Carbon tax rematch: coal industry vs the feds

THE Australian Coal Association’s advertising campaign against the carbon tax will be lengthy and Prime Minister Julia Gillard is already taking it seriously, according to ACA executive director Ralph Hillman.
Carbon tax rematch: coal industry vs the feds Carbon tax rematch: coal industry vs the feds Carbon tax rematch: coal industry vs the feds Carbon tax rematch: coal industry vs the feds Carbon tax rematch: coal industry vs the feds

Australian Coal Association executive director Ralph Hillman.

Blair Price

The first match up was a technical knockout victory for the ACA and the unpredictable Greens party in 2009, with the Rudd government aborting its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme after it was knocked down three times in the Senate.

Having aligned with the Greens this time round, Labor’s new push for a carbon tax could turn into a rumble.

The ACA was alone when it spent $4-5 million on its campaign against the CPRS two years ago.

But the wider impacts from the new incarnation of the carbon tax could result in several different campaigns against this plan from a broader alliance of business interests – especially those tied to the manufacturing industry.

After sounding out the independently researched carbon tax impacts to the coal industry to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Hillman said Gillard was forced to get out and respond to the media that evening.

“They are taking us very seriously because they know last time it [the 2009 ACA campaign] caused them an enormous amount of grief,” Hillman told ILN on Friday.

Like last time, the ACA is targeting the Hunter Valley and Illawarra regions, where most direct coal mining jobs are expected to be lost.

Hillman said the ACA would campaign jointly with other business groups or separately no matter what happened.

Print advertisements have already been running in the national daily newspapers and regional newspapers such as the Illawarra Mercury and the Newcastle Herald.

He said the campaign in the national and regional media would continue right up to the introduction of the carbon tax legislation in “mid August and beyond”.

Ads will run while the legislation is debated in parliament and as it goes to a vote in the Senate.

On the lobbying front, the ACA is working behind the scenes talking to Labor politicians and state premiers.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet’s two main efforts to consult with the big coal companies have only strengthened its resolve.

In the last meeting Combet’s team only sought to discuss possible compensation measures to the coal mining industry, according to Hillman, who said compensation of $A1-1.5 billion over five years was “chicken feed” compared to the $18 billion the industry would have to pay.

“This is going to cost thousands of jobs,” he said.

“It’s going to put off investment, it’s going to close mines; it’s going to be a real tax on the competiveness of this industry.

“We have spent a lot of time explaining the facts. There is no technology available or prospective to deal with fugitive emissions from open cut mines or from mine shaft ventilation air.

“The real point of their five-year package is, once it ends, the mines that were going to close [under the carbon tax] will close.

“It may keep some mines in the Illawarra and the Hunter running for an extra three or four years but that’s it.”

Based on the government’s carbon emissions reduction target, the ACA expects the carbon tax will have to ramp up to $50 a tonne by 2019-20.

Hillman said the mines which would have to close were not necessarily the highest emitters but the operations that were marginally profitable.

While the government has focused on the amount of expansion in the Australian coal mining industry ahead, Hillman expects most growth will be in Queensland and west of Gunnedah in New South Wales under the carbon regime.

He expects 3000 direct coal mining jobs to be lost in NSW, with most lost in the Hunter Valley and the Illawarra “where miners have been living for decades”.

“That’s where the jobs are going to go so you are looking at a bit of a structural shift in the industry driven by this tax.”

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