Mining in Australia is a significant primary industry and contributor to the Australian economy. Historically, mining booms have also encouraged immigration to Australia. Many different ores and minerals are mined throughout the country.


Mining contributed significantly to preventing potential bankruptcy for the early colonies in Australia. Silver and later copper were discovered in South Australia in the 1840s, leading to the export of ore and the immigration of skilled miners and smelters. The first economic minerals in Australia were silver and lead in February 1841 at Glen Osmond, now a suburb of Adelaide in South Australia. Mines including Wheal Gawler and Wheal Watkins opened soon after.[1] The value of these mines was soon overshadowed by the discovery of copper at Kapunda (1842),[2] Burra (1845)[3] and in the Copper Triangle (Moonta, Kadina and Wallaroo) area at the top of Yorke Peninsula (1861).[4]

Broken Hill, NSW, one of Australia's iconic mining towns, backed by the man-made mullock heaps from the Line of Lode

Gold rushes

Australia mined gold production, 1960–2012

In 1851, gold was found near Ophir, New South Wales. Weeks later, gold was found in the newly established colony of Victoria. Australian gold rushes, in particular the Victorian Gold Rush, had a major lasting impact on Victoria, and on Australia as a whole. The influx of wealth that gold brought soon made Victoria Australia's richest colony by far, and Melbourne the island's largest city. By the middle of the 1850s, 40% of the world's gold was produced in Australia.[5]

Australia's population changed dramatically as a result of the gold rushes: in 1851 the population was 437,655 and a decade later it was 1,151,957; the rapid growth was predominantly a result of the new chums (recent immigrants from the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth states) who contributed the 'rush'.[6] Although most Victorian goldfields were exhausted by the end of the 19th century, and although much of the profit was sent back to the UK, sufficient wealth remained to fund substantial development of industry and infrastructure.


Australia has mining activity in all of its states and territories. The Minerals Council of Australia estimates that 0.02% of Australia's land surface is directly impacted by mining.[7]

Particularly significant areas today include the Goldfields, Peel and Pilbara regions of Western Australia, the Hunter Region in New South Wales, the Bowen Basin in Queensland and Latrobe Valley in Victoria and various parts of the outback. Places such as Kalgoorlie, Mount Isa, Mount Morgan, Broken Hill and Coober Pedy are known as mining towns.

Major active mines in Australia include:

For a more comprehensive list of mines in Australia, see Mines in Australia

Minerals and resources

Australian metal ore and mineral quarterly exports ($A millions) since 1969.

Large quantities of minerals and resources :

  • Iron ore – Australia was the world's second largest supplier in 2015 after China, supplying 824 million metric tonnes, 25% of the world's output.[8]
  • Nickel – Australia was the world's fourth largest producer in 2015, producing 9% of world output.[9]
  • Aluminium – Australia was the world's largest producer of bauxite in 2015 (29% of world production), and the second largest producer of alumina after China.[10]
  • Copper – Australia was the world's 5th largest producer in 2015[11]
  • Gold – Australia is the second largest producer after China, producing 287.3 metric tonnes in 2016, 9.2% of the world's output.[12]
  • Silver – In 2015 Australia was the fourth largest producer, producing 1,700 metric tonnes, 6% of the world's output.[13]
  • Uranium – Australia is responsible for 11% of the world's production and was the world's third largest producer in 2010 after Kazakhstan and Canada.[14]
  • Diamond – Australia has the third largest commercially viable deposits after Russia and Botswana.[citation needed] Australia also boasts the richest diamantiferous pipe with production reaching peak levels of 42 metric tons (41 LT/46 ST) per year in the 1990s.[citation needed]
  • Opal – Australia is the world's largest producer of opal, being responsible for 95% of production.[15]
  • Zinc – Australia was second only to China in zinc production in 2015, producing 1.58 million tonnes, 12% of world production.[16]
  • Coal – Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal and fourth largest producer of coal behind China, USA and India.[17]
  • Oil shale – Australia has the sixth largest defined oil shale resources.[18]
  • Petroleum – Australia is the twenty-ninth largest producer of petroleum.[citation needed]
  • Natural gas – Australia is world's third largest producer of LNG and forecast to be world leader by 2020.
  • Silica
  • Rare earth elements – In 2015 Australia was the second largest producer after China, with 8% of the world's output.[19]

