Hard at work. Photo Kelly Butterworth / CQ News
Hard at work. Photo Kelly Butterworth / CQ News Kelly Butterworth

Jim Pearce hits out at mining companies

JIM PEARCE has spoken out in State Parliament, speaking about the mining industry and current atmosphere. 

You can read his speech below.

What do you think? Do mining companies not care about their employees? 

Jim Pearce (Mirani-ALP) (2.36 pm): Madam Deputy Speaker Grace, first of all, I congratulate you on your appointment as Deputy Speaker and I ask you, if you would not mind, to pass on to the Speaker my congratulations on his appointment as the Speaker of the House. I have known Mr Wellington, or the Speaker, since he first came into this place in 1998 and I see him as a man of integrity, as do many Queenslanders. He is certainty a straight shooter; we know that. He is a down-to-earth person. I am strongly of the opinion, along with other people in Queensland, that he is the right person for the job.

The resources sector is a key contributor to jobs and to improving standards of living and prosperity across the state, especially in regional Queensland. At the opening of parliament His 318 Address-in-Reply 5 May 2015

Excellency spoke about job creation and the direction that the Labor government intended to take in creating job opportunities for youth and also for those people who have lost their jobs in recent years. I know about this personally, because in the lead-up to the election I ran a campaign on a commitment to creating job opportunities in an area where many, many jobs were lost-around 10,000-in the coal industry which has had a flow-on effect to people in the communities of Rockhampton and Mackay. I certainly recognise, just as the Labor government has done, that when new mines are opened or existing mines expand mining jobs are created across the community. People say four to one or five to one jobs are created outside the lease where the coal is being mined.

They are well-paid jobs. They are essential to the economic stability of our resource communities-regional cities like Mackay and Rockhampton-and for a stable revenue take of the state itself. We must work hard as a government and as a community to create jobs, because if we do not start creating jobs we will have significant problems going into the future. I am very confident that the Premier has grabbed the reins and is heading in the right direction when it comes to jobs creation.

Secure jobs, well-paid jobs, create other jobs through a cash flow into resource towns-regional centres like Mackay and Rockhampton-where spending of wages increases that cash flow into small business and services. People do not talk about the cash flow very often, but it is the maker of jobs and sustainability of small business. When jobs are available or become available for youth and women in small business, hospitality and a wide range of other opportunities, I want to be out there saying that I have played a role in getting those things happening in Central Queensland.

As a local member I have argued that government must be on the front foot and be strong when dealing with mining companies, ensuring that regional communities are closely aligned with the revenue-producing mining and resource sector and are returned a fairer share of the revenue itself. To get those communities going again like they were in the past, they must be allowed to flourish and grow with industry. That has not happened in recent years and, unfortunately, we have a very sad, serious situation in those coalmining communities.

From my experience with coal companies I know there are thousands of high-skilled mineworkers looking for a job who are at their best when left alone to do their jobs. Having been a mineworker in the past, I know that if management left us alone we would perform a lot better than if they were standing there looking over our shoulders. It has been highlighted in recent years how inexperienced, ego driven management has been responsible for stupid decision-making which has cost the companies millions and millions of dollars. Unfortunately, when those sorts of things happen it is usually the workers at the coalface who get the blame.

In the run-up to the 2015 election the LNP promised there would be no surprise industry decisions made under its government, but it would expect that mining companies respect high social and environmental standards across the industry. Being a person whose heart is with the industry, with people on the land, with people in regional Queensland, I get quite emotional when talking about those people who choose to live and work on the land, those people who choose to live and work in the coal industry, because they are the good people of Queensland. People on the land are decent, respectable and good people. They do their type of work simply because that is in their blood. It is there and they know what is required. Having lived on the land in north-west New South Wales before coming to Queensland, I certainly have a good understanding of the decency among people not only in the rural sector but also in coalmining communities across Central Queensland.

Unfortunately, the LNP found that the best way to manage the mining sector was to allow the mining companies to take control. I expected a lot more from an LNP government in the way it dealt with mining companies, but unfortunately mining companies have been allowed to take control and have become really difficult to work with. I have always believed that the role of Coordinator-General was to be the conscience of the people. I have real concerns about that position and hope that into the future we can improve what has been happening with that position and what has been coming out and going back to the industry. I have always believed that the role of the Coordinator-General is to make project decisions that maximise coal recovery for the project developers. They put a lot of money into it, and they deserve the right to get the best out of it profit wise and for their shareholders, but at the same time we should be maximising the benefits and returns to the people of Queensland-the people who own the resources. Too often that is forgotten. We, the people of Queensland, own the resources. It should be a privilege for the mining companies to come into such a great company and mine our resources.

I have always thought that the Coordinator-General was a man of integrity. I believe strongly that he is the conscience of the people. He makes decisions which are in the best interest of the community and the people of Queensland. I want the best outcomes for everybody because we should not expect our children or our grandchildren to fix up mistakes made by us in this place and the people that we direct. We have holes in the ground all over Queensland and I certainly do not want to see that grow anymore. If you are really interested in rehabilitation and what happens in the coalfields, I will tell you now: it is a bloody disgrace. Probably only 20 per cent of all the land that has been disturbed in Queensland has been rehabilitated. That has been increasing significantly every year while the companies have been allowing that to drag behind. That has to stop because too many of them will walk off their sites, leave their small bonds behind and allow the next person to come along and accept those bonds. It happened at the Blair Athol mine at Glenden just recently where there was $83 million in the bank. Rio Tinto sold the mine for $1 and was prepared to let the $83 million go.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms Grace): Order! Member for Mirani, there was an incident where you used unparliamentary language and I ask that you withdraw.

