MAC: Mines and Communities

BHP mining giant targeted at Australian AGM

Published by MAC on 2014-12-01
Source: Statement, SBS, ABC

Corporate and self-interest are not the national interest

Australia’s largest resource companies are adept at embracing new ways of describing their business, but often much slower to embrace new ways of doing business.

By Dave Sweeney

24 November 2014

Recent days have provided two cases that are demonstrative of how for some in the inner sanctum the triple bottom line is still measured in pounds, dollars and Euros.

The AGM of the world’s largest mining company, BHP Billiton, provided the first example of corporate single-mindedness – from the company that used to be the Big Australian but is now just the Big.

Listed on both the London and Australian Stock Exchanges in the age of global capital, BHP’s loyalty is evidently no longer to a nation, but to itself.

This became increasingly apparent during the AGM as shareholder after proxy holder attempted to grill Chairman Jac Nasser on the company’s environmental and social impacts.

The concerns were extensive and well argued, but with the majority of proxies in his back pocket, Nasser was unsympathetic and unfazed. He had the numbers, meaning there was no need to quibble on uncomfortable details.

Mining is a tough trade – full of high-vis clothing and low-down politics and to become the world’s biggest miner requires a particular skill set.

Persistent questioners had their microphones turned off, miners concerned about health and safety impacts and the human cost of FIFO (Fly In, Fly Out operations) were urged to have faith in the BHP ‘family’, and Aboriginal landowners were patronised.

Workers with decades of history at the less regarded subsidiary companies that BHP are currently in the process of rolling into a separate new company, with the inspired name of NewCo, were told that negotiations to date hadn’t included preservation of their entitlements and advised to take the issue up with the new boss.

Sorry, ‘colleague’ – the preferred term to cover everyone from the bellboy to the Chairman in the BHP ‘family’.

The second case study in faux shared interests and advocacy was a weekend call in Darwin by Gina Reinhardt, undoubtedly Australia’s richest woman and arguably its poorest poet.

Ms Reinhardt has called for the scrapping of all regulations that might apply to enterprises in Northern Australia employing less than one hundred people.

If this call were heeded it would mean so long to industrial awards and rights, goodbye modest environmental and Aboriginal heritage protections and thanks for the OHS memories.

The Trojan Horse aspect of Ms Rinehart’s agenda is obvious and long standing – Gina calling for all checks and balances to be turned into blank cheques and an increase in her bank balance is hardly likely to resonate with punters locked in perpetual struggle with the mortgage monster.

But Gina as a people’s champion for calling for the local petrol station or workshop to be given a break from bewildering BAS statements and complex compliance forms is aimed to showcase her as a person in touch with the people.

One of the growing Orwellian features of contemporary politics is the shameless positioning of the big end of town to present as the champion of the rights of the battler, the voice of the small that has been unfairly targeted and tied down by multi-coloured tape and joyless bureaucrats.

In the early 1950’s the US commentator and Columbia University Professor of Sociology Charles Wright Mills put the case succinctly. He said that the big end of town facilitated the small business narrative because of the ‘usefulness of its image to the political interests of larger business.’ He further declared that small business was used as a ‘front, a concealing façade’ and a ‘shield’ in the battle against organised labour and government regulation.

Self-interest and corporate interest should never be mistaken for national interest. Australia’s north is not a free fire economic zone and massive extractive operations are not benign.

It is important to recognise and reflect that we live in a nation with diverse interests, rights and responsibilities – a living community, not a slash and burn economy.

Jac Nasser, Gina Reinhart and their fellow travellers have every right to try and win hearts and mines, but they have no right to undermine hard won protections for Australia’s people and places.

Dave Sweeney is nuclear free campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation

BHP mining giant to be targeted at AGM on Borneo forest destruction, Fukushima, and legal exemptions at Olympic Dam

Australian Conservation Foundation / Australian Nuclear Free Alliance / Friends of the Earth Indonesia (WALHI) Press release

20 November 2014

The human and environmental impacts of the world’s largest mining company will be the focus of protest and attention at BHP Billiton’s annual general meeting today in Adelaide, with local and international groups challenging the mining giant on their Olympic Dam uranium mine in Australia, uranium exports through Port Adelaide, and the impacts of the IndoMet Coal mine in Central Kalimantan.

