There appears to be little limit to the mining industry’s demand for taxpayer assistance. With extensive government investment already in addressing the skills shortages developing because of the sector’s intense demand for labour, today Rio Tinto issued an extraordinary demand for governments to fund social infrastructure for mining communities.

There is no doubt the lack of appropriate housing stock and community infrastructure is a key impediment to Australians relocating to mining communities or regional centres located nearby. That’s why fly-in-fly-out workforces have developed so quickly.

But as the chief beneficiaries of what will be temporary booms in communities in regional and remote towns linked to mining projects, it is the responsibility of mining companies to fund them, not governments.

Such investments are not one-off costs — funding a school, or a hospital, requires significant ongoing funding. Moreover, governments face even greater difficulties than mining companies in staffing social infrastructure, relying on educational and medical professionals to be willing to move into high-cost, distant towns without being able to access the high mining wages that partially offset those costs.

Inevitably, such expenditure pulls money away from under-resourced infrastructure in other areas with higher populations.

Mining companies, it seems, want it both ways — to pay as little tax as possible while governments invest in social infrastructure that supports their mining operations and, ultimately, their profits.

Peter Fray

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