Big Miners Are The Ultimate ‘Leaners’

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The mining lobby was up in arms after the Queensland government delivered its latest budget. It shows just how entitled the industry has become, writes Rod Campbell.

In my last column I looked at how little the coal and gas industries contribute to the Queensland state budget. Now let’s see what they take out of it.

Between 2008-09 and 2012-13 the coal industry was like Augustus Gloop winning a golden ticket to the Queensland Budget Wonka Factory every year. During those six years they gobbled down $7.6 billion in state-funded infrastructure.

If you listen to the lobbyists at the Queensland Resource Council, you’d think that this year the Treasury Oompa Loompas had served them up nothing but water and carrot sticks:

[The Queensland] budget seems to ignore the importance of encouragement for exploration and discovery of new minerals and energy deposits.

Translate this econobabble into English, by swapping the word “encouragement” for “money”.

But look a little harder, Augustus, there’s plenty of chocolate in the Budget Papers for you.

As usual, the Queensland taxpayer is paying for the coal industry’s infrastructure. $75 million will go towards upgrading the RG Tanna Coal Terminal in Gladstone. Another $39 million will be spent on other parts of Gladstone’s port that assist coal, gas and other users. (page 118)

Further north, the state-owned North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation has:

Allocated $29.5 million to continue port planning and development initiatives to meet industry requirements for export coal facilities. (page 119)

“Program Highlights” of this spending includes almost $8 million to buy out residential properties to provide future “buffer” land between a coal terminal and the rest of the community.

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The state-owned port of Abbot Point gained a lot of coverage under plans to expand the port in order to open up huge new coal mines in the Galilee Basin, like Adani’s massive Carmichael Project. Dredge spoil from the port expansion was to be dumped close to the Great Barrier Reef.

The Budget Papers describe Abbot Point as a “strategic asset due to its proximity to the Bowen Basin [and]Galilee Basin”. The port doesn’t get any serious money in this budget, but it will:

[Once] the Government is satisfied about the commercial viability and financial arrangements proposed for Adani’s projects. (page 21)

Clearly, there is still the intention to put taxpayers money into infrastructure subsidies for Adani. Keep your hands on your wallets, Queensland!

But wait, there’s more.

The state-owned Meandu Coal mine is slated to get over $60 million in new investment, including $10 million for exploration and further development. Yes that’s right. At a time when we should be moving away from coal, the Queensland government is putting taxpayer money into expanding its own mines. (Page 56)

The Meandu mine feeds the Tarong Power Station, also state-owned and also scoring a $20 million refurbishment in this budget. Other state-owned fossil fuel generation assets are also in line for around $67 million of capital investment. (Page 47-48)

Compare these sums to what the Budget has for renewables. $3.8 million on existing hydro projects, $4.4 million for the Birdsville Geothermal plant and just $700,000 in solar investments for off-grid projects at Coconut Island in the Torres Straight and Camooweal on the Northern Territory border. (page 60)

I know, I know, some of this spending also generates a return. But it’s still a subsidy, as Queensland Treasury (page15) has been saying for years:

Governments face budget constraints and spending on mining related infrastructure means less infrastructure spending in other areas, including social infrastructure such as hospitals and schools.

We can spend money on services for people, like schools and hospitals, or we can spend it on services for the mining industry.

Or we can spend money cleaning up the mess that mining companies leave behind. The budget includes:

$42 million in increased funding over five years to 2020–21, with $8 million ongoing from 2021–22, for the Abandoned Mine Lands Program to manage the public safety risks associated with abandoned mine sites across Queensland. (page 22)

An extra $8 million per year might not seem like much when the Queensland Audit Office estimates the state has $1 billion worth of unrehabilitated mine sites, but every bit counts. Amazingly, the mine lobbyists forgot to mention this in their budget response. Anyone would think that they weren’t pleased that the taxpayer was cleaning up after them.

In the book the Oompa Loompas also cleaned up after Augustus Gloop. But at least they then kicked him out. In this version of Charlie and the Queensland Budget Chocolate Factory, the fat kid seems to get the everlasting gobstopper every year.

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Rod Campbell

Rod Campbell is Director of Research at The Australia Institute think tank.

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