Coal wars 2.0: How workers will be pitted against billionaires in the search for votes

Queensland’s Coal war 2.0 has kicked off and this time it’s going to be intense.

Apr 08, 2024, updated Apr 08, 2024
Coal is likely to play a key role in the upcoming election

Coal is likely to play a key role in the upcoming election

There is nothing like an election year to focus the minds of business and politicians. For many on both sides it is an existential threat.

However, since the Adani saga died down and New Hope finally got its Acland expansion approval, the coal wars that had been so powerful a force died down, but were still bubbling along at a low level with only the odd hand grenade from either BHP or the Queensland Resources Council threatening to spark hostilities.

But that’s over. The gloves are off again and it’s “the workers’’ who will be front and centre in the campaign by billionaire Chris Wallin who is ”telling them where to go’’ along with Thiess, Sedgman, Macmahon and MPK in a campaign against the State Government’s “abuse of process’’ over QCoal’s Byerwen mine and the town of Glenden.

On the other side of the debate, environmental group the Australian Conservation Foundation has locked arms with the Mackay Conservation Group and the Environmental Defenders Office to drag Whitehaven into the Land Court for another legal saga over the approval of the Winchester South coal mine.

New Hope is back in the courts, as well, over the approval of the expansion.

It all sounds very 2011 when activists launched a strategy to slow down and disrupt the approval process of a host of coal mines in Queensland, which worked to some extent.

Meanwhile, the QRC is unlikely to let the election pass without ramping up its campaign against coal royalties, which could top $10 billion this year.

For the State Government it sets up a brawl that it is most likely to have already strategised as a fight between billionaires and the battlers. At least, you would like to think that there is someone in the Government who is strategising.

However, that’s the same ground that Wallin’s “tell them where to go campaign’’ is staking out over Byerwen, which was hit with special legislation last year that forced the company to relocate workers from a mining camp to the nearby town of Glenden in a bid to save the town from withering away when Glencore’s nearby Newlands mine came to the end of its life.

QCoal and Wallin are shaping the dispute as a fight for the workers and the rights over where they live.

But Wallin also believes he could lose his workforce who may not want to live in Glenden.

QCoal executive James Black said the issue was exacerbated by the fact that there is no available accommodation in Glenden to meet the legislative requirements as it is currently owned by Glencore, who will not allow access to anyone working on Byerwen mine.

“Even if we wanted to honour this appalling legislation, we can’t. The State Government cares nothing for the actual outcome, they just wanted the headline,” Black said.

Former corporate and LNP spin doctor Paul Turner has signed on to help Wallin.

“I have joined QCoal to help raise awareness of this abuse of process which saw special legislation introduced, targeting one Queensland mining company in an attempt to score a political win and make an awkward media issue go away,’’ Turner said in a LinkedIn post.

“The real victims have been the workers, and it has been exciting to give them a chance to have their say in their own words.’’

So remember that, it’s about the workers.

That framing of the debate is a reliable strategy. It was also used way back in the what was commonly known as the mining tax during the years of the Rudd Government, which many Labor supporters would prefer not to talk about.

It’s reliable because it can allow companies to find commmon ground with a key group. The Mining and Energy Union is likely to be a key player in this and they have supported the Government’s legislation.

ACF’s strategy at Winchester South treads over the similar ground used previously, including a breach of human rights.

“Approving a coal mine that produces coal to be burnt through to 2055 is reckless and inappropriate at a time when Australia – and the world – needs to cut emissions quickly, ACF chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said.

“This climate wrecking project will destroy the habitats of precious animals, including the endangered greater glider. We cannot stand by and allow that to happen.

“Whitehaven has a history of breaching environmental regulations and a record of drastically underestimating emissions from its coal mines.’’

All this means the months running up to the October election are likely to be flooded with Coal Wars 2.0.



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