Much of the raw material mined in Australia is exported overseas to countries such as China for processing into refined product. Energy and minerals constitute two-thirds of Australia's total exports to China, and more than half of Australia's iron ore exports are to China.[20]

Statistical chart of Australia's major mineral resources

Australia ranks among the top 4 in economic resources for 21 primary industrial minerals, more than any other nation. Statistics are for December 2016.[21]

Units of measurement: t = tonne; kt = kilotonne (1,000 t); Mt = million tonne (1,000,000 t); Mc = million carat (1,000,000 c)

Mineral Unit of Measurement Demonstrated
Economic Resources
Ranking of
% of
Production (2016) World
Ranking of Production
% of
Years of Resources
at Current Production
Antimony kt content 139 4 9 5.5 4 4 25
Bauxite Mt ore 6,005 2 22 82.15 1 31 73
Coal, Black Mt 64,045 4 10 566.3 4 7 113
Coal, Brown (lignite) Mt 66,439 2 24 63.3 5 6 1,050
Cobalt kt content 1164 2 14 5.47 5 4 213
Copper Mt content 87.78 2 12 .95 5 5 92
Diamond (industrial) Mc 115.84 3 18 13.96 2 24 8
Gold t content 9,800 1 17 288 2 9 34
Iron ore Mt ore 49,588 1 29 858 1 38 58
Lead Mt content 24.09 1 40 .45 2 9 54
Lithium kt content 2,730 3 18 14 1 41 195
Manganese Mt ore 219 4 13 3.2 4 9 68
Nickel Mt content 18.5 1 24 .204 5 9 91
Rare Earth Elements Mt ore 3.43 6 3 .014 2 11 245
Silver kt content 89.29 2 16 1.42 5 5 63
Tin kt content 486 4 10 6.64 7 2 73

(Ilmenite & Rutile)

Mt ore 276.1 2 17 1.7 2 10 162
Tungsten kt content 391 2 12 .11 12 .40 1,151
Uranium kt content 1,212 1 29 6.31 3 10 192
Vanadium kt content 2,111 4 11 0 0 NA NA
Zinc Mt content 63.5 1 28 .884 3 7 75
Zircon Mt ore 72.1 1 67 .60 1 31 120

Coal mining

Australian coal, coke and briquette quarterly exports ($A millions) since 1969.

Coal is mined in every state of Australia except South Australia. It is used to generate electricity and is exported. 54% of the coal mined in Australia is exported, mostly to eastern Asia. In 2000/01, 258.5 million tonnes of coal was mined, and 193.6 million tonnes exported, rising to 261 million tonnes of exports in 2008–09.[17] Coal also provides about 85% of Australia's electricity production.[22] Australia is the world's leading coal exporter.[23]

Uranium mining

Uranium mining in Australia began in the early 20th century in South Australia. At 2016 Australia contained 29% of the world's defined uranium resources. The three largest uranium mines in the country are Olympic Dam, Ranger Uranium Mine and Beverley Uranium Mine. Future production is expected from Honeymoon Uranium Mine and the planned Four Mile uranium mine.

Natural gas

Based on 2008 CSIRO report, Australia estimated to have stranded gas reserves with about 140 trillion cubic feet or enough to fulfil the needs of a city with one million people for 2,800 years.[24]

Mining Employment by Sector in 1000's

Entrepreneurs and magnates

At various stages in the history of the mining industry in Australia, individual mining managers, directors and investors have gained significant wealth and the subsequent publicity. In most cases the individuals are designated Mining Magnates or Australian mining entrepreneurs.