Travelling from Central Kalimantan, Arie Rompas, a member of the Dayak Siang tribe will ask company Directors to pull out of the IndoMet coal project that threatens his people’s ancestral forest and livelihood. The massive IndoMet project lies within the ‘Heart of Borneo,’ a region containing 6% of the world’s biodiversity.

“If BHP Billiton want shareholders and the world to believe they are a responsible miner, they must walk away from this project. It will destroy some of the last stands of primary rainforest in Kalimantan and will uproot the lives of many of my people,” said Arie Rompas.

Mr Peter Watts, an Arabunna custodian of the land north of the Olympic Dam uranium mine, is appealing to the BHP Board in his home state to take seriously the impacts the massive water use of the Olympic Dam mine is having on the local ecosystem, including sites sacred to the Arabunna people. He will also be raising concerns regarding the legal exemptions the mine enjoys.

“It’s about time the South Australian people know that the Olympic Dam uranium mine is exempt from many state laws, including the Environment Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act,” said Peter. “Why is this company permitted to operate outside the laws that apply to everyone else?”

Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner Dave Sweeney has travelled from Melbourne to challenge BHP’s actions since the Fukushima disaster, a continuing nuclear crisis directly fuelled by Australian uranium.

“BHP Billiton has a responsibility to review operations and reduce radioactive risks and the best way to do this is through a considered and accelerated exit from the uranium trade. At a minimum the company needs to improve its practices and increase its transparency. In the shadow of Fukushima there can be no atomic business as usual”.

Under the banner ‘Make a clean break from dirty energy,’ groups will be urging the mining giant to exit coal and uranium projects and pave the way for a clean and renewable energy future. In 2014 BHP Billiton posted a net profit of US$13.8 billion, but the company doesn’t record what this profit cost the Earth.

For comment contact:
Arie Rompas, Friends of the Earth Indonesia (WALHI): 0421 483 515
Peter Watts, Australian Nuclear Free Alliance: 0432 483 066
Dave Sweeney, Australian Conservation Foundation: 0408 317 812

What: Highly visible colourful peaceful protest and press conference
When: Thursday November 21, 2014
Where: Outside the Adelaide Entertainment Centre, 98 Port Road, Hindmarsh SA.
Time: 9am – 11am, press conference and photo opportunity at 9.30am

Miners and activists target BHP

By Greg Roberts

20 November 2014

BHP Billiton confronted its own disgruntled employees along with environmental protesters at its annual shareholder meeting.

The use of compulsory fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers at two new coal mines in central Queensland prompted workers from around the country to accuse BHP of destroying families.

The increasing casualisation of the workforce, through the use of contractors on weaker pay and conditions, was also a key focus for miners from Western Australia, NSW and Queensland.

People living in towns near the Caval Ridge and Daunia mines were discriminated against and refused a job, 20-year BHP coal miner and local resident Kev Adams told the meeting.

"I know you have a big job Andrew, but you are damaging our mine and damaging our community," he told chief executive Andrew Mackenzie.

Locals are left with no certainty about their future, he said.

"You can imagine what that does to children with their parents living in a constant state of anxiety week to week, it's an absolute fact I see every day in a town called Moranbah that used to be thriving and is turning into a dustbowl."

The use of FIFO workers was squarely aimed at controlling the workforce, claimed Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union general vice president Wayne McAndrew outside the meeting.

BHP chairman Jac Nasser said he understood the concerns, but Australia had to be globally competitive.

Shareholders were also critical of the company for continually mining uranium in the wake of Japan's Fukushima disaster, and for producing thermal coal due to its carbon emissions.

BHP executives were repeatedly attacked for the company's environmental record and contribution to climate change.

