Editorial: Coast counting cost of mining job losses

Last updated 13:00 26/09/2012

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OPINION: Facing the loss of his Spring Creek job along with more than 200 others, a West Coast miner was typically blunt over suggestions they could help the Christchurch rebuild.

"It's a kick in the guts in the worst way," said third generation miner Kirk Neilson. "They've taken our livelihood off us and now they're saying ‘We'll take you off the Coast, too'."

The latest body blow will test the resilience of the hardiest Coaster, coming less than two years after the Pike River disaster that killed 29 men and closed that mine.

Spring Creek, also near Greymouth, is an economic casualty, and its failure will be felt across the region.

The loss of 222 jobs directly from the proposed mothballing of the mine, plus the impact on another 130 workers employed by contractors, will affect many of the 14,000 who live in the Grey district.

Despite their strong Coast loyalty, job market reality will force some miners to Christchurch, and others to Australia.

The Coast still has farming, forestry, fishing and, increasingly, tourism to fuel its economy, but filling the job vacuum left by the closure of two large mines is neither certain nor swift.

Inevitably, there is blame for what went wrong at Spring Creek.

Along with all mines, it has been hit by the tumbling international price of coal.

Critics say the cuts are also part of the preparation for the Government's partial sale of the mine's state-owned operator, Solid Energy.

Prime Minister John Key denies this but says the Government has delved deeper into the company because of the asset-sale plans, and found it had unrealistic coal prices built into its forecasts.

He conveniently paints that as an example that “Governments aren't the best owners of companies".

Solid Energy says the mine has lost more than $100 million since 2007, and faces more losses as complex geology has slowed development.

Rising costs and falling revenue means a union proposal to inject another $36m to keep Spring Creek open was always a long shot and it duly received little attention yesterday from the Government.

Instead, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce has gone on the offensive, saying opposition parties and the Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union should lobby opponents of a new mine near Westport to drop appeals.

Conservation groups have gone to the Environment Court over Australian company Bathurst's resource consents for its planned mine on the Denniston plateau.

A hearing is set for next month.

Forest and Bird says it's inappropriate to attempt to influence the court and that Mr Joyce is simply trying to distract from Solid Energy mismanagement.

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It also ignores the genuine environmental concerns over the Denniston plan, and about coal mining in general.

In the meantime, workers with generations of ties to mining and the Coast face the painful prospect of finding jobs elsewhere.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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