Indigenous economic development

The minerals industry has been a major catalyst for Indigenous economic development.  In the Boyer Lectures of 2012, Professor Marcia Langton observed that:

The Mabo case, the Native Title Act and engagement with the mining industry have changed the assumptions of that (welfare dependent) paradigm and catapulted Aboriginal people engaged in the mining industry into the mainstream economy. I have worked at mine sites and witnessed this extraordinary change…Mining offers many Indigenous populations a significant source of employment and contracting opportunities, as well as an alternative to the welfare transfers upon which many remote and regional Aboriginal communities depend.(1)


The Australian minerals sector’s approach to working with Indigenous communities is founded in mutual respect and recognises the rights and interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in relation to the lands and waters to which there is a special connection.   Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the first peoples of this nation and much of the land on which the industry operates is covered by native title, or state and territory Aboriginal land rights and/or heritage legislation.

The sector engages with local communities as key stakeholders, acknowledging traditional and cultural connections. The sector believes that the communities it works closely with should materially benefit from associated mining activity.

The MCA supports measures that facilitate agreed beneficial outcomes with Indigenous communities and Traditional Owners.  The MCA’s Communique on Indigenous Economic Development highlights 12 long-standing principles of support across legislation, governance, local community development, and wealth creation.


More than 60 per cent of minerals operations in Australia neighbour Indigenous communities.  Much of the land on which the industry seeks to operate is subject to legal requirements under the Native Title Act or the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, as well as state and federal heritage requirements, all of which recognise the rights and interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in relation to lands and waters. 

On areas of land for which there is a weak or absent suite of legal rights for Aboriginal communities, the industry has tended to negotiate with these communities ‘as if’ they held a suite of legal rights, thereby recognising their historical and cultural connections.

The industry’s long-standing approach has stressed that the communities most impacted by mining operations should also be the ones that benefit most from the conversion of natural resources into societal capital.  This demonstrates the opportunity that exists for communities to leverage the economic activity associated with mineral wealth to drive their social and economic futures.

The process within the minerals industry of negotiating over 1,984 land use agreements (99 per cent of which involved no legal contest of rights) has provided unprecedented wealth creation opportunities for Indigenous peoples in regional and remote Australia.(2)

The total value of native title related payments in 2011-12 alone was $3 billion, which includes land access related payments, mining royalty equivalents, heritage payments, and impact benefit agreement payments.(3) Preliminary evidence suggests that Indigenous communities now own up to $40 billion in assets in total from agreement-making.(4)

Corporate social partnerships

The mining industry’s community partnerships are underscored by its support to close the gap. The mining industry works with regional and remote communities across Australia, and the Commonwealth and state governments to catalyse community enterprise and employment collaboration and opportunities. The Commonwealth - MCA ten year (2005-15) MoU successfully demonstrates a significant partnership resulting in a number of community project successes designed and driven locally.

Initiatives established under the MoU included: mentoring services for career pathways for local employment; a business hub to connect mining companies to Indigenous suppliers; careers fair days including pre-qualification assistance delivered in remote areas; and an award winning community survey identifying socio-economic needs designed and managed by a local women’s group. These initiatives highlight the power of community programs that the mining industry invests in to facilitate sustainable community development.(5)


The minerals industry’s commitment to local community growth is evident in its procurement of Indigenous businesses. During the mining boom of 2004, more than 150 businesses were established in the mining supply chain in the Pilbara alone. Since then, procurement opportunities have expanded with the industry (sample of 25 companies) investing $2.2 billion in Indigenous businesses in 2012-13.

The industry’s leadership in procurement has been recognised by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mr Mick Gooda, who noted that ‘you’ve got mining companies leading the way’.(6)


The minerals industry is the most significant industry generating Indigenous employment opportunities in regional and remote areas of Australia.(7) In the past 20 years, employment of Indigenous Australians in the minerals industry has increased from 0.5 per cent to a national average of 6 per cent.(8)  In addition, 19 per cent of the Indigenous workers in the minerals industry are women, compared with 13 per cent for women generally within the minerals industry workforce.(9)

Importantly, research by the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy found that Indigenous employment of both men and women in mining in regional communities doubled from 2006-11.(10) At some mine sites Indigenous workers account for up to 40 per cent of those directly and indirectly employed, with many sites aiming to achieve the same proportion of Indigenous men and women in their workforce as are present in their local community.

While there continues to be a commitment to directly employing Indigenous people, the minerals industry is also actively seeking to:

Develop retention and career pathway strategies for current Indigenous employees
Ensure subcontractors employ Indigenous peoples
Support the development of local Indigenous businesses.
Facilitate the establishment of new industries in regional and remote areas which will employ Indigenous people.

Media releases

25 Feb 2015 New Publication: From Conflict to Co-Operation

23 Sep 2014 Indigenous Businesses Development - More Than Just a Good Idea

4 Aug 2014 Minerals Industry Welcomes Forrest Review of Indigenous Training and Employment

Reports and submissions

25 Feb 2015 From Conflict to Co-operation by Professor Marcia Langton

23 Sep 2014 Getting It Right – Indigenous Success in the Resource Sector

19 Sep 2014 Submission to the Forrest Review – Creating Parity

(1) Langton M (2012), The Quiet Revolution: Indigenous People and the Resources Boom (Harper Collins, Australia)
(2) Bauman T and Glick L (eds) (2012), The Limits of Change: Mabo and Native Title 20 Years On (AIATSIS, Canberra)
(3) Banarra (2013), The Value of Community Contributions in the Australian Minerals Industry: A Report to the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA, Canberra) (Figure derived from a sample of MCA Member audited accounts, 2011-12)
(4) Rose S (2013) , ‘Indigenous Groups’ Assets Opportunity for Wealth Advisers’ , Australian Financial Review, June 2013
(5) Minerals Council of Australia (2005) Memorandum of Understanding on Indigenous Employment and Enterprise Development Between the Australian Government and the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA, Canberra)
(6) Burrell M (2014), ‘Marcia Langton Lashes out at Future Fund Silence’, The Australian, 2 December 2014.
(7) Business Council of Australia (2014), 2014 Indigenous Engagement Survey Report (BCA, Canberra)
(8) Gray M, Hunter B and Howlett M (2014), The Economic Impact of the Mining Boom on Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians, CAEPR Working Paper No 39/2014, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (ANU, Canberra)
(9) ABS, Australian Social Trends, Cat. 4102.0, May 2014.
(10) Langton M (2015), From Conflict to Cooperation – Transformations and Challenges in the Engagement of the Australian Minerals Industry and Australian Indigenous Peoples (MCA, Canberra)