Total employment in metal ore mining (thousands of people) since 1984
Total employment in coal mining (thousands of people) since 1984
Total employment in oil and gas extraction (thousands of people) since 1984

A number of large multinational mining companies including BHP Billiton, Newcrest, Rio Tinto, Alcoa, Chalco, Shenhua (a Chinese mining company), Alcan and Xstrata operate in Australia. There are also a lot of small mining and mineral exploration companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX). Overall, the resources sector represents almost 20% of the ASX market by capitalisation, and almost one third of the companies listed.[25]

Mining contributes about 5.6% of Australia's Gross Domestic Product. This is up from only 2.6% in 1950, but down from over 10% at the time of federation in 1901.[26] In contrast, mineral exports contribute around 35% of Australia's exports. Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal (35% of international trade), iron ore, lead, diamonds, rutile, zinc and zirconium, second largest of gold and uranium, and third largest of aluminium.[27] Japan was the major purchaser of Australian mineral exports in the mid-1990s.[5]

Of the developed countries, perhaps only Canada and Norway have mining as such a significant part of the economy; for comparison, in Canada mining represents about 3.6% of the Canadian economy and 32% of exports,[28] and in Norway mining, dominated by petroleum, represents about 19% of GDP and 46% of exports.[29] By comparison, in the United States mining represents only about 1.6% of GDP.[30]

Despite its export importance, the mining sector employs only a small proportion of the workforce – roughly 129,000 Australians, representing only about 2.2% of the total labour force.[31]

Technology and services

Australia's high labour costs and first-world safety regulations, distinctive geology, and the importance placed on mining research by successive governments and businesses has meant that the Australian mining sector is quite technologically advanced.[citation needed] A large proportion of mines worldwide make use of Australian-developed computer software, such as specialised Geological Database and Resource Estimation Modelling software by Micromine and geology/mine planning software by RungePincockMinarco and Maptek Pty Ltd.[citation needed] Australia is also home to other tech companies that offer mine planning software, such as Paradyn. Mines in Australia are leading the market globally[according to whom?] deploying mine production data management software such as Corvus developed by Intov8 Pty Ltd, which displays real-time production data from multiple source systems on dashboards, and includes comprehensive dynamic analysis and reporting, driving process and cost efficiencies at the shift level. Caterpillar's proprietary end-to-end mine management and information management system, MineStar, is also developed in its Brisbane office. Australia's mining services, equipment, and technology exports are over $2 billion annually.[32]

The world first large scale remote operations centre for operation of the Rio Tinto mines in the Pilbara is located in the airport precinct in Perth – operating mines sites, ports, rail and logistics from a central remote location.


Many mines in remote areas have a traditional company town (for example Roxby Downs or Leigh Creek), or support towns that used to be company towns such as Broken Hill and Mount Isa.

The town of Mount Isa is surrounded by vast mineral deposits.

Most mines in remote areas are operated on a fly-in-fly-out basis where the miners' "home" and family remains in a major city, and the miners fly out to their mine for two weeks of 12 hours a day solid work, then fly home for one week of rest.[citation needed] The rosters vary from company to company and from site to site. Every site has people on different rosters, mainly due to the fact that many aspects of a whole mine operation are carried out by contracting companies and they may / will offer different working conditions. 3 weeks on / 1 week off rosters are not uncommon and the working away period can be, but seldom is, for much longer than 2 or 3 weeks.

However, in recognition of the stresses and strains that "fly in fly out" rosters can often put upon the miners' social and family life, and in an attempt to retain staff for the medium to long term, rosters of 9 days work followed by 5 days off ("9 & 5") and 8 days work with 6 off ("8 & 6") are becoming more widespread. A fly-in-fly-out roster is normal on offshore oil platforms,(not least because people cannot live there permanently, unlike many onshore mining towns ) as well as minesites located inland of Australia, such as Century, Challenger, Bronzewing and Yandicoogina minesites.

Free meals and motel style accommodation are provided as is any work related transport, including air fares. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are consumed and collected from the mess hall at the mining camp. Living quarters provided at camp sites range from 2 by 4-metre portable homes to permanent 6 by 8-metre rooms with ensuites. Fridges, single beds, television, electricity and water are also provided with rooms. Every camp has a bar facility and a gym, most have swimming pools and some have outdoor sports courts / fields too.