"We call on BHP to lead the transition away from dirty energy to clean energy ... as the world's biggest mining company you leave a footprint on people and places and have to be aware and accountable for those impacts," Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner Dave Sweeney said.

Mr Nasser said BHP accepted the science on climate change and had donated funds to the cause, but would not abruptly abandon coal mining, and said uranium mining could help to reduce emissions.

BHP mines uranium at South Australia's Olympic Dam, where testing of new heap leaching technology - a cheaper way of processing valuable minerals - was showing promise, Mr Mackenzie said.

However it plans another three years of tests before any decision on expansion, and Mr Mackenzie said any expansion would come with steady growth.

BHP says action needed on climate change but won't rule out coal investments at AGM

Sue Lannin, The World Today ABC News reported this story on 20 November 2014

Listen to MP3 of this story -

ELEANOR HALL: BHP Billiton held its annual general meeting in Adelaide today

Its executives have been attempting to explain to shareholders why the company is helping to drive the drastic fall in commodity prices.

BHP Billiton promised to hold a vote for investors in May next year to enable shareholders to have their say on the company's plans to spin off its less profitable businesses.

But many shareholders at the meeting focused on the environment and BHP Billiton's record on climate change.

Our resources reporter, Sue Lannin, has been listening in and joins us now.

So Sue, what sort of a turnout was there at the AGM today?

SUE LANNIN: Yes, we had many groups attending such as the Australian Conservation Foundation, residents' groups, and environmentalists from Australia and overseas, which we often see at BHP Billiton AGMs.

And of course BHP is the world's biggest miner with operations around the world in commodities such as iron ore, coal, copper and uranium.

But it defended its environmental record amid criticism from activists that were at the meeting.

Now one area of concern is the IndoMet coal project in Central Kalimantan in Indonesia, the heart of Borneo rain forest region.

Arie Rompas, a member of a local tribe and he's also from Friends of the Earth Indonesia, called on BHP Billiton chairman, Jacques Nasser, to walk away from the project.

ARIE ROMPAS: We get out food from the forest and our culture is tied in with the forest. In this for the IndoMet project, we are concerned that we will lose our forest.

ELEANOR HALL: Arie Rompas from Friends of the Earth Indonesia.

Sue, what concerns were raised about the expansion plans at the Olympic Dam copper and uranium mine in South Australia?

SUE LANNIN: For the time being the expansion plans are on hold. BHP Billiton put them on hold for economic reasons but it is doing trials, what's it's called leeching trials of the copper and uranium ore.

Now residents and environmental groups are concerned about the trials that are going on and also the existing uranium exports, and BHP Billiton actually admitted there had been an incident a couple of weeks back.

Andrew Mackenzie, the chief executive, said there was a small incident, a container was moved and cargo redistributed, a tiny amount of material escaped but did not leave the container and he said there was no risk to human health and no loss of containment.*

Also on coal, Jacques Nasser refused to rule out further investment in thermal coal, that's coal used for power generation, amid concerns about global warming and he also defended the company's stance on climate change.

He's being questioned here by one shareholder.

BHP SHAREHOLDER: If the company acknowledges that global warming is a real threat and that we need to limit warming to below two degrees Celsius then it is clear that we cannot continue to develop hard pay carbon infrastructure and one of those is thermal coal.

JACQUES NASSER: Our view on climate change has been very clear. We don't make it up.

We accept the IPCC's (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) assessment of climate change science and that science says the warming of the climate is clear. That human influence is also clear and that the physical impacts are unavoidable.

We accept all of that but we also believe that the world must pursue the twin objectives of limiting climate change and providing access to affordable energy and to support development.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the BHP Billiton chairman, Jacques Nasser.

So Sue, what did the company have to say about this iron ore price fall?

SUE LANNIN: Well, so far Eleanor, the company hasn't said anything about the fall of iron ore prices.

They did highlight what they call the iron ore business milestones.

They said in December they'll mark the 1 billionth tonne to China of iron ore and Andrew Mackenzie, the chief executive, also emphasised how productivity at the company's West Australian iron ore operations had improved, particularly from getting train to port.

