One of Australia’s oldest operating coal mines is set to close.
The Berrima (Medway) colliery has supplied coal to power Boral’s neighbouring cement plant for 80 years but the company says difficult market conditions and uncertainty over whether approval will be granted to expand the mine have led to the decision.
At least thirty jobs will be lost as a result.
Boral’s Operations Manager for both the mine and the cement works, Stuart Hutchings, says it was a difficult decision.
“Boral remains committed to its cement operations at Berrima, which employ some 130 staff and continue to make a major social and economic contribution to the Southern Highlands,” he said.
Mr Hutchings says a review found that continuing to mine at Medway was unsustainable in the current market.
“This is due to increased costs, in turn making it difficult for Boral to compete with imported cement material, and the flat outlook for cement sales generally,” said Mr Hutchings.
Wingecarribee Councillor and long-time Boral employee Graham McLaughlin says the decision is a nail in the coffin for Boral’s cement plant.
“I don’t think it’s got another eight years. I doubt very much whether it has. The market’s all about making the dollars for shareholders and if that means you import clinker and grind it, that’s probably what the company will do.
“I’m very disappointed because this means a lot of jobs lost. It’s a very sad day for the employment and the future of those people in the Wingecarribee and the Southern Highlands,” said Councillor McLaughlin.
He says the company will be under pressure if coal prices rise.
“The company might be able to rationalise its cheaper to buy in coal than run the smallest coal mine in Australia, I can understand that. But look what happened to BlueScope when they got rid of their coal mines … how long did they last?
“I think this is a devestating blow for the Southern Highlands. I’m really disappointed,” said Councillor McLaughlin.
The Member for Throsby Stephen Jones agrees.
He says the cement works is the largest employer of blue collar workers in the highlands and he hopes the decision to source coal from elsewhere doesn’t jeopardise its future.
“We’ve had that sort of experience with BlueScope over the years. When coal was cheap, it was a cheap import cost for them. But when the price of coal went up it really threatened their operation and so I do have a concern about the future of the cement works over at Boral.
“I hope that they continue to prosper but I am concerned when a critical part of their operation has had to be closed down,” said Mr Jones.
Boral also blamed court action launched by the Southern Highlands Coal Action Group (SHCAG) against a planned expansion for its decision to close the mine.
“The other major consideration was the uncertainty currently surrounding the future of the Colliery as a result of the appeal lodged against our project approval by SHCAG,” said Stuart Hutchings.
“We remain disappointed that, despite a lengthy and rigorous assessment process over more than two years to secure the project approval as granted by the Government’s expert panel in 2012, this approval was overturned by the Land and Environment Court at SHCAG’s instigation,” he said.
Graham McLaughlin also blames the action taken by the anti-coal activists for the mine’s closure.
“Southern Highland Coal Action Group that took on a little old coal mine that was operating for over a hundred years, has supplied the energy to the cement works for over 80 years. They wanted to stay competitive, they wanted to produce a tiny bit more of coal, sell it on the open market to keep them viable but oh no we got taken to the Land and Environment Court and we got slammed,” said Councillor McLaughlin.
The mine operation was managed by Delta Mining on Boral’s behalf.
Boral says it will work with Delta to support the workers affected by the closure of the mine.