16 June 2015
Rumoured death of coal mining greatly premature – The Australian
Today’s Australian newspaper editorial on coal mining is below:
Coal was first discovered in New South Wales within a decade of the First Fleet’s arrival and, even before the 1850’s gold rush, copper and lead from the Adelaide Hills were outstripping Australia’s exports of wool and wheat. Our national prosperity has been underpinned by a diverse, innovative and competitive mining industry. The most recent resources investment boom carried us through the Global Financial Crisis and while we are shifting to a post-investment, volume-based phase, the demand for our mineral exports will continue to grow and bolster our economic wellbeing.
The mining industry accounts for up to half of the nation’s export earnings (exports topped $160 billion at the peak of the boom) and includes some of the nation’s largest tax contributors. It directly employs about 250,000 people (95 per cent of them full-time) and studies have shown each mining job generates three others. No company and no industry is beyond scrutiny. But the increasing numbers of activists who seek to attack and undermine parts of this industry need to understand they are playing with a crucial input that helps to fund myriad desirable services, such as hospitals, schools and environmental conservation.
The latest broadside comes from the national broadcaster which, despite being a beneficiary from our robust economy, has often been antagonistic towards one of our most important industries. The ABC, through its flagship current affairs program Four Corners and radio coverage, has accused the federal government of being “stuck in the past” because it stands by the coal industry. No matter that it is our second largest export and that Australia is the world’s second largest exporter or that the industry employees 45,000 people and provides more than 70 per cent of our electricity. This is the present; not the past.
The ABC reports on an investment fund selling out of coal to suggest the divestments from the resource are “gathering steam.” Apart from general economic factors, the downward pressure on coal prices in the US has come from other fossil fuel developments, particularly shale and coal-seam gas. Global demand for coal will continue to grow with China not expected to reach peak demand for about a decade and India expected to overtake China as the main importer of coal at the same time. Investments in coal mining are continuing at rates that are three times higher than a decade ago. Local producer Whitehaven, for instance, raised $1.4bn from banks just three months ago.
Technological advancement and policy decisions will drive a shift to nuclear and renewable energy but this is not going to happen overnight. For the foreseeable future coal will not only provide the bulk of the world’s energy but also drive the growth in energy production that is lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in China, India and elsewhere. The same forces driving renewable energy could also lead to clean coal technology. Like it or lump it, coal — and mining more generally — will underpin the national economy for decades to come.