Mr PEARCE: Sorry, I get a bit carried away. I withdraw, Madam Deputy Speaker. Government, therefore, must be on the backs of mining companies to ensure they provide real protection for the environment, they provide real jobs and they persist with the requirement to restore the resource sector community licence to operate. I think we could ask a lot of these people within the companies at the moment what that licence is to operate and they would not have a clue. Unfortunately, that is the way it is and that is how it has changed. I am concerned that at this time in the history of coalmining in Queensland I am unable with confidence to point to any mining company that deserves the right to mine. It is a shambles at the moment. They need to be pulled back into line and only the government can do that. The big multinationals-BHP, Rio Tinto, Anglo Coal and Glencore-can only blame themselves for the lack of confidence that the community has in their performance. They have taken on communities, they have taken on workers, and it is to their detriment if they are looking for respect from the people who work in the industry who choose to live in those parts of Queensland.

I think it is the role of government and the public to jump on these mining companies and make them do the right thing not only by Queenslanders, but also by all Australians. I know the coal industry well. Over the years that I was here-I had a little holiday but now I am back. I know the coal industry well and people know that. I am back. I know the Queensland coal industry workforce have the expertise and the knowledge to keep the future correctly balanced economically and environmentally for Queenslanders. The only people who just do not get it are those people who sit around the boardroom table of the multinationals and those who stand at some level on the pathway to success at a mine site. They are the ones who just do not get it. They treat the workforce with a lack of respect. There is a lot of abuse occurring. There is a lot of heartache with people losing their jobs. We have safety issues in the mining industry simply because the workers do not have the courage to step forward and lodge a concern or identify a risk. That is not right. They should be able to step forward and identify these risks and know that the company is backing them. However, if they do it with the culture in existence in the industry at the moment, they will then have a big target on their back. It is a massive target such that every manager has them in their sights and is looking for some way to get the worker to move on. Workers can also be targeted when they have the courage and the intestinal fortitude to stand up and take on a role of looking after their comrades, that is, a union representative. That is a role that is important to the welfare of a workforce. If people are going to face being targeted by the company, that is just not acceptable. We have to do something about that.

I have always had a lot of time for the role that mining companies play. I believe that they can do it better. The workers and the workers' representative can certainly do it better. I know from talking to their representative in recent times that there is a strong feeling that we need to work with the employers and get this industry back on track. It is just not good enough to have mining companies targeting workers, abusing workers, intimidating workers or trying to get them off the mine site, because that has other consequences. This is what people do not understand. This is what really gets to me because I have been there and I understand. At the moment I am talking with and trying to help three workers who are in serious depression. Their wives or partners have told me quite bluntly that they are concerned about their future. If it gets to that extent at a workplace, there is something wrong. It is about time that the bosses had a good look at this. If I am ever in a position where somebody takes their life as a result of what has happened to them at a mine and I know about it and I know about it personally, I will encourage the family of that person to take legal action against the company. In speaking about it here today and in writing about it in Central Queensland newspapers, I have performed my duty of care. I have highlighted an issue and it is then up to the companies to take action to protect their workers.

There are serious situations where, as I said before, people are targeted simply because they have made an unintended mistake such as allowing a vehicle to roll past the line on the ground for a stop sign. Nobody does that intentionally. The vehicle stopped, but it may have rolled over the line. That particular mineworker got dragged in and was told he was on limited time. It only took a few weeks before they went through the disputes procedure and targeted him and really asked that he be moved on. Sometimes people deserve to be moved on; I do not have a problem with that. However, what is annoying in Central Queensland, what is wrong in Central Queensland at the moment, is that we have permanent workers who live in the towns with their wives or their partners and their families. As soon as they lose their job or as soon as the company has achieved their goal, they drive out the gate and they are almost knocked over by a motor vehicle coming the other way with a labour hire company person who goes in to do their job. What we have been hearing lately is that the labour hire company employee will be getting $30,000 to $40,000 a year less than the permanent employee and they get no long service leave or sick leave. If we have a heavy downfall of rain overnight, the boss can tell them to go home. That is no way for people to have to live. Those workers have got families and mortgages like everybody else. Having no job certainty is the worst way for a person to have to live. Recently that had an impact on a mineworker whom I did not know personally except to say that I had probably seen him around. He was put through the mill by the company. He was forced to take his long service leave and his sick leave. Then when that was exhausted he got the sack and it was just too much. He went down the back to the shed and we have a terrible situation now where his family will suffer for the rest of their lives.

I can see that time still gets away from me at the same pace. Again, I want to say thank you to my supporters in Central Queensland for the opportunity and for bringing me back to this place. I am very proud of one thing-and I hope that everybody hears this in this place-this is the first time the Mirani electorate has been in Labor hands since 1947. The people finally got the message that they need a Labor member in here supporting them and doing what they need him to do.


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