OPINION: Survey shows importance of coal to the Hunter

November 20, 2014

This opinion piece was originally published in The Newcastle Herald, on 20 November 2014.


Most people in the Hunter understand that, along with agriculture and tourism, mining is one of the three pillars of our local economy.  It underpins jobs and economic stimulus in communities across the region.
However, the NSW Minerals Council’s annual economic expenditure survey reinforces the Hunter’s place as the beating heart of the NSW mining industry.  The survey has found that the 22 participating mining companies directly injected nearly $6billion into the Hunter economy in 2013-14.
The Hunter is well and truly the biggest mining region in NSW, representing 43per cent of total direct mining expenditure in the state and 28per cent of the Hunter’s gross regional product.  
The spending was made up of $1.5billion in wages and salaries to 11,078 full-time employees and $4.4billion in purchases with 4238 Hunter businesses, along with community contributions and payments to local government.
The more than 4000 local businesses in the Hunter working with the local mining industry are proof of just how important mining is to the region. Those businesses employ thousands of local people. And the $1.5billion in wages paid directly to more than 11,000 miners means in turn mining money is spent in local cafes, hairdressers, pubs, retail stores and more.
It’s why the Hunter so directly feels the impact when mining goes through tough times.  
As the president of the Singleton Business Chamber, Ryan Fitzpatrick, has said, when there is a mining downturn ‘‘ ... the impact is felt from Singleton to the coast’’.
Mining in the Hunter has had a tough two years.  There have been about 2500  direct mining jobs lost, contributing to rising unemployment in the region. Our mining towns are hurting.  
And our economic survey shows that, as margins tighten and business conditions get tougher, the number of Hunter businesses in the local mining supply chain has fallen by about 600 in the last 12 months, adding to the economic challenge.
However, despite these tough times, mining does have a bright, long-term future in the Hunter.  
Demand for our local coal is growing in key markets like Japan, China, Korea and India.  The recently signed free trade agreement with China is good news for the long-term trading relationship with China, and will underpin future job-generating investment in the Hunter.
We also need to see the right policy settings from the NSW government.  
First and foremost,  a planning system that delivers certainty and growth, and supports jobs. The current planning system is broken, with delays costing our state millions in revenue, putting thousands of current jobs at risk and foregoing many thousands more potential new jobs.
Fixing the NSW planning system must be a key priority for all political parties as we head towards the 2015 state election.  

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