Environment and politics

The mountains near Queenstown, Tasmania, completely denuded of vegetation through effects of mining

Mining has created major economic benefits for the country, but has also had a substantial environmental impact in some areas of Australia. Historically, the Victorian gold rush was the start of the economic growth of the country, leading to major increases in population. However, it also resulted in deforestation, consequent erosion, and pollution in the areas that were mined.[33] The effects on the landscape near Bendigo and Ballarat can still be seen today. Queenstown, Tasmania's mountains were also completely denuded through a combination of logging and pollution from a mine smelter, and remain bare today. It is estimated that 10 million hectares of land have been affected throughout the history of mining in Australia.[7] Because Australia's mines are distributed across varying climates the knowledge gained from one mine's restoration does not easily extrapolate to other sites.[7]

Uranium mining has been controversial, partly for its alleged environmental impact but more so because of its end uses in nuclear power and nuclear weapons. The Australian Labor Party, one of Australia's two major parties, maintains a policy of "no new uranium mines". As of 2006, the increased world demand for uranium has seen some pressure, both internally and externally on the ALP, for a policy change.[34] Australia is a participant in international anti-proliferation efforts designed to ensure that no exported uranium is used in nuclear weapons.[35]

Mining disasters

Memorial for the workers who lost their lives at Mount Kembla, 1902

New Australian Gold Mine

Creswick in the Victorian goldfields was the site of The New Australasian No.2 Deep Lead Gold Mine. At 4:45 am, Tuesday 12 December 1882, 29 miners became trapped underground by flood waters that came from the flooded parallel-sunk No.1 mine shaft, only five men survived and made it to the surface. Despite two days of frantic pumping the waters filled the mine shaft. The trapped men scrawled last notes to their loved ones on billy cans before they drowned. Some of these have been kept and still bear the messages. The men that perished left 17 widows and 75 dependent children.[36]

Mount Kembla

In 1883 a coal mine was opened near Mount Kembla in the Illawarra District of New South Wales. In 1902 there was an explosion in the mine and 96 men and boys lost their lives, either while at work or in the course of trying to save the lives of others. Every family in the village lost a relative. A service of commemoration is held annually on 31 July at the Mount Kembla Soldiers' and Miners' Memorial Church. This is the worst mining disaster in Australia's history.[37]

Balmain Colliery

Balmain Colliery was located in Birchgrove, New South Wales and produced coal from 1897 until 1931 and natural gas until 1945. During this period, 10 miners lost their lives in three separate incidents:

1900 On 17 March 1900, six miners were being lowered down the Birthday shaft. At 1,424 feet the bucket they were travelling in caught on a projection, tipped over and five of the six men fell to their death in the shaft. As a result of this accident, the Mining Act was amended to provide guide rails in shafts to prevent bucket swinging or overturning.[38]

1932 In 1932, a year after the mine closed, a six-inch bore was sunk below the Birthday shaft to pipe Natural Gas to the surface. During the sinking of the bore, two men were killed when the gas ignited and exploded.[38]

1945 During the sealing of the Birthday shaft on 20 April 1945, a rudimentary test was being undertaken which ignited escaping gas and caused an explosion below the seal. The company manager and two men were killed in the accident and another two men injured.[38]

North Mount Lyell

On 12 October 1912, the North Mount Lyell Fire caused the death of 42 miners, and required breathing apparatus to be transported from Victorian mines at great speed, to rescue trapped miners. The subsequent royal commission was inconclusive as to the cause

Mount Mulligan

The 1921 Mount Mulligan mine disaster occurred in Far North Queensland. The coal dust explosion killed seventy-five men.

