MAC: Mines and Communities

Chairman of Whitehaven Coal quits chancellor role at Newcastle University

Published by MAC on 2021-06-22
Source:,, ABC Newcastle, The Age

“Our university has a strong history as a leader in sustainability", students said.

Former deputy prime minister and actual chairman of Whitehaven Coal, Mark Vaile, will not be chancellor of the University of Newcastle. His appointment to the role earlier this month caused a member of the university council to resign and sparked a backlash from leading academics and the students union.
“Council members voted unanimously for Mr Vaile – a clear reflection of his credentials to be head of our University as well as a vote of confidence in his commitment to this region”, Deputy Chancellor Michelle McPherson have said two weeks ago.
Previous on MAC:
2016-03-17 Australia: The revolving door between politicians and the mining lobby
2014-06-04 Australian Coal Companies Used Spies To Infiltrate Group Of Activists
2013-07-17 Australia: Traditional owners picket Whitehaven Coal mine site

Mark Vaile quits Newcastle University chancellor role amid backlash over coal links

Lisa Visentin

June 21, 2021

Former deputy prime minister Mark Vaile has walked away from the role of chancellor of the University of Newcastle amid a mounting backlash from staff, students and potential donors over his links to the fossil fuel industry.

Mr Vaile, the chairman of Whitehaven Coal, was appointed to the role of chancellor earlier this month but resigned on Monday before he had the chance to start in the role.

The university confirmed Mr Vaile’s decision in an email to all staff members, saying he had decided not to proceed with accepting the role.

“Mr Vaile said that he commends the University for its ethos as a unifying force, of and for our region and the communities it serves. Based on feedback from some of the University’s constituents, he believes that the best course of action is not to proceed with the appointment,” outgoing chancellor Paul Jeans said in the email.

“We respect Mr Vaile’s decision and recognise that he has made this decision in the best interests of the university.”

Mr Vaile was contacted for comment.

His decision not to take up the role was welcomed by the University of Newcastle Students’ Association, which had campaigned against his appointment. In a statement posted to its Facebook page, the association declared it was “delighted that students won”.

“Our university has a strong history as a leader in sustainability, being the first university in Australia to procure a contract to be 100 per cent renewably powered and having a commitment to being carbon neutral by 2025. Our Chancellor needs to reflect that history,” the Association said.

Mr Vaile’s appointment also generated backlash among university staff, prompting the resignation of Professor Jennifer Martin from the University’s council. His role was further imperilled last week when a group of 16 philanthropists and climate activists penned an open letter saying they would not financially support a university led by Mr Vaile.

“As significant donors we write this letter to make clear to the university that we, and many like-minded others, will not support a university who would choose as their leader someone who is determined to build new coal mines when most of the world is determined to reduce fossil fuel use,” the letter, published in the Newcastle Herald, said.

The signatories included entrepreneurs Alan Schwartz and Graeme Wood, former Australian rugby captain David Pocock, and philanthropist Sue McKinnon.

Mr Vaile has been chairman of Whitehaven coal since 2012, which has four mines near Gunnedah in north-west NSW. He was National Party leader and deputy prime minister from 2005 to 2007.

Environmental advocacy group Lock the Gate also celebrated the outcome.

“Appointing the boss of Whitehaven Coal really would have hampered the University in playing a meaningful part in leading us through structural change facing Newcastle and the Hunter region as the world shifts away from coal,” spokeswoman Georgina Woods said.

The university said its council would meet on Tuesday to consider the process for the appointment of a new chancellor.

University of Newcastle donors protest appointment of Mark Vaile as chancellor

Renowned academic Nick Talley says it raises concerns for the uni's future direction.

Ben Millington

ABC Newcastle

June 18 2021

Sixteen philanthropists have blacklisted the University of Newcastle over its decision to appoint coal mining boss Mark Vaile as its new chancellor.

Mr Vaile is chairman of Whitehaven Coal and served as Nationals leader and deputy prime minister from 2005 to 2007.

His appointment to the chancellor role earlier this month caused a member of the university council to resign and sparked a backlash from leading academics and the student body.

On Friday, the 16 philanthropists, who have collectively donated millions of dollars to projects at other universities, said they would not fund programs at the University of Newcastle.

Signatories of a letter published as a full-page advertisement in the local newspaper included entrepreneur Alan Schwartz, former Australian rugby captain David Pocock and philanthropist Sue McKinnon.

"Mr Vaile has played an important role in Australian politics and business, but that role has included questioning the science of climate change and its links to drought," the letter said.

"As significant donors we write this letter to make clear to the university that we, and many like-minded others, will not support a university who would choose as their leader someone who is determined to build new coal mines when most of the world is determined to reduce fossil fuel use."

Whitehaven Coal is seeking to expand its Vickery coal mine in the New England region of NSW, a project that is being challenged in the Federal Court on behalf of young people everywhere.

