Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard is perplexed by the attacks that are made on the mining industry despite its contribution to the country’s wealth.
Howard, speaking at the Diggers & Dealers Mining Forum in Kalgoorlie-Boulder on Monday, regards the mining industry as one of Australia’s greatest economic success stories.
However, he believes the industry is now in a position where it has to “apologise for its existence” and has reason to “worry about its future.”
He points to the public’s intense views on climate change and the perceived impact of mining on the environment as the source of these attacks.
“I talk of course about the constant attacks in the name of climate change zealotry on sections of your industry, particularly but not least the coal mining industry – it goes beyond that,” Howard said.
“There seems to be a collective determination in some sections of the Australian community to vilify what we do best, to vilify those industries with roots we have succeeded.”
Howard, who was Prime Minister between 1996 and 2007, credits the mining industry for being one of the salvations of the Australian economy during the global financial crisis (GFC).
“I don’t need to remind an audience like this of how much we are in debt to the mining industry for the salvation of the economy of this country after the global financial crisis,” Howard said.
“There are a number of reasons why this country dodged the bullet so to speak in the time of the global financial crisis.”
He joked that one reason why Australia emerged from the GFC in a strong position was that the country’s economy was in good shape in the first place.
“Arguably more important of course was the contribution of the resources sector to the salvation of the strength of the Australian economy,” Howard conceded.
“And the way at which we were able to draw upon the contribution of our resource trade with North Asia and other parts of the world.”
Howard weighed into the tense relationship between Australia’s key Asian partner, China, and the United States, and how it could impact the economy locally.
He said it was important for Australia to maintain close relationships with both countries, but to also understand the character in each case was different.
“Australia will always be closer to the United States than it will be with China. That is because we share common values with the United States,” Howard said.
“Our fundamental human values are very similar. And values bind countries together far more tightly than anything else. That has been demonstrated time and again through history.”
Howard added, however, that China’s economic importance to Australia was overwhelming and something the country’s governments have not lost sight of.
“I think successive governments in Australia, and once again from both sides of politics, have worked very effectively to keep a good balance in the relationships between the two societies,” he said.
But Howard also warned that Australia shouldn’t become over focussed on its growing trade relationship with China.
“I think there is a danger in this country to be mesmerised by China,” he said.