Coal boom excesses the low point
ROCHE reflects on highs and lows of the last decade for mining
Wednesday 16 November 2016
For more than a decade CEO of the Queensland Resources Council (QRC), Michael Roche has been the calm and reasoned voice of big mining in some of the most raucous debates in Queensland's mining history.
However, after eleven years at the helm, Mr Roche will finish up this month, handing responsibility over to former Liberal Federal Minister Mr Ian Macfarlane.
Shift Miner spoke to Mr Roche about the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats that face the industry.
[SM] Why the decision to leave?
[MR] As it turns out eleven and a half years is a very good innings in a role that is really seven days a week because you are always on call to members and the media. I have enjoyed the role, but it is healthy for any organisation to get new leadership, new ideas and new perspectives. We all like to think we are indispensable, but we aren’t, and the QRC will get the benefit of Ian Macfarlane’s vast political experience and networks in this role.
[SM] Your background is in economics how do you view the global economic outlook for commodities?
[MR] It has always been simply about supply and demand, and despite the downturn, demand hasn’t just gone away. However, the good prices from 5 years ago did attract a lot of extra supply for a whole range of commodities and with countries like China slowing down far faster than anyone expected it will take a while for the oversupply in different commodities to work through.
[SM] What has been the worst handled issue for mining over your tenure?
[MR] Among the issues that industry could control, the cost blowout during the peak of the boom and the incredible pain experienced in the wake of it was controllable. The industry took the view that it was worth spending and extra $25 on costs to get the $50 extra revenue from the high prices. Well, we now know the $50 went away far quicker than anyone imagined, so we had to go through a very painful adjustment. People had got used to very good wages, and prices for their services, but they were never sustainable, and industry has to share its blame for the painful adjustment that had to occur when super prices disappeared.
[SM] That was painful for a lot of people...but Black Lung isn’t worse?
[MR] The issue of miners pneumoconiosis has been a terrible event for the industry, and a revelation for everyone. The entire system was not working. When mining companies were sending their workers to be tested, and the results were coming back saying there were no issues, everyone assumed the system was working, and there wasn’t a problem. What we now know is that workers were being misdiagnosed, and the industry was not getting the signals it needed around the distribution of the disease.
However everyone missed what was happening, regulators, mining inspectors, mining companies, the unions, and the government we all share responsibility.
Now that we have identified there is a problem, the whole industry is getting its act together, and I am proud that mining companies have been on the front foot plugging holes in compensation.
Soon all radiologists will know how to read ILO standard radiography, and in the interim, we are sending every x-ray to the US and encouraging any retired workers who may have fallen through the cracks to come in and be tested.
[SM] What other threats are there for the future?
[MR] I think where industry has been blindsided, is how well funded the green activists campaigning against the industry are. Dealing with green activists will now have to be factored into planning for any new projects. When these issues find their way to the media, there are often six different well-funded activist voices being heard, and sometimes just one alternative view being put forward by a peak body.
I think the mining industry has to stop hiding behind the skirts of the corporate relations team, and not just rely on the peak bodies to represent them They need to be more willing to fund advertising campaigns to get their point across. We seem to lack the likes of Ken Talbot who spoke in defence of the industry, and people took notice.
I would also like to see more workers speaking in support of their industry and the jobs it creates. There is no reason why we can’t have the unions, companies and the workforce working together to remove impediments to the industry moving forward. I would like to see more events like the 700 people rallying at parliament house in support of the New Acland project a fortnight ago.
[SM] What’s been the best-handled issue?
[MR] I think the industry can be proud of its commitment to the plight of Indigenous Queenslanders, Women and Youth through the Queensland Minerals and Energy Acadamy (QMEA). Despite the downturn, we have stayed the course on investing in these initiatives promoting diversity and inclusion in the industry.
[SM] Where to now?
[MR] I will still be involved with the industry doing a mixture of advisory and board work, doing two days a week with the Auscoal Superfund, trying to help coal workers get a decent retirement income. I am also doing some work with a law firm, so a few things coming together. But it will be a nice mix of roles and stepping back a bit from the seven-day-a-week demands of the last eleven years.