Now the iron ore price has slumped to $US70 a tonne and that is largely because China's slowing down but also the big iron ore miners, BHP Billiton and Rio, are pumping huge amounts of iron ore onto the market.

That is affecting the fortunes of all of the companies but BHP Billiton and Rio are fine because of their bigger operations but it's driving other companies out of business and it's also impacting on the bottom line of the Australian Government.

ELEANOR HALL: Sue Lannin, our resources reporter, thank you.

*EDITOR'S NOTE [21st November, 2014]: This transcript has been amended to correct a quote by Andrew Mackenzie.

BHP Billiton’s short-lived climate cuddle

By Bob Burton

24 November 2014

The climate-friendly bonhomie of BHP Billiton’s Chairman, Jac Nasser, didn’t last long into question time at the company’s annual general meeting in Adelaide late last week.

Ahead of the AGM BHP had gone to great lengths to buff its climate policy credentials. In his opening speech Nasser even addressed climate change before discussing the state of the global economy.

However, when asked whether the company would continue to invest in thermal coal assets Nasser testily declared that there is no “realistic alternative” to the ongoing use of coal in power stations.

Aviva Imhof, representing her father and a number of other shareholders, had initially congratulated the board on their recent in acknowledging the seriousness of climate change and the implications of it for the company. [Disclosure: Ms Imhof is a work colleague]

“Will BHP Billiton rule out new investments in thermal coal? Do you believe that your existing investments in thermal coal risk becoming stranded assets due to the need to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius?,” she asked Nasser.

“It’s ‘no’ and ‘no’,” Nasser said. “Do you have any other questions?,” he bluntly asked.

She did. “So, given that the IPCC and the global consensus is that up to 80% of fossil fuels need to remain in the ground if we are to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, how could you justify additional investments in thermal coal?,” she asked.

Nasser reiterated that the company accepts the IPCC’s assessment of climate science. He argued that the company believed in the need to pursue a twin objectives of limiting climate change and track and providing for growing energy needs for development.

“You have to be realistic. The realistic side of this is that there are no real alternatives for the growing demand of energy over the next decade,” he said.

Imhof was stunned: “I’m really surprised to hear you say that Mr Chairman, given the absolutely astronomic decline in the price of solar and wind and other renewables. Solar is reaching grid parity in at least 16 markets around …”.

Nasser tersely interjected. “Ms Imhof, it’s not us, it’s the IPCC.”

“Yes and the IPCC say there has to be no investments in high-carbon infrastructure after 2017 if we are going to keep within two degrees of global warming. So it seems to me that if you say you are not going to rule out further investments in thermal coal you are not taking your commitment to climate change seriously,” she responded.

While Nasser was asserting there was no alternative to thermal coal last Thursday, an investor presentation briefing released on Monday morning indicated that the company is acutely aware of the declining financial performance of thermal coal and its vulnerability to energy competition.

In one slide (page 31) BHP Billiton states that energy growth will continue but concedes that “the shape of future energy demand mix is difficult to predict.” While the BHP Billiton code is cautious, the implication is clear: that at least in part, the growth of renewables and efficiency are posing a threat to thermal coal.

This is as good as confirmed when in another slide (page 33) the company refers to ‘energy coal’ as being “contestable.”

Another slide (page 48) charts the contribution of the company’s coal division to earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) plummeting from approximately 14 per cent in 2010 to approximately two percent in the space of five years.

In an accompanying note, BHP Billiton laments that the thermal coal market “remains well supplied” which is “prolonging the weaker pricing environment.” While demand it says “remains steady”, it soberly notes that prices will languish longer until further mines close.

As for the coal industry’s long touted silver bullet of Carbon Capture and Storage, in his speech Nasser would only go so far as to state that it is “exploring opportunities” to invest in the technology.

Bob Burton is a Contributing Editor of CoalSwarm and a Director of the Sunrise Project, a non-profit group promoting a shift away from fossil fuels. With Guy Pearse and David McKnight he co-authored Big Coal: Australia’s Dirtiest Habit.

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