Last year Mr Vaile attacked Australia's banks, saying they had a moral obligation to fund the nation's coal industry.

Backlash grows

One of Australia's most respected medical academics, Laureate Professor Nick Talley, last week added his voice to the criticism about Mr Vaile's appointment.

Professor Talley, who is a former member of the university's executive, said it not only sent the wrong message to the community, but raised concerns about the university's future direction.

"It's more than symbolic, it's a very important role," he said.

"I guess one could be concerned that it might impact the directions of the university in the future, and that's the concern that I and many of my colleagues have.

"It's also fair to say there's a bit of a concern about speaking out; the university is going through change — a change of management, if you like — and this worries people, understandably."

Professor Jennifer Martin from the School of Medicine earlier this month resigned from the university council, saying Mr Vaile's appointment was not aligned with the university's strategic goals and could damage its reputation.

A protest last week organised by the University of Newcastle Students' Association (UNSA) attracted around 50 staff members, students and alumni.

UNSA called on the university council to reconsider its decision and threatened more protests.

It said it would refuse to endorse Mr Vaile unless he resigned from Whitehaven Coal and publicly stated his support for climate action.

'No change to strategic direction'

Mr Vaile told the ABC it was wrong to assume his two roles presented a conflict of interests.

"I see the different roles as not necessarily being absolutely compatible in everybody's minds, but they're not mutually exclusive."

He said he would not attempt to change the strategic direction of the university.

"One of the first things when I was approached to consider this position was to go and read the current annual report of the university and its values, and particularly the strategic plan and the very strong focus it has on becoming carbon neutral by 2025," he said.

"If I couldn't support that, and if I couldn't commit to achieving that with everybody else in the broader university community, then I wouldn't consider it."

The ABC has sought comment from the university.

It previously said it selected Mr Vaile due to his exemplary credentials and strong connection to the Hunter region.

It said his experience with international partners down to the local community would be invaluable.

Storm brewing in Newcastle over Vaile appointment

Julie Hare

Jun 6, 2021

Fallout from the appointment of coal head honcho and former deputy prime minister Mark Vaile as chancellor of Newcastle University has resulted in the resignation of one council member over the weekend and a rising backlash in the community.

Jennifer Martin, an elected member of the university’s council, resigned Sunday after receiving numerous unsolicited approaches from university staff and community members regarding what they considered the inappropriateness of the appointment.

“ I was greatly disturbed at the extent of the community backlash I received over the weekend including from people I work with. I felt that I had done everything I could to mitigate this but there was no option left but for me to resign,” Professor Martin, who is a high-profile local physician and chair of clinical pharmacology in the university’s School of Medicine and Public Health.

“It was disappointing to me that the council could not appoint a leader with a greater commitment and understanding of the region's future rather than being anchored in the past.”

The appointment of Mr Vaile was made on Friday. A former politician, leader of the National Party and deputy prime minister, Mr Vaile is currently chairman of Whitehaven Coal, as well as holding a number of other board positions.

It is understood Mr Vaile was appointed by a four-member selection committee headed by deputy chancellor Michelle McPherson and including vice-chancellor Alex Zelinsky. He will replace Paul Jeans, who has been chancellor since 2013.

Professor Martin said the appointment process had not taken into account the many concerns of local stakeholders about Mr Vaile’s prominent connections to the coal industry. She said the appointment did not align with the “university’s strategic plan or its commitment to the Hunter region’s economic transition away from coal”.

Newcastle is the world’s largest coal export site. However, the city is grappling with a second major industrial transition away from coal after a huge economic adjustment when the steel industry left the city in the 1980s and 1990s.

One source, who is a prominent member of the community and close to the university, described the appointment as tone deaf.

“This will be a huge concern right across the region,” he said. “The city’s messaging is about our transformation, transition and development of new alternative sources of employment around research and innovation, and intensive industries and services.”

He said declining demand for coal would at some point potentially leave the city as a stranded asset.

“The whole region could become a stranded asset, given how dependent it has become on the coal industry,” he said.

He also described the appointment of a former politician to get political access as naive.

“It’s a naive conception of how politics works. If you put a former deputy leader of the National Party in charge, somehow that’s going to magically turn into more funding for the university,” he said.

It is understood very little consultation with the council or the community was undertaken before the announcement.

It comes as the Federal Court last week overturned an injunction brought by a nun representing school children to stop environment minister Sussan Ley’s approving the expansion of a coal mine in Gunnedah.

Mr Vaile, who lives in Taree just north of Newcastle, has no known connections with universities or how they work. He was linked to the Australian Wheat Board scandal.

Professor Martin said she had been pushing for an indigenous person or female to lead the council.

In a statement a spokewoman for the university said all members of the council voted in favour of the appointment of Mr Vaile and were given an opportunity to meet him.

