Australian coal mines as major employers?

We keep on hearing it – Australia needs coal mines, and more of them, in order to generate employment.

Here’s something to think about.

When Peabody Energy, the world’s biggest coal miner, sought bankruptcy protection in the US a little while ago there were ripples of concern in Australia over the possible loss of jobs from their coal mines here.

However the Federal Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg immediately reassured Australians that this was not a risk because of the importance of the local mines to the company.

“My primary concern is with the Australian operations of Peabody. They have 10 mines across Queensland and New South Wales, nearly 3,500 workers if you include the contractors and I spoke to the president of Peabody and they informed me that they will not be reducing their Australian workforce,” Frydenberg told the ABC.

“They have funding to continue with their Australian operations and they see their work in Australia as being core to their operations particularly the proximity their Australian mines have to key demand in Asia.”

So these aren’t tinpot little mines supplying local power plants, but part of the core of Peabody Energy’s operations supplying “key demand in Asia”.

Did you notice that these 10 key mines each employ an average of only 350 workers (including the associated contractors).

Apparently that’s not an unusual number.  The Glencore mine at Tahmoor in New South Wales is about to be closed, putting 350 people out of work.  Glencore produces coking coal (according to pro-mining lobbyists this is the key to the future of coal in Australia) and it also supplies overseas markets.

Just in passing, I wonder how many people are employed on average to deal with the environmental, climate change and human health impacts of just one of these coal mines.

In addition, it seems as if Frydenberg’s assurances about Peabody’s Australian mines might have been a bit of pre-election “voter calming” according to information now available from auditors Ernst and Young who drew attention to a note in the financial report “which details the principal conditions that raise doubt about the company’s and the consolidated entity’s ability to continue as a going concern”.

“As a result of these matters, there is significant uncertainty whether the company and/or the consolidated entity will continue as a going concern, and therefore whether they will realise their assets and extinguish their liabilities in the normal course of business and at the amounts stated in the financial report.”

Just how sustainable is Australia’s ongoing involvement in coal mining?

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