The English established their first colony in Australia in 1788. For some reason they thought the continent would make a good penal colony, and over the next 80 years, 165,000 convicts were shipped from the overcrowded prisons in Britain to this raw, new land. Such a policy is unthinkable today. Besides, Australia has home-grown criminals locked up these days.
Australian prisoners are back in the headlines with the news that BHP Billiton and the South Australian Department of Correctional Services have created a partnership to put prisoners to work in the mines. Convicts deemed to be low security risks from the Port Augusta Prison will be given the opportunity to gain work experience at the Olympic Dam uranium mine site.
During their time at the mine, the prisoners will learn nationally accredited skills and trades. When their sentences are up, they will have valuable work experience and perhaps a chance at full time employment with BHP Billiton.
Prison labour has been used before by the Australian Department of Environment and Heritage, saving millions of dollars. But BHP Billiton is the first private company to create a partnership with the Department of Correctional Services. Prisoners will be housed at the mine site while they are in the program. It forms part of BHP Billiton’s Indigenous Participation Program, although the prisoners applying to the program need not be Indigenous. The first handful of participants were reportedly restoring two homesteads at Andamooka Station.
I can’t imagine Canadian prisoners volunteering for such a program in this country. Who would trade a warm prison cell in the south for the frigid Arctic, where many of the most interesting minerals are mined? Probably no one, as most Canadian’s still view mining as a dirty, dangerous business. Maybe the Australian population has a more realistic view of the industry. If that’s the case, they likely value its contributions to the country and know that individuals can benefit, too.