North Australia Digest – 16/01/2013

The Australian
Rio Tinto has flagged more job cuts at Australian coalmines as depressed prices and high cost make continued cost cutting necessary. The big miner is expected to log its worst half year profit in three years next month. Rio chief Tom Albanese said the business was performing well despite volatile markets, but a cost-cutting program that began last year would continue. “Across the group we are taking action to roll back unsustainable cost increases,” he said.
Australia’s long term relationship with Indonesia was badly damaged by the 2011 live cattle export ban, according to David Farley, chief executive of the Australian Agricultural Company.  The live ban also led to a substantial change in attitude toward Australian beef. “When that happened the Indonesian government decided to pursue a policy of self sufficiency in beef,” Mr Farley said, “the number of live cattle we are selling into Indonesia dropped from around 750,000 head a year in 2001, to around 250,000 last year and the Indonesians are predicting around 200,000 in 2013,” he said.
Federal ministers have not been able to view the latest revenue figures from the minerals resources rent tax as the government’s lawyers have warned doing so would breach federal law. The advice came as the Coalition demanded the disclosure of the mining tax results in the midst of a renewed political fight over whether the divisive policy could deliver the $2 billion claimed for it this financial year.
Woodside Petroleum has defended plans to drill on land south of James Price Point known to contain indigenous heritage sites. “Woodside will avoid sites where possible, or minimise any disturbance to them,” a company spokeswoman said.
The Australian Financial Review
Rio Tinto is facing a 40 per cent fall in full-year earnings despite bumper iron ore production levels, prompting an intensified focus on cost-cutting. The miner produced a record 253 million tonnes of iron ore last year – surpassing its market guidance – but factors such as lower prices, a high Australian dollar and rising costs hurt earnings margins.
Many Australian non-ferrous miners are anxious over the unpredictability of the Gillard government and the “potential that it might yet retarget the absurdly ineffective mining profits tax across a broader set of commodities” writes Senior AFR resources columnist Mathew Stevens.
The realities of global coal supply and demand are persistently ignored by the anti-coal movement, according to Niki Williams, chief executive of the Australian Coal Association.  Mrs Williams says some perspective should be taken on the debate over Australia’s coal production and the link to climate change, saying that any move away from Australian coal production “would be futile if the aim is to reduce emissions.”
The West Australian
West Australian farmers are campaigning for the power to veto hydraulic fracturing on agricultural land in the countdown to the state election. Industry group WAFarmers will lobby all major parties for the introduction of an “agricultural impact assessment” process for mining and oil and gas projects.
A plan by BHP Billiton and Apache Energy to explore for oil reserves for its $US1.7 billion Pyrenees floating production vessel has been thrown into chaos, with the Federal Government mounting a rearguard action to protect the nearby Ningaloo Reef. Despite the wider region already producing 60 per cent of the nation’s oil, Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke yesterday rejected a bid by Apache Energy to look for petroleum in an area that takes in the very tip of the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Marine Park
Woodside is pressing ahead with its plans for a gas hub at James Price Point, with one of its contractors applying to build a massive camp outside Broome to house 857 transient workers. “The camp will minimise the use of established tourist accommodation during Broome’s tourist peak season,” a Woodside spokeswoman said. Woodside said strategies were in place to “maximise community benefit”, including opportunities for local business participation, and to “minimise the impacts of the Browse development on the local community.”