Industry News, Mining & Resources

QLD mining’s reputation is in the pits

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Secret research shows that the reputation of the mining industry is “nearing crisis” in Queensland, with a “decline in positive sentiment” and a “bulge in distrust”, even among people who support the industry.

Key points:

  • The survey of Queenslanders found a belief mining profits benefited a few at the expense of the rest of the country and the future
  • The QRC funded survey found only the scandal plagued financial and aged care sectors have worse reputations than mining
  • The distrust was mainly based on strong negative perceptions of open-cut coal mining”[The industry’s] wealth is strongly associated with self-interest, power and influence,” the report read.

The study, carried out by market research company Ipsos for the Queensland Resources Council (QRC), found that “perceptions of the resources sector in Queensland are almost entirely based on strong negative perceptions of open-cut coal mining”.

“The profits that the resources sector generates are considered short-term and benefiting the few at the expense of the ‘rest of the country’ and ‘at the cost of our futures’.

“Regardless of the segment, the resources sector consistently underperforms on the attributes that are most important to trust and reputation.”

The results of the confidential research challenge the political wisdom that the electorate is divided between “coal-loving Queenslanders” and voters in southern states who want stronger action on climate change.

The findings of the study, billed as a “reputation deep dive”, include:

  • Only finance and aged care — industries whose conduct sparked royal commissions — have a more a negative reputation than mining
  • Tourism and agriculture are viewed more favourably, but mining is seen as a threat to their existence
  • Renewable energy and sustainability are “top of mind” and seen as “a future we should all be embracing”
  • The resources industry is “focused on continuing to mine rather than invest resources and money into progression of renewables”
  • “The Government is not seen as taking a leadership role” on climate change policy
  • The resources industry is “aligned with government in continuing reliance on coal power stations”
  • The resources industry is seen as “unsustainable” and “its strong association with coal and traditional energy leaves it vulnerable to attack”

Without prompting, nearly one in five people said the resources industry “damages the environment” — almost as many as those who said it “supports the economy” or “creates jobs”.

Miners divided over coal

The research — and its leaking — comes amid divisions in the resources sector over the strenuous advocacy for coal mining by industry lobby groups, including the Minerals Council of Australia and the QRC.

Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Glencore are among the resources companies transitioning out of mining the thermal coal used in power stations.

“Despite some companies like BHP and Rio Tinto taking a bold stance on these issues, they are not getting cut through at the community level,” the report for the QRC said.

BHP has been critical of the mining lobby’s opposition to policies designed to address climate change and threatened to quit the Minerals Council of Australia over the issue.

Rio Tinto, after pressure from shareholder activists, also called on mining lobby groups to acknowledge the threat of climate change and reportedly threatened to leave the minerals council.

 

The findings have been seized upon by advocates who want to shift away from fossil fuels.

“What stands out to me is that the QRC has done a great job of turning an entire sector into a conversation about coal,” said Julien Vincent from Market Forces, a shareholder activist group that encourages divestment from fossil fuel interests.

“Unfortunately for them, Queenslanders clearly understand that coal is a polluting energy source that creates environmental damage and we need to move away from it.”

Richard Dennis, the chief economist at The Australia Institute, a left-leaning think tank, said the mining lobby was trashing the reputation of the entire industry by aggressively promoting new coal mines and opposing action to combat climate change.

“There must be people out there who own mines for copper and own mines for lithium who think ‘why on earth is our whole industry getting a bad name because the lobby groups for mining insist on calling for subsidies for a new coal mine in north Queensland?’,” he said.

He said it showed the perception that policies to address climate change or move away from coal are a political negative in Queensland is simplistic.

“Coal-loving Queensland is a powerful piece of political framing, but it doesn’t exist,” he said.

“The reality is that most people in Queensland don’t work in coal mining, the tourism industry is a very big employer in Queensland, and there are a lot more seats in and around Brisbane than there are in north Queensland.

“Most people don’t accept that there is a simple trade-off between the economy and environment, and a lot of people think the Adani coal mine is a bad idea.”

New narrative needed

The research was based on 16 in-depth interviews with women aged between 35 and 44 and young adults aged 18 to 24 in Brisbane, buttressed by an online survey of more than 600 people representative of the entire state.

Only 36 per cent of survey participants thought the mining industry was “considering the environment in how it operates”, while just 37 per cent thought it was “demonstrating ethical business practices”.

Fewer than half — 43 per cent — thought the resources sector was “being respectful to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

The report recommended the resources industry develop a new “narrative” and fund advertising campaigns “linking to renewables or incorporating a sustainability theme”.

“Demonstrate that the benefits from the sector flow to all QLDers and not just the elite and the wealthy,” it said.

“Prove that supporting the sector does not mean supporting values that are out of step with the Queensland community.”

QRC chief executive Ian Macfarlane said in a press release that the latest research conducted by an independent research agency “reinforced the need for the sector to better explain its everyday importance, relevance and world-class environmental standards to all Queenslanders.

“It’s clear the industry … must strengthen the understanding of all Queenslanders of the benefits from industry for all Queenslanders, particularly those who live in the south-east corner of the state, now and into the future.”

Originally published by The ABC.


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