Is Western Australia’s heritage compliance boom suddenly over?
To Boom or not to boom, that is the question.
Australia’s Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson declared on 23 August 2012 that the country’s mining boom was over. This was one day after the world’s biggest miner BHP Billiton shelved two expansion plans – the Olypmic Dam open cut mine expansion in South Australia and the Port Hedland outer harbour expansion in Western Australia’s Pilbara region – each project valued at around $320 billion.
These statements prompted some immediate flak from the mining and resources sector, while the Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett repeated his mantra that there never was a “boom”, it was just that his State has a healthy, expanding economy!Minister Ferguson and other senior Labor Government figures rapidly clarified his statement, saying that he was referring to the commodities boom being over, particularly with the international iron ore and coal prices dropping, while tens of billions of dollars in ongoing mining and energy development projects in Australia would continue on track.This is the point at which Australian heritage consultants could stop holding their breath and quaking every time they looked at a media financial report for more news of impending doom.
Heritage consulting in Australia is predominantly tied up with mining and energy developments and regional infrastructure development projects – which in turn are responses to growth through mining and energy developments. Minister Ferguson’s original announcement, coupled with BHP Billiton’s announcement and the resulting media blitz caused considerable angst among consulting firms still taking on new staff to push for bigger shares of mining-related heritage survey and impact-mitigation work – and for the growing numbers of local archaeology and anthropology graduates, as well as international ones on holiday-working visas, who are looking for work in the industry.
There has been some drop in available project work – cancellation of the BHP Billiton projects and some slowdowns in other companies’ projects due to credit and cost recalculations in the face of lower commodity prices. This has hit Queensland’s coal industry, though coal-seam gas projects so far seem unaffected. Overall though, everyone still seems to be maintaining their work flow on current projects. However, heritage services for development projects represent a finite block of work, and to maintain momentum, heritage consultancies need a constant flow of new projects. So while there appears to be enough work at the moment, we will still be all watching China in particular and the financial news in general, to see if the past continues to have a commercial future in Australia.