By Alex Tarrant
Economic Development Minister Stephen Joyce says opposition parties and unions bemoaning the loss of hundreds of jobs at the Spring Creek coal mine should support development of a new mine on the West Coast.
And the union representing miners says it does support Bathurst Resources' bid for the Denniston Plateau open cast mine, which has languished in front of the courts as environmental groups appeal resource consents granted to the company.
State-owned coal miner Solid Energy yesterday announced more than 400 job losses at its Spring Creek and Huntly East mines, as well as its head office, following a review of operations and a massive write-down in the value of its mining assets.
Staff numbers at Greymouth's Spring Creek underground mine will be reduced from 254 to 32. In two months that will be reduced further to 20 staff as the mine is put into 'care and maintenance.'
Meanwhile, State-Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall says there will be some "additional members" on Solid Energy's board in coming months, although will not say whether these new faces will replace existing board members.
The government was closely monitoring the performance of Solid Energy's board, Ryall told media in the Beehive on Tuesday afternoon. Decisions made by the company's board over the last few years had contributed to the company's current position, Ryall said.
The government was not in a position to inject new capital into Solid Energy to ward off the job losses, Ryall said. Miners who came to speak to him at Parliament had asked for a NZ$36 million injection as part of a plan to save the jobs and operations set to be cut.
Earlier, Joyce said opponents to Bathurst Resources' open cast Escarpment Mine should withdraw their appeals to the operation starting up. The consenting process for the mine had so far taken seven years, he said.
“The Escarpment Mine is an open cast mining project that is ready to go and would provide 225 jobs and incomes for workers and their families on the West Coast straight away,” Joyce said in a media release as Solid Energy workers descended onto Parliament's forecourt to protest the job losses at Solid Energy.
“The developer is being held up from opening the Escarpment Mine by on-going litigation that has gone through the Environment Court, the High Court and the Court of Appeal. These on-going objections are to resource consents which were granted more than a year ago. The whole consenting process for this development has now taken a staggering seven years," Joyce said.
“I call on those objectors to the mine to reconsider their appeals and consider the economic future of the West Coast and its people," he said.
“I also call on the EPMU, Labour and the Greens to join my call and back the West Coast community by supporting the immediate development of the Escarpment Mine. The political opposition can’t have it both ways. They can’t on one hand moan about job losses and then on the other not support initiatives that would create the sort of jobs that they’re asking for.
“If we are serious about jobs and providing incomes on the West Coast then objectors should stop getting in the way of this immediate opportunity to create those jobs," Joyce said.
'We do support it, so support us'
The Engineers, Printers and Manufacturers Union (EPMU) says it does support development of the mine.
"The EPMU would like to correct statements from Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce today which implied the union was somehow opposing Bathurst’s Escarpment Mine," EPMU assistant national secretary Ged O’Connell said.
"The EPMU has always supported the Escarpment Mine and the potential for 400 new mining jobs on the West Coast," O'Connell said.
"Mr Joyce is welcome to come and talk to the EPMU at any time for an update on the union’s views on the need for Government support for New Zealand’s mining communities."
'Open cast mining the future'
Solid Energy in August reported a loss of NZ$40.2 million in the year to June 30, 2012, a huge turnaround from a profit of NZ$87.2 million in 2011.
The loss was driven by NZ$110.6 million worth of impairments booked at June 30 on its underground mines Spring Creek and Huntly East, its renewables projects, and coal seam gas project in Huntly.
Solid Energy management said all of the company's open cast operations had outperformed relative to plan during the year.
Projections for lower-than-expected coal prices over the next few years meant it was uneconomic to keep underground operations going, they said. That meant the future for coal mining in the current climate was for open cast operations.