The effects of the mining boom on Tasmania

SWEET: Tasmanian Honey Company business manager Vanessa Smith says the company no longer relies on the ebb and flow of the economy. Picture: Scott Gelston

SWEET: Tasmanian Honey Company business manager Vanessa Smith says the company no longer relies on the ebb and flow of the economy. Picture: Scott Gelston

It was 2011 and global headwinds were just beginning to rock the nation as the end of the mining boom signalled an economy in transition.

But as Australia’s period of prosperity came to an end, others in the island state of Tasmania would emerge in a stronger position.

Perth exporter Tasmanian Honey Company was just one of many companies which benefited from the Australian dollar's depreciation.

Around 2013, the state arguably begun to emerge from the doldrums following what Tasmanian economist Saul Eslake believed to be a year-long recession.

Tasmanian Honey Company business manager Vanessa Smith said the honey exporter is in a much stronger position than it was when the dollar was at an all-time high of 1.10 against the greenback in 2011.

"We were in a very vulnerable position. We were struggling with the high dollar especially trying to get in the US market," she said.

"Once it dropped, we increased our export level by about 25 per cent, and our domestic market increased drastically with the dollar dropping with more visitors coming to Tasmania."

But how did the end of Australia’s mining boom impact the state? 

Mr Eslake believed that the mining boom was not just bad for business, but the economy in general.

“Tasmania was significantly disadvantaged by the mining boom.

“Not only because we don’t have much of a mining sector to have benefited, but because Tasmania has above average share of industries that were adversely affected by one of the mining boom's most important side effects – the strong currency,” he said.

The former Bank of America Merrill Lynch chief economist has long held the view that Tasmania was in recession during the 2012-13 financial year.

And figures indicate the state was in a vulnerable position.

During that year gross state product – which measures the state’s value of production, dropped by 1.2 per cent, while the nation as a whole continued to grow, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. 

Demand for products and services had been on a downward trend since 2011, and particularly poor in 2012, reporting negative growth of 0.9 per cent in the December quarter. 

Meanwhile population growth in 2012 remained sluggish with a 0.12 per cent annual increase and a far cry away from the 1.16 per cent boost in 2009.

“Not only did Tasmania not benefit from the mining boom, but it was actually hurt by it,” Mr Eslake said.

“Certainly when jobs were declining here there were a not-so-insignificant number of people who moved themselves or their families…to jobs in mining places.”

It’s a point disputed by Tasmanian Minerals and Energy Council chief executive Wayne Bould, who argued the fallout from the dollar’s appreciation was offset by high commodity prices.

“Tasmania has been reasonably reliant on mining and metals processing as part of its economic fabric for some time,” he said.

Wayne Bould with Donald Beams of Quarry Pty Ltd.

Wayne Bould with Donald Beams of Quarry Pty Ltd.

“Those businesses still constitute some of the largest in Tasmania and contribute about 2 to 2.5 billion dollars a year to the gross state product.”

Mining expenditure (excluding petroleum) in the year 2012-13 totalled 40.5 million - this was just over one million higher when the dollar was in its peak, ABS data showed. 

However, since 2012-13, it has more than halved to 13.3 million.

At the same time, Tasmania’s forestry industry had been struck by the exit of heavyweight Gunns Ltd from native timber processing in 2011, which entered into voluntary administration one year later.

“The collapse of Gunns had an impact on Launceston as a business centre,” Mr Eslake said.

“There were all sorts of companies supplying goods and services to Gunns as a business - certainly not in the forestry business themselves.”   

But as the Australian dollar begun to depreciate, Mr Eslake argued, the Tasmanian economy benefited.

It began its descent in late 2011, but did not drop greatly until 2013.

Fast forward to 2014, and a new government inherited what it referred to as a challenging financial and economic environment.

In Treasurer Peter Gutwein’s first-ever budget, he pinpointed a debt exceeding $800 million alongside a still-too-high Australian dollar, GST revenue estimated decreases, and a decline in forestry as key challenges for the budget bottom line.

Yet while this was happening business confidence was on the up.

By June, the Sensis Business Index showed the island state had the highest national business confidence level.

At present day, household consumption, business investment, international exports and real state final demand have recorded faster year-on-year growth than the national average.    

Retail sales have grown to $500.6 million and an annual increase of 5 per cent without accounting for inflation.

Tourism numbers also continue to grow, up 2 per cent to reach 1.17 million visitors in the year to June 2016, according to the Tasmanian Visitor Survey.   

“Some of what is picked up by the bureau of stats as retail sales - is actually spending by tourists in Tasmania. Someone goes into any store in Tasmania or a café and spends money - then that’s counted,” Mr Eslake said. 

In the next part of this two-part series, The Examiner will explore how businesses are performing in today’s economy, and whether Tasmania can ever hope to catch up with the mainland. 

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