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Mining body's about-face is not enough to win back the big Australian

Business

In the space of a year the Queensland Resources Council has shifted from openly attacking the Greens to backing a transition to net zero emissions, but it has not been enough for BHP.

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The mining giant, which produced 70 million tonnes of coal from Queensland’s Bowen Basin in 2020, remains steadfastly self-suspended from the QRC despite a significant shift in the lobby group’s attitude and policies.

BHP and Origin left the QRC a year ago over its Queensland election campaign attacks on the Greens, a strategy chief executive Ian Macfarlane claimed as a success because of the lower overall vote the party received. However, the Greens now have two seats in parliament, up from one before the election.

Other companies were less than impressed by the strategy.

Origin has since returned after “governance changes’’ to QRC’s political engagement strategy.

“Following QRC’s review of its political engagement policy in early 2021, we were satisfied it was consistent with our position and we lifted our membership suspension,” Origin said. 

Earlier this year Macfarlane said the council would pursue a different election strategy in future to reassure members who had considered leaving the QRC following its attacks on the Greens.

“The board has decided that in future we won’t target a political party, we will target their policies, which is a nuance, but probably an important one to people like BHP,” Macfarlane told the AFR.

That was enough for Origin to return but not for BHP.

The company confirmed to In Queensland that it was still self-suspended although the company’s executive James Palmer is still listed as a QRC director.

BHP is divesting from fossil fuels but will retain its Queensland coal assets which are currently enjoying a major price boom. EY today released a report showing that environment, social and governance (ESG), decarbonization and license to operate were the top three risks and opportunities facing the mining sector over the next 12 months.

EY global mining and metals leader Paul Mitchell said while there were fears that the COVID-19 pandemic might slow global progress on sustainability measures, the opposite has been true. 

“Environment and social issues have emerged as a surprise top risk, which means miners need to think more broadly about which factors they consider; social impact, water management and biodiversity came through as strong areas of focus for 2022,’’ Mitchell said.

Last week, the QRC backed the transition to net zero and has previously backed the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to below 2 degrees.

“Climate change is a critical global challenge which must be addressed by all parts of society, and the resources industry is absolutely committed to being part of the global solution,” Macfarlane said.

 “QRC members are already working on lowering emissions and reducing energy costs in their own operations by improving energy efficiency, adopting renewable energy, investing in co-generation and implementing demand management.”

Macfarlane said the ongoing strength of the resources sector was essential for Queensland to capitalise on the benefits and opportunities presented by new economy minerals, including their role in creating new energy sources such as renewables and hydrogen.

A key election policy of the Greens is to impose an additional $50 billion in extra taxes on the state’s resources sector over the next four years to fund green initiatives, effectively lifting the tax rate on resources by four to five times its current rate.

Mr Macfarlane said this extreme Greens’ policy would have a devastating impact on the viability of the resources industry and the state’s economy and cost tens of thousands of Queenslanders jobs across the sector.

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