Article – ‘Unsupportive’ government threatens coal, miners warn

23 February 2015
Sarah-Jane Tasker
The Australian

AUSTRALIA’S coal sector contributed $66.2 billion to the east coast economy in one year, a ­figure top miners warn is at risk from “unsupportive” governments stifling growth.

The coal exporting states of Queensland and NSW provided that significant boost to their economies in 2013-14 through ­direct and flow-on contributions. The economic research, compiled by Lawrence Consulting, also highlighted that the sector in those two states employed, ­directly and indirectly, 381,815 full-time employees.
Coal has become the No 1 enemy to a growing chorus of groups that are determined to shut the industry down, but miners also fear regulatory policies are hurting jobs and growth.
Anglo American’s chief executive of coal, Seamus French, said the figures confirmed the mining industry’s significant contribution to the economy.
He warned that unsupportive regulatory environments put ­future investment — and sovereign wealth — at risk. “Unsupportive governments and challenging market conditions teamed with ill-informed anti-coal sentiments in the public space make doing business harder and harder, and it’s not just the mining communities under threat, it’s the people of Australia and their future opportunities that will suffer in the long-term,” he said.
Michael Roche, chief executive of the Queensland Resource Council, said the figures provided a timely reminder of the contribution coal made to the economy as NSW prepared for its March state election and as the new Queensland Labor government settled into office. Mr Roche said there was too much “easy talk” that Australia can live without coal in the economy.
Glencore’s head of global coal assets, Peter Freyberg, said facts were key to discussion about the Australian coal industry.
“The spread of misleading and false information by the anti-coal movement does the Australian public a disservice, can further impact real jobs and distracts from a genuine public debate about important policy issues,” he said.
Mr Freyberg said the coal industry was facing enormous challenges from low world prices and the high cost of doing business in Australia. “Given the current political volatility in Australia it is ­important federal and state governments set and maintain stable policies that enable our industry to compete in a global marketplace and maintain investor confidence,” he said.
Chris Salisbury, managing ­director of Rio Tinto’s Australian coal operations, said the long-term outlook for the coal industry and the contribution it made to the economy remained strong but only if it had a level playing field to compete on the global stage.
“Increasing regulations, delays in government approvals and anti-mining activists pose a very real risk to the future of the ­Australian coal industry, the tens of thousands of jobs its provides and the communities it helps to sustain,” he said.
Mark Vaile, chairman of Whitehaven Coal, which has been a steady focus of anti-coal movements, said the sector was crucial to the state and the national economies and needed support of governments.
“Proponents of new developments are prepared to go through due process, provided once a decision is made we then have ample protection under the law to deploy the capital to develop those projects once approved. We need to be confident it is not illegally interfered with by the Green movement.”
NSW Minerals Council chief executive, Stephen Galilee, said the call by the Greens in NSW for an end to the coal industry in five years was the “sort of nonsense” that was dangerous to the country. “We saw the last federal government rely on the Greens to stay in office and there is no ­reason that couldn’t happen again at a state or federal level in the ­future. That would be a very poor outcome for any of the major parties to have to pander to that sort of economic nonsense to stay in office.”
Mr Galilee added that the figures demonstrated what was at risk if the policy settings governing the sector were not right.
“It is unfortunate that not enough people appreciate the contribution that the coal industry is making to our country, not just in economic terms, but to our way of life through the energy it provides and the products that it delivers to our society,” he said.
Yancoal Australia’s general manager of investor relations and corporate affairs, James Rickards, said “ignorance and outrage” would not replace the millions of dollars invested annually, across the sector, into communities.
“While it may not be socially acceptable for parties to acknowledge the positive difference mining’s financial investment can make in the lives of others, it cannot be ignored,” he said.
Fears for $66bn coal benefit
Courtesy of The Australian