Social Impact Assessment (SIA) on Idemitsu Boggabri Coal Mine’s Effects on the Gunnedah Aboriginal Community
Introduction Idemitsu Boggabri Coal Mine:
This SIA evaluates the potential and actual social impacts of Idemitsu’s Boggabri Coal Mine on the First Nations community in Gunnedah and this assessment is based on the 2006 and 2021 Census data provided, along with consideration of external factors such as inflation and government policies.
- Population Growth: From 2006 to 2021, the First Nations population in Gunnedah grew from 1,171 to 2,021, an increase of 73%, and this significant growth may be influenced by the economic opportunities presented by the mine, leading to migration and natural growth.
- Income: The median weekly household income for the First Nations community increased from $629 in 2006 to $1,492 in 2021 or a 137% increase. While this suggests improved economic conditions, it’s essential to consider other factors like inflation, with Australia’s cumulative inflation from 2006 to 2021 being approximately 40%… but even after adjusting for inflation, there’s a real increase in income, which might be attributed to employment opportunities at the mine.
- Housing Affordability: The median weekly rent increased from $120 in 2006 to $290 in 2021, or a 142% increase. And while incomes have risen, the proportion of income spent on rent has also significantly increased, indicating potential housing affordability issues, which could be due to increased demand for housing because of the mine, driving up rental prices more than the median weekly household income increase.
Furthermore, according to a report by the NSW Governments’ Family & Community Services (now known as Communities & Justice) from March 2008 – December 2014:
- Gunnedah has seen an increase of $248 to $400 or 61% for four-bedroom properties.
- Gunnedah has seen an increase of $200 to $300 or 50% for three-bedroom properties.
- Mortgage Repayments and Housing Prices: The data indicates a significant increase in median monthly mortgage repayments from 2006 to 2021 and while the exact housing prices aren’t provided, the substantial rise in mortgage repayments suggests a notable increase in housing prices during this period. Such a surge in housing prices can be attributed to various factors, including increased demand due to economic opportunities presented by the mine, leading to an influx of workers and their families.
- Impact on Outright Ownership: The percentage of First Nations households that owned their homes outright decreased from 16.2% in 2006 to 13.7% in 2021. This decline suggests that fewer community members were able to purchase homes without mortgages over this period. The rise in housing prices, potentially influenced by the mine’s presence, might have made outright ownership more challenging.
- First Home Ownership: The data indicates an increase in households owning a mortgage from 19.4% in 2006 to 31.1% in 2021. While this suggests that more community members took on mortgages, it doesn’t directly indicate the rate of first home ownership. Therefore, the substantial increase in housing prices might have posed challenges for first-time homebuyers, especially if their incomes didn’t rise proportionally.
- Rental Market: The percentage of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander households that rented their homes decreased from 58.6% in 2006 to 50.2% in 2021. While this suggests a move towards homeownership, the rise in housing prices and mortgage repayments might have made entering the housing market more challenging for some community members. The mine’s presence could have increased demand in the rental market initially, driving up rents and opportunities for First Nations people to rent, potentially adding to the overcrowding of First Nations homes.
Idemitsu Boggabri Coal Mine’s presence seems to have influenced the housing market dynamics in Gunnedah.
And while there are indications of economic benefits, the potential challenges posed by outright and first home ownership for the Indigenous community need addressing.
Furthermore, collaborative efforts between the mine(s), local and state government, and First Nations can help ensure that housing remains accessible and affordable for all.
- Opportunities and Challenges: The mine likely provided direct and indirect employment opportunities. However, the unemployment rate for the community decreased from 21.5% in 2006 to 11.1% in 2021. And while this is a positive trend, it suggests that not all community members benefited equally from the mine’s presence.
- Educational Attainment: There was a slight increase in Year 12 completion rates from 2006 to 2021 and a decrease in Year 10 completion rates.
- Federal “Close the Gap” Education Targets: the observed trends in Gunnedah, especially the decline in Year 10 completion rates, indicate potential challenges in achieving education targets locally. And while positive, the slight increase in Year 12 completion rates may not be sufficient to meet the ambitious 2031 target, especially if the decline in Year 10 completion continues.
- Government Policies: Over the 15-year period, various federal and state policies might have influenced the community’s socio-economic conditions and initiatives aimed at improving Indigenous employment, health, and education outcomes could have played a role in the observed changes.
- Inflation: As mentioned, the cumulative inflation rate over the period was around 40% and this needs to be considered when evaluating real changes in income and costs.
Potential Negative Impacts:
- Cultural Disruption: The mine’s operations might have impacted culturally significant sites or disrupted traditional practices, affecting the community’s cultural and spiritual well-being.
- Environmental Concerns: Mining activities can lead to environmental degradation, which might impact traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering practices.
- Community Engagement: Continuous engagement with the Aboriginal community to understand their concerns and aspirations.
- Cultural Sensitivity Training: For mine employees to ensure respect for traditional practices, sites and First Nations people.
- Economic Investment: Invest in community projects, scholarships, and training programs to ensure long-term benefits for the community.
The Boggabri Coal Mine, operated by Idemitsu, has undeniably brought about significant changes to the Gunnedah region, especially concerning the First Nations community.
The data from the 2006 and 2021 Census highlights several key trends and impacts:
- Economic Opportunities and Challenges: While there has been a marked increase in the median weekly household income for the First Nations community, it’s crucial to contextualise this growth by considering external factors like inflation…. but even after accounting for inflation, the real increase in income suggests that the mine has potentially provided economic upliftment. However, the unemployment rate’s decline, though positive, indicates that the benefits might not have been uniformly distributed among the community members.
- Housing Dynamics: The housing market in Gunnedah has experienced significant shifts, with rising housing prices and rents. And while more community members have taken on mortgages, the challenges posed by outright and first-home ownership cannot be ignored. In conclusion, the mine(s) influence on housing demand in Gunnedah for the First Nations community, both in terms of purchase and rentals, seems evident. And collaborative efforts are essential to ensure housing remains both accessible and affordable.
- Education and Future Prospects: The trends in educational attainment, particularly the decline in Year 10 completion rates, are concerning. While there’s a slight uptick in Year 12 completions, addressing the potential barriers to education to meet future targets and ensure the community’s youth are well-equipped for the future is imperative.
- External Influences: Government policies and inflation have played roles in shaping the socio-economic landscape of the Gunnedah First Nations community over the past 15 years. And their influence, combined with the mine’s presence, creates a complex web of factors that have impacted the community’s well-being.
In light of these findings, it’s evident that while the Idemitsu Boggabri Coal Mine has introduced economic opportunities to the region, its overall impact on the First Nations community is intricate and multi-dimensional.
And underscores the importance of continuous monitoring, engagement, and collaboration between the mine, government agencies, and the First Nations community.
Such efforts will be pivotal in ensuring that the benefits are maximised, negative impacts are mitigated, and the cultural and spiritual integrity of the First Nations community is preserved and respected.