The Price of Coal - NZ 2012
By Mark P. Williams
25th Sept 2012
Today the Minister of State Owned Enterprises, MP Tony Ryall, met with miners' representatives from Spring Creek who had journeyed to Parliament from Greymouth to make an appeal to the government to preserve their jobs and to intervene financially; below are videos of the Minister's statement and the reaction from miners' representative Trevor Bolderson.
Most of what was said by the minister had unpleasant echoes in the history of de-nationalisation of primary industries in the UK under successive Conservative governments, particularly the closure of UK collieries from 1984 onwards (see also the BBC). Although the ideological divide between the minister and the miners is not the same political gulf that divided government and miners in the UK, the fundamental assumptions driving their perspectives are as starkly divided. The position of the government is that a non-interventionist approach to industrial employment is the most appropriate response under the present global economic conditions; the miners argue that this is short-sighted and, consequently, the company and government are serving their communities very badly by their actions.
The major issue that concerns the New Zealand government,
which Tony Ryall's statement focuses on, is the
profitability of coal mining. This is a question still
hanging over the future of the largest remaining UK coal
mine, Daw Mill in Arley, this year (see The Guardian), and similar questions
apply to extractive industries elsewhere. The central
problem is not whether coal mining in New Zealand will be
profitable according to the dictates of the international
market but how to develop and undertake longer-term
strategies for coping with the inevitable fluctuations and
declining profitability without doing substantial long-term
damage to towns and regions dependent on those market
forces. To that problem, today's meeting seems to offer no
Report on the Statements to the Press
The minister was asked whether he listened to the proposals suggested by the miners. He responded that, in the end, the decision was made by the board of Solid Energy and was solely determined by the board. He insisted that it was primarily dictated by the collapse of international coal prices and had nothing to do with the government's assets sales programme. He ruled out any possibility of a capital injection by the government and said that the government was not considering any further financial support for the company.
Asked whether this "collapse" of international coal prices meant that the sale of shares in Solid Energy might be negatively affected, the minister responded that it was "a question to reflect upon". The minister said that the board of Solid Energy was well aware that this was a difficult decision which was going to adversely affect communities on the East Coast and was not undertaken lightly.
On the steps of Parliament the miners gave their response to the meeting. Miners' representative Trevor Bolderson was forthright in his disappointment at the result. He said that he was distraught and that he and many others were unsure of what they could do now.
Asked whether he and others might look for work in Australia he responded that this was not an option for him because he would not meet the visa requirements; he said that Solid Energy had spent $20,000 to bring him over from the UK with the understanding that he would have work in New Zealand for up to 20 years, and that now he found himself out of work after only five years. He added that even if he could move to Australia to find work legally he lacked the money to do so as all his assets were tied up in the mortgage on his house and although he said he would not speak for his fellow miners he was aware many were in similar situations.
In parting, Mr Bolderson said he
wished he had never heard the name Solid Energy.
MP Tony Ryall, Minister of State Owned Enterprises
Spring Creek miner and union delegate Trevor Bolderson