Reuters Sydney

Australia’s richest person, mining magnate Gina Rinehart, warned yesterday that Australia was becoming too expensive for mining firms, which she said could hire workers for less than $2 (R17) a day in Africa.

Her remarks, denounced by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, coincide with growing concern over the strength of Australia’s mining boom in the face of weaker demand from China and tumbling prices of iron ore, its biggest export earner.

In the past week, Australia’s Fortescue Metals Group said it would slash capital spending by 25 percent, while BHP Billiton has shelved a $20 billion copper and gold mine expansion in Australia.

“The evidence is inarguable that Australia is becoming too expensive and too uncompetitive to do export-oriented business,” Rinehart told the Sydney Mining Club. “We are becoming a high-cost and high-risk nation for investment.”

Gillard criticised her remarks, saying the mining sector had an investment pipeline of $500bn, of which nearly half was at an advanced stage.

“It’s not the Australian way to toss people $2 then ask them to work for a day,” Gillard said. “We support proper wages and decent working conditions.”