Mount Mulligan in Far North Queensland


Four serious accidents have occurred at mines in the Central Queensland town of Moura. The first accident took the lives of 13 men in September 1975. In July 1986 there was an explosion at Moura Number 4 Mine. 12 coal miners lost their lives in this disaster that sparked controversy after experts claimed the accident was avoidable. Another explosion killed two men in January 1994 and just eight months later another explosion deep underground took the lives of 11 men.[39]


On 26 June 2000, at the Bronzewing Gold Mine in Western Australia (400 kilometres from Kalgoorlie), 18,000 cubic metres of sand-slurry, sludge, mud and rock broke through a storage wall. Two men (Timothy Lee Bell, 21, Shane Hamill, 45) were killed and eight escaped the 'accident'. It took over a month to retrieve the men from the site.


Headworks over a shaft at Beaconsfield gold mine in Tasmania.

On 25 April 2006, part of an underground gold mine at Beaconsfield in Tasmania collapsed. One miner, Larry Knight, was killed by the rock fall, and two others, Brant Webb and Todd Russel, were trapped, leading to a rescue mission that took two weeks to get them out alive.


1887 At 2.30 pm on 23 March 1887, an explosion at the mine in Bulli in New South Wales killed 81 people.[40] A special commission was set up to investigate the explosion and concluded:

..that the explosion was caused by marsh gas or carbonic hydrate that had accumulated at the face. That the immediate cause was probably the flame from an overcharged shot fired by a miner in the coal in No. 2 Heading.

This gas explosion propagated a coal dust explosion and travelled towards the fresh air at the surface. The commission was also of the opinion that the Deputy, Overman and to a lesser extent the Manager, were all guilty of contributing negligence.[41]

1965 On 9 November 1965, a pocket of gas ignited in a panel several hundred yards from the main shaft and killed four miners. Ten mining rescue teams and the Southern Mines Rescue Station worked all night to extinguish the fire.[42]

Box Flat Mine

At the Box Flat Mine in Swanbank, South East Queensland, 17 miners were lost after an underground gas explosion occurred on 31 July 1972.[43] Another man died later from injuries sustained in the explosion. The mine tunnel mouths were sealed and the mine closed shortly after.[43]

