and nickel. South32's shares commenced trading on Australian Stock Exchange, London Stock Exchange and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange on 18 May 2015.
- Western Australia mining companies have been hit hard by declining iron ore prices. A recent small upturn has not reversed the overall reaction to the decline. Atlas Iron near Port Hedland recently decided to close its mine in the Pilbara mining area, and other mines have cut staff. This downturn follows a boom period with substantial mining investment in Western Australia. The Western Australian government deferred a potential increase in mineral royalties, which may help stabilize the mining industry in an uncertain export market. This decision follows repeal of the national minerals resource rent tax (MRRT) on September 18, 2014. The MRRT was a relatively new tax on coal and iron ore, but it did not survive the downturn in prices.
- In part as a reaction to declining prices, the government of South Australia has awarded grants totalling $2 million for mineral exploration in South Australia. The grants are part of the South Australia government’s Plan for Accelerating Exploration (PACE). The SA government hopes to better understand its mineral resources, and be positioned to assure future development of those resources.
- The Carmichael coal mine, proposed by Adani, is currently being challenged in Land Court of Queensland. Project opponents argue, in part, that the project is not feasible in the current market for coal prices, and that the project will adversely affect the environment. The Land Court started hearing the matter at the end of March and final submissions will be completed in mid-May. Following the completion of the hearing the Court will make a recommendation to the Queensland government. The government will then decide whether to issue a permit for the mine.
- The Northern Territories had in the past received numerous applications for seabed mining. The Northern Territories put a moratorium in place to allow further research on the environmental effects of seabed mining, and in response to concerns raised by aboriginal groups. The Northern Territories recently extended the moratorium for another three years, to 2018.
- On 15 April 2015, the High Court of Australia upheld the validity of the legislation which cancelled the mining licences of Cascade Coal Pty Ltd and Nucoal Resources Limited without compensation due to alleged corrupt conduct. This decision reinforces the tough stance that the New South Wales government has taken against allegations of corruption. In separate proceedings, Cascade Coal Pty Ltd is seeking judicial review of recommendations by the Independent Commission against Corruption to the New South Wales government that its coal licences be cancelled, which is due to be heard by the New South Wales Court of Appeal in mid-June.