ABOUT 20 years ago the average hourly pay of an average worker in the coastal part of the Hunter dominated by Newcastle was $35.60, according to numbers crunched by the National Institute of Economic Industry Research and released by the Australian Local Government Association this week.
In what it calls the “Inland Hunter”, centred on Singleton/Muswellbrook/Scone, an average worker in 1997 took home an average hourly pay of $34.10.
By 2007 the first signs of a coal boom were working their way through the Hunter and wages, in some sectors, were on the way up. In the case of mine workers they were on their way significantly higher than the average worker in the non-mine sector. And because high mine wages attracted employees from the non-mine sector, average hourly pay in non-mining went up as well.
So the release of data with the State of the Regions report showing average hourly pay in 2017 at $48.10 in the coastal Hunter, and $45.70 in the Upper Hunter, provides evidence to support its argument that the Australian coal mining boom has not provided quite the boom we thought.
Or at least the boom has not been spread evenly.
There is no doubt coal mining has provided the Hunter with significant economic benefits over many years, and supported the employment of many thousands of people. There is no doubt the state has received billions of dollars in royalties, and when the global financial crisis hit in 2008 it was mining – and particularly coal and iron ore – that provided the financial padding that helped Australia ride out the storm.
But times are changing. The Paris Agreement and its implications might seem distant to many Australians, but there is no doubt many countries are responding, and rapidly. And while Federal politicians have settled in for what looks like another long battle over national energy security and the rise of renewables, many individuals and communities are voting with their feet and finding off-grid solutions to rising power prices.
The State of the Regions report and one of its authors, Dr Ian Manning, are throwing out the challenge to local government in regions like the Hunter to take the lead. And they’re using data from the past to show that local solutions from local communities produce the best local results.
It’s a challenge worth thinking about.