We can't count on coal to dig us out of an economic hole

This week the Queensland Resources Council released a wish-list of mining projects it wants fast-tracked by our government, including six coal mines in the Galilee Basin and several in the Bowen and Surat Basins. Most of those mines are still undergoing federal and state assessment processes, including developing Environmental Impact Statements. Others have not been able to obtain finance. A High Court challenge by farmers over threats to water supply stands in the way of another.

Thermal coal (the type that produces electricity) has suffered from declining prices for nearly two years. It was selling for US$120 per tonne in July 2018 but by April this year it was less than half that price. According to respected industry analyst, Rory Simington of Wood Mackenzie, 30 per cent of Australia’s thermal coal mines are currently unprofitable due to low prices. 

On top of that Chinese purchasers are shunning Australian thermal coal in favour of local or Russian product. The federal government’s Office of the Chief Economist predicts that thermal coal prices are unlikely to recover significantly over the next five years. 

Nobody should be banking on coal to dig us out of an economic hole.

Mining companies also ignore their environmental responsibilities. In Queensland there are 15,000 abandoned mines, including 317 medium to giant mines. The mining industry has fully rehabilitated less than one quarter of one per cent of the land it has disturbed. No rehabilitation has been undertaken on 92 per cent of mined land. When the Queensland Government proposed reform of mine rehabilitation laws, the mining industry bullied the government into excluding current and proposed mines. That will enable more than 200 giant pits to remain un-rehabilitated, polluting and draining water tables forever.

Rather than backing new coal mines, the Queensland Government should be fast-tracking renewable energy projects. The Western Australian government recently approved the first stage of the Asian Renewable Energy Hub. This project will be the worlds largest electricity producer, generating 26 gigawatts of electricity at its peak. It will create the equivalent of 60 per cent of Australia’s current energy usage. It’s electricity will be used to manufacture hydrogen for export to Japan and other East Asian countries that don’t have the land, sun or wind to do it themselves. That’s the sort of project that will generate the jobs of the future. 


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