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Economic Development Minister Joyce tees off at those opposing new Westport coal mine as Opposition bemoans loss of jobs at Spring Creek

Rural News
Economic Development Minister Joyce tees off at those opposing new Westport coal mine as Opposition bemoans loss of jobs at Spring Creek

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.

'Stop appealing'

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.

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Joyce is barking up the wrong tree - solid energy's problems are the result of a plumetting coal price because of a drop in the demand for steel. The cheek of the man, blaming people who want to look after the environment.

The reason the consenting process is taking so long for the other mines is there are sensitive environemental issues. I went to a presentation on the Deniston Plateau one, where they had a nature photographer presenting and it was mind blowing. It is a unique pest free environment up there with all sorts of amazing native species living there- want to be very careful about any mining up there


At the risk of stating the obvious, mind blowing unique pest free environments don't put dinner on the table of a man's family.


check it out Ralph. this is some of what they'll be killing off for your dinner'


In parliament someone asked why Genesis was using Indonesian coal in their Huntly power station; when workers were being laid off in the Solid Energy Huntly coal mine. The rather unsatisfactory answer from the Minister of Finance was that they had been using Indonesian coal for some time. Is it because it is different quality, and so more suitable? Or is it because it is lower cost, even after shipping?

Assuming it is a price reason, would it still be cheaper if the NZ$ was closer to the 20% less in value that the IMF suggests it should be? Even without that price difference, is New Zealand better off having the workers at Huntly unemployed, and so being paid benefits, rather than paying taxes, albeit getting some price differential on the imported coal?


 Inability of balanced job creation for industries by the government causes job loses.


Minister allocating skilful, interesting jobs to foreign companies/ countries and then blaming “cheap’ NZcompanies not providing enough competitive jobs – it just doesn’t add up. There is something fundamentally wrong in your economic policy minister Joyce..


Of course, especially in difficult times the government is responsible to look after the NZworkforce.