The Benefits of the Mining Boom: Where did they go?

The Benefits of the Mining Boom: Where did they go? Report

  • Author(s): Richardson, D.
  • Published: 2009
  • Publisher: The Australia Institute
  • Volume: Technical Brief # 3

Abstract: The perception of most Australians is that the mining boom delivered unambiguous benefits for the Australian economy, including more jobs, exports, tax revenues and, for the majority of people, higher incomes. But was this the case? This paper looks more closely at the extent to which Australians have, in fact, benefitted from the boom, which it dates as beginning after the December quarter 2004 when commodity prices clearly began to show the impact of the increased demand from the rest of the world. Developments after 2004 are taken to reflect the effects of the mining boom. As a result of the boom, revenue received by mining companies increased by over $60 billion, of which well over half, $37 billion, represented increases in company profits before interest and tax expenses. Another $20 billion represented increased input costs, including transport, business services, chemicals, fuels, construction and construction materials. Additional labour costs accounted for $5 billion and additional royalties to state governments, $3 billion. A large proportion of the increased revenue was spent by mining companies on investment in new capacity, which went up by $30 billion. Profits in Australia grew as a result of the increased profits flowing to the mining companies but some of this growth occurred at the expense of non-mining profits. The mining boom would have had a major stimulatory impact on the Australian economy but for two factors. First, the Gregory effect saw the exchange rate appreciate, which caused a contraction in the rest of the economy. Secondly, the Reserve Bank of Australia increased interest rates in an attempt to offset the stimulatory effects of the boom. Estimates from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest that the terms-of-trade impact of the boom increased real income by over nine per cent. The paper examines the extent to which the two main sources of income in Australian households, wages and government income-support payments, were boosted during the period. The evidence shows that real wages increased at roughly the same rate after the onset of the mining boom as they did before it. Of course, there were strong local effects in WA and Queensland but for Australia as a whole there was no acceleration in wages growth as a result of the boom. There was certainly no indication of an additional nine percent increase in real wages coming through. Households on government payments indexed to inflation received no real increase during this time and neither did pensioners receiving pensions indexed to wages, since wages themselves did not reflect any benefit from the mining boom. Anyone owning resource stocks would have benefited from the enormous paper gains, which peaked in May 2008 but had largely disappeared by the end of 2008. However, to the extent that the gains persisted, the benefits would have gone to the top 20 per cent of wealthy households where share ownership is concentrated. Some companies made investment decisions at the peak of the mining boom that became less viable when the good times evaporated, which would have tended to reduce the present market value of the relevant company shares. There is a popular view that the mining boom generated massive tax revenues for the government, making tax cuts and spending initiatives possible. However, the tax surprises experienced by the government vastly exceeded any reasonable estimate of the increase in tax revenues from the mining industry; only a fraction of the increased government revenues in this period can be attributed to the mining boom. Overall, it is hard to identify the benefits to ordinary Australians of the mining boom. The estimated nine per cent increase in real incomes from the terms-of-trade changes do not appear in the figures for wage earners or recipients of government income-support payments. It seems that the benefits of the boom barely went beyond the mining industry itself. Indeed, higher mortgages and other borrowing costs meant that many households were worse off as a result of the mining boom.

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Suggested Citation
Richardson, D., 2009, The Benefits of the Mining Boom: Where did they go?, Volume:Technical Brief # 3, Report, viewed 15 August 2022,

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