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Keywords:

  • industrial ecology;
  • input–output analysis (IOA);
  • material flow analysis (MFA);
  • mining;
  • resource use indicators;
  • structural decomposition analysis

Summary

This article presents an analysis of the material history of Australia in the period 1975–2005. The values of economy-wide indicators of material flow roughly trebled since 1975, and we identify the drivers of this change through structural decomposition analysis. The purpose of this work is to delve beneath the top-level trends in material flow growth to investigate the structural changes in the economy that have been driving this growth. The major positive drivers of this change were the level of exports, export mix, industrial structure, affluence, and population. Only improvements in material intensity offered retardation of growth in material flow. Other structural components had only small effects at the aggregate level. At a more detailed level, however, the importance of the mineral sectors became apparent. Improvements in mining techniques have reduced material requirements, but increased consumption within the economy and increased exports have offset these reductions. The full roll out of material flow accounting through Australian society and business and a systematic response to its implications will require change in the national growth focus of the last two generations, with serious consideration needed to reverse the current volume-focused growth of the economy and also to recast neoliberal and globalized trade policies that have dominated the globe for the past decades.