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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 51


Senator LIGHTFOOT (12:51 PM) —In the modest time that is available to me I want to speak on the Workplace Relations Amendment (Agreement Validation) Bill 2004, particularly with respect to the adverse position that is created sometimes when mining companies from overseas come to Australia. I would like to begin by painting a picture of Xstrata, a Swiss company, and their major shareholder, Glencore, and its Mr Marc Rich—Mr Marc very Rich evidently.

One thing that we can be sure of in the proposed takeover of the iconic and highly respected Western Mining Corporation by Xstrata is that, like all Swiss deals, there is no social payment, no beneficiaries in the medium term except the Swiss companies involved. They would all tear the guts out of the deer, just to get the kidney fat. The proposed grab by this unlisted Swiss company—unlisted in Australia at least—of the Western Mining Corporation is because of Australia's world renowned mineral reserves. There is nothing wrong with that in principle, except that Western Mining has the biggest reserves—that is, scientifically delineated reserves—of minable uranium in the world, plus, as a bonus, copper—perhaps the biggest reserves in Australasia—and exciting reserves of gold to boot. And I would respectfully remind honourable senators that gold values are at their highest levels for 16 years and Western Mining Corporation has lots of it.

But the serious actual and potential advantage for the multimetal miner is uranium. Australia, through, significantly, the Western Mining Corporation, has the largest uranium reserves in the world. Just as Saudi Arabia holds the biggest reserves of oil, Australia holds roughly the same percentage of uranium in the world. If the carnivorous global predator, Xstrata, gets its incisors around the throat of Western Mining, jobs will be lost—they have already flagged that—particularly at Western Mining headquarters in Melbourne. If the appalling treatment of the small Australian miner Precious Metals, and their Windimurra mine in central Western Australia, is an example of the shady global practices that Xstrata is prepared to stoop to and is anything to go by then we could expect mine closures or mine staff reduction and relocation of mining infrastructure so that a mine would be difficult to reopen.

This is what has happened to the unfortunate Windimurra vanadium mine —the largest vanadium mine deposit in the world—in central Western Australia' s outback. Xstrata bought out the mining rights to the deposit and then left Precious Metals with only an ongoing royalty. The only problem for Precious Metals is: no vanadium, no money. Xstrata not only closed the mine shortly after its acquisition and the deal was done but removed most of the plant and machinery used for mining so that it was almost impossible for the mine—as I said, the largest in the world—to reopen. With it went $30 million of start-up money given by the Western Australian government. This commercial banditry had the effect of not only losing jobs there, so desperately needed in the outback, but also boosting the global price of vanadium, which Xstrata then satisfied from its mines in southern Africa. All those jobs were lost at Windimurra. In my many decades of involvement in mining in Western Australia and other places, this is singularly the worst act of a foreign company, mining or otherwise, that I have witnessed in Australia. The same modus operandi could be used for the acquisition of Western Mining's nickel operations, uranium, copper and gold.

If the trend that Xstrata has implemented at Windimurra expands to other mining areas in the nation, and is picked up or used with the perception that it is a bone fide manner of maximising profits by restricting supplies of metals or minerals that are currently in demand, particularly in China, then Australia, because of its high wage structure, occupational health and safety laws and reliance on high costs of imported mining machinery, could well see a disastrous outcome of any extension to the Windimurra premeditated monopoly. Western Mining is well known to me—I worked for the company in the 1960s when I was studying geology in Kalgoorlie. It has a global conscience; it is respected—even revered—by its work force. It could not have possibly conceived of a tactic like the audacious closure of a mine in Western Australia to maximise the return of another mine in another country by the same company.

There is in Western Australia a disturbing disquiet with respect to this global hunting fiscal predator. I trust the company will learn that there are certain rules, written and unwritten, that it must conform to in this country. We are not a Third World civilisation; we will not tolerate wholesale sackings of employees, nor the destruction of subcontractors, nor the scurrilous and unnecessary closure of our world-class mines. Foreign companies are most welcome here—stick to the rules, forget your Swiss arrogance, Mr Rich, and if you wish to stay here, it will pay you great dividends.