“We are disappointed by Professor Jenny Martin’s decision to resign from the University of Newcastle Council,” the spokeswoman said.

Julie Hare is the Education editor. She has more than 20 years’ experience as a writer, journalist and editor. Connect with Julie on Twitter. Email Julie at

Former Deputy PM named 8th University of Newcastle Chancellor

4 June 2021

The University of Newcastle Council has today announced that former Deputy Prime Minister The Hon. Mark Vaile AO will be the eighth Chancellor of the University of Newcastle.

Making the announcement today, Deputy Chancellor Michelle McPherson said Mr Vaile’s credentials were exemplary and included strong connections to the region.

“Council members voted unanimously for Mr Vaile – a clear reflection of his credentials to be head of our University as well as a vote of confidence in his commitment to this region,” Ms McPherson said.

“Mr Vaile’s experience with our international partners right through to our local communities will be invaluable for our future both in our regions and on the world stage and our full Council looks forward to working with him,” she said.

Mr Vaile served as Leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister from 2005 to 2007.

His impressive political career started when he entered local government as an Alderman at Greater Taree City Council from 1985. He was elected to the Federal House of Representatives in 1993. Whilst in government, Mr Vaile held several ministerial positions including Transport and Regional Development, Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. In the pivotal role of Minister for Trade, Mr Vaile negotiated a number of Australia’s key Trade Agreements including the Singapore-Australia Agreement, the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement and the Australia-Thailand Free Trade Agreement.

Since leaving Federal Parliament in July 2008, Mr Vaile has embarked on a career in the private sector and has served on the Boards of a number of ASX-listed companies and large organisations including Servcorp, StamfordLand, HostPlus, Virgin Australia, 123 Education China, Whitehaven Coal, CBD Renewable Energy, and Palisade Investment Partners.

“I am grateful and deeply humbled to have been invited to be the next Chancellor of the University of Newcastle,” Mr Vaile said.

“I look forward with great anticipation to working with Council and Vice-Chancellor Zelinsky as we face the challenges and embrace the significant opportunities ahead of us,” Mr Vaile said.

Mr Vaile will commence on 1 July 2021 following the retirement of Chancellor Paul Jeans on 30 June 2021.  Mr Jeans is retiring on the completion of his second four-year term as the University’s seventh Chancellor.

“I also pass on my best wishes and thanks to outgoing Chancellor Paul Jeans for his eight-year term. He leaves the University in great shape and as a stand-out amongst its peers, particularly in terms of access and Indigenous education,” Mr Vaile said.

The University of Newcastle’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Alex Zelinsky AO congratulated Mr Vaile on his appointment.

“We’ve graduated more than 150,000 students over the years and we are among our region’s largest employers, so we know the person at the head of our governing body takes on a heavy but important responsibility,” Professor Zelinsky said.

“My warm congratulations to Mr Vaile on this prestigious appointment. I look forward to working with him and Council to further build on our University’s outstanding achievements.”

“Let me also say that I’ve been fortunate to work under the stewardship of Chancellor Paul Jeans for the past two and half years and witness the high esteem with which he is held by our community, staff and students, and our government and industry partners.”

Mr Jeans described his tenure as Chancellor at the University of Newcastle as a wonderful experience and an extraordinary privilege.

“During my time as Chancellor, we have graduated some 73,000 people and every graduation has reinforced in me the importance of what we do here at the University of Newcastle,” he said.

“I am reminded of the incredible efforts our staff go to, to ensure students from all walks of life with ability and drive can come to us and change the course of their lives through education.

“I was particularly proud of all the graduating students of 2020 and the staff who helped them achieve their goals despite the enormous challenges of COVID-19,” he said.

During Chancellor Jeans’ tenure, the University has achieved its highest ever global ranking, currently at 197th in world according to QS World University Rankings and has reinforced its place as the sector leader in Indigenous education, with the highest number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander full time equivalent students for any Australian university.

“The power of education is one thing. The delivery of education in an environment that celebrates Indigenous culture is what makes our University truly special,” Mr Jeans said.

Mr Jeans’ tenure will also be remembered for many game-changing infrastructure investments that include NUspace in the Newcastle CBD, the Honeysuckle site acquisition and completion of its first stage of construction, the Bioresources facility and student accommodation at Callaghan and the Central Coast Clinical School and Research Institute in Gosford.

“I leave here knowing that the University and its people have the courage, strength and commitment to face challenges head on and to prevail. I will watch its ongoing success with great pride,” Mr Jeans said.

“Chancellor Jeans’ leadership and dedication has been phenomenal. He has represented the University with distinction and has our students, staff and communities at the heart of all decisions,” Deputy Chancellor Michelle McPherson said.

“Alongside my fellow Council Members, I’ve been fortunate to be part of this strong team led by Paul and I’m grateful for his legacy which will continue to benefit our students, staff and the communities we serve,” she said.


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