Rio slashes 40 jobs, appeals Warkworth decision

RIO Tinto subsidiary Coal & Allied will appeal a decision by the New South Wales Land and Environment Court to halt the expansion of its Warkworth project in the Hunter Valley and has made 40 contractor and employee positions redundant at the mine.

Lou Caruana
Rio slashes 40 jobs, appeals Warkworth decision

Coal & Allied yesterday lodged its appeal in the Supreme Court against the NSW Land and Environment Court’s decision to overturn the 2012 development consent for the Warkworth extension project.

Coal & Allied acting managing director Darren Yeates said the company was forced to make a thorough review of future operations and employee numbers at Mount Thorley Warkworth after the Land and Environment Court decision.

“The unfortunate reality is this decision has come at a time when the Australian coal industry is struggling to remain globally competitive in the face of high costs, a strong Australian dollar and low prices,” he said.

“Mount Thorley Warkworth mine has been working to strengthen its long-term viability by reducing costs throughout this year.

“Regrettably, 40 employees and contractors are either having their position made redundant or being let go from the site today, as part of this ongoing work.”

The Warkworth extension project is the continuation of operations at Mount Thorley Warkworth mine, within the footprint of Coal & Allied’s existing mining tenements.

The existing consent expires in 2021 and the extension will allow mining to continue until 2033.

On existing production rates of around 12 million tonnes per annum, this would produce around 264Mtpa.

The NSW Department of Planning recommended approval and then referred the project to the independent Planning Assessment Commission, which conducted public hearings before approving the project on behalf of the NSW government in February 2012.

“The court’s decision is without precedent in New South Wales,” Yeates said.

“It overturns a three and half year approval process where the project secured approvals from the relevant state government regulators, the independent Planning and Assessment Commission and the Commonwealth government.

“This sets an alarming precedent for the assessment of continuing mines as well as new ones.

“It brings into question the ability to successfully secure development consents for major projects in New South Wales.

“This will have further implications for the viability of the mining sector, which generated $14.2 billion for the state’s economy last financial year and employed around 86,000 people.”

Australian Coal Association chief executive officer Dr Nikki Williams said mining companies needed to have confidence in state and federal government approval processes.

"We have a situation where a company has taken a proposal through three-and-a-half years of state and federal government approvals processes, based on the rules set out by these governments," she said.

"At the end of this period the project has received an approval, only for the approval to be overturned by an appeal on the merits of the state government's decision.

"We could get into a scenario where there is no end point in an approval process. If obtaining your formal approval is not the end point, how can a company invest with any confidence?"

Yeates said the rejection of the Warkworth extension project was an added threat to jobs at Mount Thorley Warkworth mine and its suppliers.

“Our appeal is aimed at providing security for our workforce, the many other businesses who rely on us and the wider mining industry,” he said.

“This appeal will seek to overturn a decision that will hurt not just Mount Thorley Warkworth mine and our employees but also the mining industry across New South Wales and the countless other businesses who rely on it.

“Mount Thorley Warkworth mine has been operating for 30 years and this rejection threatens the jobs of the 1300 employees who rely on its future.

“It’s also a significant blow for many other businesses across Australia, as Mount Thorley Warkworth spent more than $600 million with close to 1000 suppliers in this country last year.”


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