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Thursday, 17 February 2000
Page: 13825

Mr HOLLIS —On Monday, 7 February, BHP confirmed that it had sold Australian coking coal to Japanese buyers at a bargain basement price. The announcement puts at least 4,000 jobs at risk. At least 1,000 jobs are threatened in my own region, the Illawarra, and there are further substantial job threats in the Bowen Basin in Queensland; starting today with the loss of 40 jobs at Collinsville. I was aware that BHP negotiators had caved in to Japanese buyers one full week before the official confirmation by BHP representatives. The CFMEU mining division officials and I were tipped off about the five per cent price cave-in from sources close to the negotiators in Tokyo. Indeed, we tipped off the Illawarra Mercury a full seven days before the official announcement. BHP representatives denied that any settlement had been reached. In other words, the deal with the Japanese buyers for our coal had been signed, sealed and delivered, but BHP just did not have the courage to confirm it publicly.

BHP was deliberately dishonest with the Illawarra region and the community in the Bowen Basin. I cannot understand why they kept quiet about this disgraceful cave-in for a full seven days. Did BHP expect that nobody would notice that their cave-in in Tokyo would establish the benchmark for coking coal that other coal producers in this country will now be bound by? Did they expect that there would be no adverse critical reaction from the Illawarra community?

I have said many times in this place that Australia requires a centralised coal marketing authority to ensure fair negotiations over the price of our coal commodity. Each time we go to Tokyo to negotiate on an individual, case-by-case basis the Japanese negotiators know that they will make a meal out of the Australian producers. As always, Australian coal producers hardly ever think about the national interest. Market share is what counts for them, and the individual company bottom line. I continually hear the line about the market and the realities of international commodity prices—and, of course, the usual criticism abounds regarding the establishment of a centralised coal authority. But what about the commodities we sell in the international marketplace like wool, wheat and meat? We sell these products in the international marketplace through a centralised body covering the particular commodity, but for some inexplicable reason the coal commodity is different.

The Japanese are very clever in the purchase of commodities from around the world. The clever strategy is based only on the national interest of Japan. Given the absolute cave-in of a week ago on coking coal, we can now only hope that further negotiations by BHP for its full range of coal exports to Japan and elsewhere will be concluded positively. The pressure on jobs in the Illawarra is very real. BHP can run the gauntlet of public scrutiny for its Tokyo cave-in, but it can never hide when the workers are sacked because of their bargain basement sell-out of Australian resources. (Time expired)