NSW Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee believes there is “definite cause for positivity” in the mining industry.
With the Hunter Coal Festival in full swing, Mr Galilee spoke at a specially-convened Muswellbrook Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) breakfast at the Muswellbrook Race Club on Tuesday, less than a day after addressing a similar event for the Singleton Business Chamber.
And, he was impressed by the presence of so many BHP Billiton, Bengalla, Mangoola, Yancoal, Malabar Coal and MACH Energy representatives in attendance, along with other mining-related businesses.
“We’re in good shape on what I’m seeing and hearing at the moment,” he said.
“In fact, I’ve never witnessed so many hi-vis at a breakfast before.
“But, the industry’s enjoying sustained higher coal prices – I feel we’re out of the downturn now.
“That’s driving optimism in the mining sector.”
His statements certainly paint a rosier picture than six years ago.
“Since 2012, one in five workers lost their jobs [in the industry],” Mr Galilee admitted.
“That can hit communities hard, especially towns like Muswellbrook and Singleton.
“While I don’t consider we will return to the ‘glory days’ of the boom period, it is all starting to turn around again.
“Up to June 30, 2017, $4.5 billion was spent directly in the Hunter.
“That figure could become the new ‘norm’.
“There was a slight increase in local spending in Singleton, while it was a slight fall in Muswellbrook.
“However, I’ll be surprised if that doesn’t show a significant rise next time around.
“Local jobs also grew by 300 in Singleton, in the past financial year, and they remained steady in Muswellbrook.”
While I don’t consider we will return to the ‘glory days’ of the boom period, it is all starting to turn around again.Stephen Galilee
Mr Galilee also conceded there was room for “improvement”.
“Our industry isn’t perfect,” he said.
“We have to listen to our communities along the way.
“That’s because we are a community-based industry – and we need to work together.
“It’s a reason we’re supporting the Upper Hunter Mining Dialogue and Hunter Coal Festival as well.
“At the end of the day, mining makes a big contribution to the local economy.”
Mr Galilee weighed in on the Liddell power station debate, too.
“Whatever happens to it won’t affect the future of our industry,” he said.
“We’re being told it’s at the end of its life; that it’s decrepit and so forth.
“And, yet, there are about three credible buyers who are interested in Liddell – hopefully, AGL lets them make a bid.
“If they [the buyers] say it’s not feasible, fair enough.
“But, I don’t think AGL is being totally upfront.”
Meanwhile, the NSW Labor Party says the Liberals and Nationals are guilty of rank hypocrisy because of their push to decide the future of Liddell.
The facility was built and then owned by the NSW Government for decades before the Liberals and Nationals privatised it in 2014 giving it to its current owner, AGL.
This was despite the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission trying the block the transaction because it was likely to lead to higher electricity prices.
Now that AGL wants to transform the site into a renewables hub, the government is pretending like it was never sold – and that they can’t decide what to do with it, according to Labor leader in the Legislative Council and Shadow Minister for Energy Adam Searle.
“Keeping Liddell’s coal-fired generators going beyond 2022 fails on each count,” he said.
“In the energy space, everyone should be working towards electricity that is reliable, affordable and sustainable.
“The current Prime Minister is trying to engage in the kind of crony capitalism seen in modern-day Russia, by trying to force the sale of Liddell to an operator he approves of.
“This is completely hypocritical.
“His party in NSW literally gave the Liddell power station away to AGL and with it the right to decide how that asset is operated or used in the future.
“At the time, the federal coalition government supported the privatisation of Liddell.”