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Australian mining lobby launches ad blitz urging reforms after coal projects blocked

[MELBOURNE] An influential lobby group for Australia's multi-billion dollar coal mining industry has launched an advertising blitz to rally public support for an overhaul of state planning laws after a commission blocked new projects citing climate change concerns.

Funded by the mining industry including global giant BHP Group, the New South Wales Minerals Council said on Tuesday it would draw on a multi-million dollar "fighting fund" in promoting the campaign "to protect NSW jobs and the economy".

Last week the New South Wales Independent Planning Commission (IPC) rejected Korea Electric Power Corp's Bylong coal project, the third to be knocked back this year in Australia on climate change concerns.

Coming just hours after teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg accused global leaders of failing to act fast enough to protect the environment at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the campaign signals Australia's coal industry is ready to fight its corner: The coal economy has been a key electoral battleground in Australia, with many voters swayed by concerns over jobs.

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"The (mining) industry has repeatedly warned the (NSW state) Planning Minister of the risks to the NSW economy ... These issues reached crisis point last week following the (IPC) decision to refuse consent for the Bylong project," NSW Minerals Council chief executive officer Stephen Galilee said in a statement.

"This refusal has meant the loss of 1,100 jobs for the local region and over a billion dollars in investment to NSW."

The IPC declined to comment. But it has rejected suggestions that it is a vehicle for planning reformers or activists in the Australian press, saying that its job is to address the public interest.

Australia, among the world's largest per capita carbon emitters, is also the world's largest coal exporter. New South Wales is the second largest coal producing state, behind Queensland, accounting for 248.6 million tonnes of raw coal output in 2018.

State mining royalties are at record levels and predicted to contribute around A$1.97 billion (S$1.84 billion) to the state's economy a year in the period up to 2022-2023, according to the NSW Minerals Council.

The launch of the new campaign comes as ethical investors led by the Church of England step up pressure on BHP to divorce itself from funding lobby groups who advocate for policies inconsistent with the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

The group has lodged a resolution to be heard at BHP's upcoming London annual general meeting on Oct 17. BHP has recommended investors reject the resolution partly on the basis it is already reviewing its memberships.

BHP could not immediately provide a comment on the NSW Minerals Council move.