The Pilbara economy is overwhelmingly dominated by mining (mainly iron ore) and construction, which together account for more than 99% of industry economic output in the region.
The Pilbara has been called a ‘hollow economy’ because so much of the income generated in the region is spent elsewhere.
In the wake of the Juukan Gorge disaster, Traditional Owners are increasingly seeking ‘co-management’ of mining and mining exploration lease areas on native title land. Such partnerships are an alternative to current relationships, defined largely by transactional agreements for heritage clearances and access by resource companies to native title lands. While such agreements provide cash benefits, and come with much rhetoric, they fall well short of establishing a wider values framework that can support true collaboration, comanagement and enduring benefits.
The mining industry could be a major source of commercial opportunities. Through a co-management framework, an industry commitment to support the training and employment of Traditional Owners for such services would substantially boost the conservation economy in the Pilbara. Commercial services could include natural resource and cultural heritage management at mine sites and on pastoral leases held by mining companies, environmental monitoring and rehabilitation work.
Over time, it would reduce the need for FIFO workers and contractors to perform such work. It would also demonstrate a commitment by mining companies to transparency and best practice.