Grosvenor blast lays bare, yet again, the crisis in our state’s largest industry

Queensland’s most economically important sector is in crisis. Thoughts and prayers won’t do. The devastating accident at the Grosvenor coal mine this week has to result in answers and change.

May 08, 2020, updated May 08, 2020
The farming and mining sectors are pitted against each other over planned legislation. (Photo: Array)

The farming and mining sectors are pitted against each other over planned legislation. (Photo: Array)

From the re-emergence of black lung to the latest incident this week where five workers were horrifically injured at the Grosvenor mine there are too many examples of how the mining sector has failed its workforce, shareholders and the public.

You would think that an industry already facing an existential crisis because of its impact on climate change would be doing its utmost to prove it has social value, but its history is littered with disasters and despite all the inquiries and resets the deaths and injuries keep occurring.

Is there any more telling example of an industry that is not meeting community expectations than an unchanging story of disaster?

There were six mining-related deaths in 2019, the worst since 1997. There was another earlier this year at the Curragh mine owned by Coronado. Anglo’s Grosvenor mine also had a roof collapse at the start of 2020. In 2018, the Peabody-owned North Goonyella mine caught fire.

Go back further and there were the terrible disasters at Moura. Eleven men died there in 1994 at the Number 2 mine. In 1986, 12 miners were killed at the Moura No 4 Mine after an explosion. In 1975, 13 miners died at Kianga Mine after an explosion, which was found to have been caused by spontaneous combustion.

Minerals Industry Safety and Health Centre’s David Cliff, a former health and safety adviser to the Queensland Mining Council, said last year that the current figures – “the highest we’ve had in about 20 years” – flew in the face of modern standards and he’s right.

One or two would be an aberration, he said, but six was not an aberration. The parliamentary inquiry into black lung found there had been “catastrophic failures” in public administration.

The evidence should be enough. Radical change has to come.

Sure, it’s inherently dangerous, coal mining in particular, but what is occurring is unacceptable.

The resources sector is crucially important to Queensland. It underpins our economic success, it employs thousands in high paying jobs, it is a major exporter and delivers billions of dollars each year to the Budget. But none of that is a reason to let it continue the way it is.

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There have already been two safety reviews and in July last year, the Queensland Government called an emergency meeting for the sector to identify immediate and longer-term measures to improve safety and health for the state’s 49,000 mine and quarry workers. There was also last year’s “reset” for mines to focus on safety.

There is little doubt Mines Minister Anthony Lynham has genuine concerns. He’s voiced them many times and black lung was a defining issue for him, but somewhere along the way there have been failures. Whether it is in public administration or the companies themselves there is no doubt that there systemic failures that are costing lives.

If not resolved the future of mining in Queensland looks bleak. Who would work for an industry with such a poor track record, where there was a good chance that a worker won’t make it home tonight? Who would invest in such an industry?

The Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane has said he supports any examination into the Grosvenor mine incident that will give everyone a clearer understanding of what happened and what, if any, additional measures can be taken in our mines.

“The Minister has discussed the option of a Board of Inquiry with me.  I understand this inquiry would be in addition to the Mines Inspectorate investigation already underway. QRC will cooperate fully with all and any inquiries,” he said.

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