'As leader of the union representing Australian coal miners and power workers, the climate challenge has been on my radar for a very long time. There is so much at stake for members, their families and communities in getting climate policy right. So it is beyond disheartening to witness the destruction of good policy and the degradation of the debate over the past decade. In the absence of a coherent and economy-wide energy and climate strategy, we instead have entrenched Climate Wars where coal is the only villain and many participants have reflexive rather than rational positions.' - Speech to Sydney Institute, 27 November 2019
Twenty years ago, our union stared down a fiercely anti-union government and won. When the Oakdale miners lost their jobs and entitlements when the mine operator suddenly went into administration in 1999, we were up against a government that had sent dogs and masked goons on to the waterfront to break a strong union.
The introduction of the Morrison Government’s Ensuring Integrity Bill signals that we are heading towards another major assault on unions’ rights to do their core job of representing members.
If you want confirmation that our politics on energy and climate is truly cooked, look no further than the febrile reaction to BHP's announcement that it intends to work with customers along its supply chain to reduce carbon emissions.
There’s no question that coal was at the centre of May’s federal election. Green activists and the ‘stop Adani’ campaign made sure of that, with their convoy into Queensland backfiring when it turned out that people in coal regions support our second largest export industry and the jobs it provides.
What would a labour hire boss say if a casual mineworker asked for a permanent job? A) No B) Don’t come back tomorrow C) Nothing, too busy laughing.
Yet the ‘right to request’ permanent work is what the Coalition is proposing as a solution to the casualisation crisis in our industries.
Australia’s top three coal producers, Glencore, BHP and Yancoal, recorded hefty profits last year from coking and thermal coal. These three companies control well over half of Australian black coal production and all have said they are enjoying great cash margins (reflecting profit after operating costs) of about 45%.
The exit of Rio Tinto from the global coal industry has seen it replaced in Australia by Yancoal and an even-bigger Glencore. Rio clearly thinks the long term prospects for coal are poor, but right now it has said good bye to the healthy profits that the coal majors are making.
Last week, global mining giant Rio Tinto announced the development of a new $3.5 billion, 43 million tonnes per annum Koodaideri iron ore mine in the Pilbara – to replace production from depleting mines nearby and position the company for further growth. But the company’s job forecasts for the new mine show it will deliver far fewer jobs than current operations.
Australia’s coal-ﬁred power stations will all close in the next two or three decades. We know this because the companies that operate the 23 power stations currently operating nation-wide have told us so.
Despite the empty rhetoric of some, it is unlikely that the economic case for investing in new coal-ﬁred power stations in Australia will stack up. Those who currently own and operate coal power stations have no plans to build new ones.