Smart Aid? Gillard Funds ‘Mining for Development’

Above: Tabakoto South Underground Gold Mine - Mali, West Africa 
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 AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by davedyet 

The Gillard Government has launched a $127 million ‘Mining for Development Initiative’ which aims to help ‘resource-rich, poor countries’ better use their natural resources.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard launched the $127 million initiative which is being dubbed ‘smart aid’ at CHOGM in Perth.

Gillard said Australia is an expert in developing mineral commodities using environmentally responsible practices, and the initiative will help more than 30 developing countries address mining related challenges, including everything from managing the environmental impacts of mining to governance issues

Gillard said well-governed mining, gas and petroleum sectors can not only help reduce poverty but also reduce a developing country’s dependency on aid.

An International Mining for Development Centre will be set up at the University of Western Australia’s Energy and Mineral Institute, and will provide up to $31 million for practical advisory, education and training services to developing countries, including 1,870 training places and 24 research fellowships.

Included in the initiative is $22 million to support NGO’s that are already active in social and environmentally sustainable activities in mining.

International aid and development organisation Oxfam Australia said people in developing countries will be better able to share in economic wealth brought by the operations of Australian mining companies.

Oxfam has worked with communities in the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Peru who have been negatively impacted by Australian mining activity.

With an estimated 300 Australian companies active in African mining alone, Oxfam Executive Director Andrew Hewett said “The speed and scale of development, scarcity of resources and high commodity prices have caused an appetite for risk, and increased business in emerging economies and weak governance zones”.

Hewett said the initiative “will help companies put people before profits, by supporting not only improved technical expertise, but also a greater understanding of the social impacts of mining.”

However anti-poverty agency ActionAid has warned that the Mining for Development Initiative could be disastrous for the livelihood and food security of people in developing countries if it fails to put the interests of local populations and the environment first.

ActionAid Uganda spokeswoman Florence Apuri - who is currently in Australia – said, “The record of mining benefitting local populations is very poor,”

She said, “Our experience shows mining often brings more hardship than benefits to poor communities. Land grabs and the destruction of local ecosystems as a result of mining often makes it more difficult for poor communities to earn a living from the land and to feed their families.”

ActionAid said it applauds the idea of supporting developing countries to maximise the social return on mining, however the Government must recognise that the benefits of mining are not always equally spread.

Julia Gillard has also used CHOGM to pledge that the world’s poorest nations will continue to have access to Australia – with zero tariffs on goods produced in poor countries, ABC Radio reported.

Gillard told the CHOGM Business Forum that she is concerned about a dramatic rise in protectionism - especially as the latest rounds of free trade talks failed deliver an agreement.

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Will the 'Mining for Development Initiative' help lift developing countries out of poverty, or will it just excarbates the problem already facing the world's poor?  Let us know below.

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