Why are Australian government’s — especially in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria — so enamoured with doing everything they can to promote an expansion of the coal industry?

A big part of reason is down to the aggressive advocacy efforts of the pack of coal industry lobby groups — the Australian Coal Association (ACA), the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) and their state based fellow travellers, the New South Wales Minerals Council (NSWMC) and the Queensland Resources Council (QRC). In 2011 alone the four groups between them had a combined cash inflow of over $64 million to press the case for their corporate members.

The biggest of all the lobby groups is the MCA, which in 2011 had cash inflow of over $35 million and boasts a roll call of over 30 staff. The MCA’s role is largely advocacy for the policies favoured by the broad mining sector irrespective of the commodities they produce, such as on national environmental policy or taxation.  However, as the MCA’s income is mainly derived from a turnover-based levy on the income from the Australian operations of its 50 member companies, it primarily represents the views of the biggest mining companies, particularly the likes of Rio Tinto and BHP-Billiton. Of its 13-person Board of Directors, five — BHP-Billiton, Rio Tinto, Xstrata Coal Australia, Anglo American and Peabody — are major coal miners.

The MCA’s take-over of the Victorian Minerals & Energy Council in June 2004 has also seen it take up cudgels to defend Australia’s dirtiest coal polluters – the brown coal miners and burners in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.  The owners of the Loy Yang A, Hazelwood and Yallourn power stations — GDF SUEZ Hazelwood, AGL’s subsidiary Loy Yang Power and EnergyAustralia respectively – between them mine over 65 million tonnes of brown coal with most of it burnt in their own power stations. The MCA’s Victorian Division also has a couple of brown coal wannabees as members too. Mantle Mining, a one-time uranium explorer which morphed into a coal company when coal prices shot up, has run into strong opposition over its Bacchus Marsh coal project. Another brown coal booster is Ignite Energy Resources, which has been busy trying to entice other companies to invest in new brown coal projects.

The Australian Coal Association (ACA) is the next biggest of the coal industry’s lobby groups, boasting a 2011 cash inflow of $9.9 million and a staff of a dozen. (An ACA subsidiary promoting carbon capture and storage has another four staff). The ACA’s 24 members are all black coal miners and exporters from New South Wales and Queensland. As with the MCA’s membership roll, the parent companies of the coal companies have head offices scattered across the globe including from the UK, Brazil, China, the US, Switzerland and Japan.

Where the MCA has a broad mining charter, the ACA is a pure play pro-black coal lobby shop which largely operates behind the scenes pressing state and federal governments to do everything they can to expand coal mining and exports. Publicly the ACA spend much of their time spruiking the virtues of coal and railing against the growing anti-coal movement.

The ACA works in closely with the Queensland Resources Council and the New South Wales Minerals Council, each of which had cash inflow of over $9 million in 2011. While both the state-based lobby groups have members who aren’t in the coal sector, coal mining dominates the mining industry in both states by a big margin. The identification of the two groups with coal is so close that the CEO’s of the two groups – Stephen Galilee from the NSWMC and Michael Roche from the QRC – are members of the ACA’s Board of Directors.  The QRC for instance, has as member companies those proposing mega-mines in the Galilee Basin: GVK, Adani Mining, Bandanna Energy and Macmines Austasia. The four companies between them have ambitious plans to produce over 190 million tonnes of coal a year for export, far greater than the total amount of coal mined for all Australia’s coal-fired power stations.  In Western Australia and South Australia, where the coal sectors are relative minnows in the burgeoning minerals sector, coal companies are members of their state-based mining lobby groups. In Western Australia Lanco and Premier Coal are both members of the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA. In South Australia, Alinta Energy – which mines brown coal for burning in its two declining Port Augusta power stations – is a member of the South Australian Chamber of Minerals and Energy.

There are a few other smaller but none-the-less influential groups largely dedicated to defending fossil fuel interests. The Energy Supply Association of Australia represents power station owners while the mining industry dominated Australian Industry Greenhouse Network is dedicated to shaping Australia’s national and international climate policy to their sponsors’ interests. On top of all the coal industry lobby groups the major companies spend millions more on direct company efforts lobbying politicians though in-house staff and executives and external lobbyists. Added to all that is what coal companies spend on consultants, political donations, PR, advertising campaigns and community sponsorship.

All up it is a fair bet that the Australian coal industry spends well over $40 million a year and employs dozens of staff promoting the coal industry. As money spent by companies on lobbying is a tax-deductible expense, indirectly Australian taxpayers end up subsidising the Australia’s coal lobby’s promotion of a far, far more coal polluted future.

Bob Burton is Hobart-based author and is a Contributing Editor of CoalSwarm, an open access wiki documenting the global coal industry. Bob is a Director of the Sunrise Project.

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