Australian mining in literature, art and film

See also


  1. ^ "The Glen Osmond Mines". South Australian History. Flinders Ranges Research. Retrieved 5 June 2006. 
  2. ^ "Kapunda". South Australian History. Flinders Ranges Research. Retrieved 6 June 2006. 
  3. ^ "Burra". South Australian History. Flinders Ranges Research. Retrieved 6 June 2006. 
  4. ^ "The Moonta Mine". South Australian History. Flinders Ranges Research. Retrieved 6 June 2006. 
  5. ^ a b Sharieff, Afzal; Masood Ali Khan; A Balakishan (2007). Encyclopedia of World Geography: Volume 23, Australia and its Geography. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons. pp. 13–14. ISBN 81-7625-773-7. 
  6. ^ Caldwell, J. C. (1987). "Chapter 2: Population". In Wray Vamplew (ed.). Australians: Historical Statistics. Broadway, New South Wales, Australia: Fairfax, Syme & Weldon Associates. pp. 23 and 26. ISBN 0-949288-29-2. 
  7. ^ a b c Grant, Carl (2013). "State-and-Transition Models for Mining Restoration in Australia". In Suding, Katharine N.; Hobbs, Richard J. New Models for Ecosystem Dynamics and Restoration. Peter Society for Ecological Restoration International. p. 280. ISBN 9781610911382. Retrieved 19 September 2017. 
  8. ^ Tuck, Christopher A. (28 January 2016). "Mineral Commodity Summaries 2016" (pdf). Reston, VA: U.S. Geological Survey. pp. 90–91. Retrieved 22 February 2017. 
  9. ^ Kuck, Peter H. (28 January 2016). "Mineral Commodity Summaries – Nickel" (PDF). United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 28 January 2017. 
  10. ^ Bray, E. Lee (January 2016). "Mineral Commodity Summaries – Bauxite and Alumina" (PDF). United States Geological Survey. pp. 32–33. Retrieved 28 January 2017. 
  11. ^ Brininstool, Mark (January 2016). "Mineral Commodity Summaries – Copper" (PDF). United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 28 January 2017. 
  12. ^ "Gold Mining Map and Gold Production in 2016 – World Gold Council". gold.org. Retrieved 5 July 2017. 
  13. ^ George, Micheal W. (28 January 2016). "Mineral Commodity Summaries 2016" (pdf). Reston, VA: U.S. Geological Survey. pp. 152–153. Retrieved 22 February 2017. 
  14. ^ "World Uranium Mining". World Nuclear Association. September 2011. Retrieved 19 November 2011. 
  15. ^ "Minerals: Opal". Primary Industries and Resources South Australia. 20 August 2010. Retrieved 7 September 2010. 
  16. ^ Tolcin, Amy C. (28 January 2016). "Mineral Commodity Summaries 2016" (pdf). Reston, VA: U.S. Geological Survey. pp. 192–193. Retrieved 22 February 2017. 
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  20. ^ The Hon De-Anne Kelly MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Trade (3 May 2006). "Speech at the Australia China Business Council, Queensland Branch Business Dinner". Archived from the original on 15 June 2006. Retrieved 18 June 2006. 
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  23. ^ International Energy Agency. (31 August 2008) Coal Information 2008. Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development. ISBN 92-64-04241-5
  24. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 May 2011. Retrieved 23 May 2011. 
  25. ^ "ASX and Australian mining". Australian Stock Exchange. Archived from the original on 22 April 2006. Retrieved 4 June 2006. 
  26. ^ "1301.0 – Year Book Australia, 2005". 21 January 2005. Retrieved 18 June 2006. 
  27. ^ The Hon Peter Costello, MP, Treasurer of Australia (5 June 2002). "Address to the Minerals Council of Australia, 2002 Minerals Industry Dinner". speech. Government of Australia. Archived from the original on 20 August 2006. Retrieved 18 June 2006. 
  28. ^ Natural Resources Canada. "Canadian Minerals Yearbook, 2004". government of Canada. Archived from the original on 16 June 2006. Retrieved 19 June 2006. 
  29. ^ Statistics Norway. "Statistical Yearbook 2005". Government of Norway. Retrieved 19 June 2006. .
  30. ^ Bureau of Economic Analysis. "Gross-Domestic-Product-by-Industry Accounts". United States government. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 19 June 2006. 
  31. ^ "6291.0.55.003 Table 04: Employed persons by Industry – Trend, Seasonally adjusted, Original". Australian Bureau of Statistics. 16 March 2006. Retrieved 18 June 2006. 
  32. ^ "Mining Capability Overview". Austrade. Archived from the original on 14 February 2006. Retrieved 18 June 2006. 
  33. ^ "Deforestation – Gold". Special Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 19 June 2006. 
  34. ^ Patrick Walters & Joseph Kerr (4 April 2006). "PM threatens ALP on China uranium deal". The Australian. Archived from the original on 28 July 2007. Retrieved 19 June 2006. 
  35. ^ Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (2005). "Weapons of Mass Destruction: Australia's Role in Fighting Proliferation". Government of Australia. Archived from the original on 26 May 2006. Retrieved 19 June 2006. 
  36. ^ Gold-Net Australia Online – May 1999
  37. ^ Stuart Piggin and Henry Lee, The Mount Kembla Disaster, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1992
  38. ^ a b c Peter Reynolds, Balmain Places 2 – The Coal Mine Under The Harbour , Architectural History Research Unit, University of New South Wales, 1996, ISBN 0-908502-54-0
  39. ^ Barwick, John (1999). Australia's worst disasters: mining disasters. Port Melbourne, Victoria: Heinemann Library. pp. 24–25. ISBN 1-86391-886-8. 
  40. ^ Wollongong City Library, Bulli – History Archived 19 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved 2/11/06.
  41. ^ Illawarra Coal, Bulli Colliery Gas Explosion- 1887. Retrieved 2/11/06.
  42. ^ Illawarra Coal, Bulli Colliery Underground Fire – 1965. Retrieved 2/11/06.
  43. ^ a b Craig Wallace (4 June 2009). "Q150 bridge naming kicks off with Box Flat Bridge". Ministerial Media Statement. Department of the Premier and Cabinet. Retrieved 25 October 2010. 

External links