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March 31, 2009


Can you dig it?

Mining is a huge business in Australia, with veins of coal and iron ore running deep through the nation's economy. The sparsely populated and gigantic landmass of Australia is rich in natural resources and minerals, making the country prime real estate for mining operations. Australia has experienced several gold rushes, including the Victorian Gold Rush of 1851 which led to the construction of many of the first railways and telegraphs lines in the country. Gold has been found in every one of Australia's states and territories, and the largest gold nugget ever unearthed, weighing an astounding 72 kilograms, was dug up in Victoria in 1869.

Today, Australia is one of the world's leading mining nations. The country is the top exporter worldwide of iron ore, black coal, aluminium oxide, bauxite, lead and mineral sands, as well as the second largest exporter of uranium, and the third largest exporter of gold and aluminium. In 2007, mining accounted for 31.7 percent of Australia's total exports and generated revenues of about $106.6 billion.

Mining was the fastest growing Australian industry in terms of terms of employment from 2002 to 2007, and is expected to grow by a further 21,400 jobs by 2013, making it one top employment growth industries for years down the road. As of November 2007, the mining industry employed 141,000 people nationwide according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The state of Western Australia employs nearly 40 percent of the total mining workforce with more than 40,000 employees and annual exports of $17 billion.

According to the Australian Trade Commission, there were 2,440 different mining enterprises in the country in the 2005-2006 fiscal year. The most prominent of these companies is BHP Billiton, the largest mining company in the world, who accounts for 22 percent of the total mining business in Australia. BHP operates as a dual-listed company, with two separate entities -- BHP Billiton Ltd (an Aussie concern), and BHP Billiton plc (British). The company was formed as the result of a megamerger in 2001 between London-based Billiton and Australia's Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Despite being listed as separate companies and having unique bodies of shareholders, the joint company now functions as a single business entity, with an identical board of directors and a sole management structure. The company's overall headquarters is in Melbourne.

In early 2008, BHP made a USD$150 billion takeover bid for its main rival, the similarly multi-listed Rio Tinto. The third-largest mining company worldwide, Rio Tinto currently controls about 20 percent of the mining market in Australia. Had the merger actually gone through, it would have transformed BHP from the world's largest mining operation into something, well, even larger -- some might even call it an unstoppable mining megamonster of magnificent might. Other smaller Australia mining operations, as well as rival mining operations worldwide, breathed a collective sigh of relief in November 2008 when BHP withdrew its bid for Rio Tinto, citing the global financial crisis.


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