Peter Smith

Union bosses sack the workers

Where are the union leaders on this jobs-destroying carbon (dioxide) tax? Are they so gutless that they will let Bob Brown and his inner city elite supporters take away their members’ jobs?

Are they just a bunch of political poseurs putting their membership of the Labor Party and their political ambitions ahead of their members’ interests? Are they new-age university-educated union bosses captured by the fashionable fad of climate change and far removed from the workers they represent? These are questions without answers. It is quite simply a mystery why unions are dancing to the tune of the Greens.

Back in April there was one bright spot. Paul Howes, the National Secretary of the AWU, promised that his union would oppose the carbon tax if it cost just one job. Never mind the “one job” hyper-bowl; does Mr Howes intend to stick to this principled position? I don’t know but it seems doubtful. The union movement has nailed its green colours to the mast.

The ACTU and its President Ged Kearney is clearly on the side of the Greens. “Unions welcome the agreed process by the Government, Greens and independents to develop an effective pricing mechanism, beginning with a fixed price in 2012 and moving to a full-scale emissions trading scheme within three to five years.”

Dave Oliver, the National Secretary of the AMWU, has convinced himself that damaging Australia’s competitive position will create jobs. “We believe there are quite a few upsides to tackling climate change and that Australia could benefit from investing to become a leader in the clean and renewable energy sector.” Too right mate, we’ll be able to sell windmill power to China.

Tony Maher, General President of the mining and energy division of the CFMEU, was recently interviewed (if that’s the right description for this amiable chat) on Channel 10’s Meet the Press. Mr Maher voiced his wholehearted support for a carbon tax. His only expressed condition being that “gassy mines” were protected.

All these union officials should be made to look at the interview on Lateline last week (29 June) of Mr Ralph Hillman, the executive director of the Australian Coal Association. Mr Hillman was marvel of matter-of-fact information and commonsense in the face of some hard and persistent questioning from reporter Steve Cannane.

Mr Hillman explained that the black coal industry in NSW and Queensland employed 40,000 workers directly and was responsible for another 100,000 indirectly. Cannane asked how many jobs might be lost as a result of the tax. Hillman explained that his association had “commissioned ACIL Tasman to model the impact of the proposed carbon tax…on individual mines”. This modelling had shown that “18 mines would be rendered unprofitable, with about 4,700 direct jobs involved and were therefore at risk of closure”. Mr Howes might reflect that this is a few more than just one job! And this only the black coal industry.

Cannane: The 18 mines that you’ve identified, are they high emissions mines, underground mines, gassy mines?

Hillman: Well, that’s the interesting thing – and the report quite clearly makes this point: it’s not just gassy mines, or it’s not just underground mines. It’s mines with a high-cost structure vis-à-vis their revenue.

This should interest Mr Maher and his members who work in those high cost mines. Has Maher lined up green jobs for these workers when they are thrown out of work?  

Cannane (persisting despite Hillman’s answer): Because if it is a gassy mine, hasn’t Greg Combet said that those kind of high-emission mines would get industry assistance?

Hillman: Under the 2009 proposal, the Government proposed $1.5 billion for gassy mines over five years. Now what the modelling – I repeat – said is it’s not just gassy mines; it goes to cost structure, not gassiness. There can be very, very profitable gassy mines, OK?

And of course, no assistance package will change that fact: that the carbon price will render investment in Australian coal mining less attractive in general, but it won’t cut global emissions of course; production will simply take place elsewhere.

Was there nobody out there in the union movement listening to any of this? Have they all become stupid through imagined carbon dioxide poisoning? 

Hillman added that the modelling: not only looked at existing mines, it looked at prospective mines, people’s plans for new investment. And it found that between 25 and 37 per cent of the employment that would’ve been created by new mines won’t take place.

Either Hillman’s commissioned modelling is badly wrong or unions are conspiring with the Greens to expand overseas coal industries at the expense of Australia’s. It is as simple and reprehensible as that. 

Cannane tried to put the issue in the perspective of continued growth whatever the government does to put artificial obstacles in the way. Hillman swatted him away:

There is an expectation that if China continues to motor on and there’s no major interruption to global growth, that there remain growth prospects for Australian coal mining even with a carbon tax. But these will be substantially reduced. There will still be some mine closures and loss of jobs and disruption. 

Cannane persisted and persisted and so did Hillman:

We are not saying the Australian coal mining industry will collapse. We are saying there will be substantially less growth, which means a big reduction in income to Australia.
Cannane: What evidence is there that overseas producers of coal could take advantage of any increase in productions costs via a carbon tax?

Hillman: Oh, there’s plenty of evidence of that… there are plenty of active exporters out there like the United States, South Africa, Indonesia… There are too many new suppliers, like Mongolia, massive reserves, coming into the market. 

The whole interview is an effective indictment of a reckless policy of purposeless self-inflicted harm pursued by a Labor government in the pocket of the Greens; cheered on by unions who appear willing to sell their members’ jobs down the river. If it wasn’t happening you would say it was unbelievable.

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