Mining exploration applications plunge in Australia

Western Australia's Department of Mines and Petroleum says the number of people applying for mining exploration permits in the mineral-rich state has plunged.

ABC News reports that the number of people applying to prospect or explore for minerals fell by almost 200 in the final quarter of 2012 compared to the preceding quarter, despite an increase in total application numbers.

The department says high operating costs in Western Australia are the likely culprit for the drop in applicants.

Analysts in Australia have long said the country's China-backed mining boom is approaching an end, with a lofty Aussie dollar and surging operating costs severely comprising the country's international competitiveness.

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies says tightening of financial channels is another reason for the fall in applications for exploration permits.

According to AMEC chief executive Simon Bennison both retail and institutional investors have become more cautious with their cash over the past year, with equity finance hard of access at present.