We've wasted the boom: Cutifani

ANGLO American boss Mark Cutifani has slammed the federal government for creating uncertainty and diminishing the competitiveness of Australia’s mining industry.
We've wasted the boom: Cutifani We've wasted the boom: Cutifani We've wasted the boom: Cutifani We've wasted the boom: Cutifani We've wasted the boom: Cutifani

Speaking in Canberra on Wednesday as part of the Mineral Council of Australia's Minerals Week, Cutifani said Australia had reaped what it had sowed.

"We have more than wasted a commodities boom - we have undermined its very foundations by creating uncertainty and doubt in the minds of long-term investors," he said.

"No country can afford to be so cavalier."

Cutifani said Australia's competitive mantle was slipping in the face of higher mining costs, declining productivity, increasing royalties, taxes and charges, complex planning laws and the high Australian dollar.

He was particularly critical of the impact of taxes and royalties on the coal industry, which has had a horror week with hundreds of job losses.

"The carbon tax, and other taxes and royalties have destroyed more than 75% of the value of our coal business in Queensland," he said.

"Now, as a global miner we have a natural capacity to deal with shifting policy positions - we allocate more of our investments to South Africa and Colombia.

"However, that is not what we want to do. We are committed to our business and our people in Australia, for the long term."

The Minerals Resource Rent Tax has been blamed by many, including Cutifani, for scaring off investment.

"The simple fact is, as a country we got it badly wrong, and we have created substantial uncertainty and investment barriers that were not here 10 years ago," he said.

"Policy stability and predictability are key requisites for our long-term investment decisions.

"The system of taxes and royalties needs to provide for a fair and appropriate sharing of risk and reward."

Cutifani said the planning and approval processes should be clear, with no "shifting of the goalposts part way through the game".

He said permit approval processed were delaying projects, costing companies millions and threatening jobs, including for Anglo at Drayton South.

"A case in point is New South Wales, where I believe we are at a crucial decision point as to whether the state government wants to have a continuing coal mining industry in the Hunter Valley or not," Cutifani said.

"A recent decision by that government to suspend an approval process is delaying one of our projects by six months, putting added pressure on us to decide whether to go ahead with a $500 million investment in the region that would safeguard 500 existing jobs."

Cutifani said the unexpected delay came after 25 rounds of consultation over four years. If the project did not go ahead, the local communities would lose $70 million in local procurement and $86 million in household income each year, while the NSW government would lose $35 million a year in royalties.

"A balance needs to be struck between governments listening to communities or other industries' concerns on the one hand, and stalling major investments in endless consultation on the other," he said.

Cutifani said in 2009, Australia's thermal coal industry was second only to South Africa in the lowest seaborne unit cost, but had slipped to 10th last year and now had the second-highest costs behind Canada.

He said an article by MiningNews.net columnist Dryblower in October suggested he was pandering to his South African colleagues in suggesting Australia's sovereign risk was higher than South Africa's.

"As most know, my comments were taken out of context as I was reflecting on radical shifts in policy in Australia and how they were directionally heading us towards a development dead-end," he said.

"This being my only comment since that article was published, I will simply let the facts do the talking!"

Cutifani said Australia's competitiveness should not be left to a falling dollar and it required concerted action to make the country a more attractive place to invest.

He said Australia was at a crossroads and suggested a national development summit be held, like the one in 1983, which brought together federal, state and local governments, employers, trade unions, churches and welfare organisations in Canberra to tackle the high inflation, unemployment and interest rates of the time.

"I contend that we are at a similar crossroads again today and suggest that, once again, Australians should have a conversation about what we need to do for the country to regain its competitive

edge and be regarded as a land of opportunity," Cutifani said.

"A national development summit modelled on the clear, well-structured and substantive approach taken in 1983 should be given consideration by the next government, as a way of building consensus around a plan for economic reform.

"We must put behind us the bruising battles of recent times and demonstrate to the community that ours is an industry that can make a positive and lasting difference to the countries in which we operate."

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