EDITORIAL: Playing the jobs card

WHEN it comes to lobbying governments, jobs are useful tools in the corporate armoury.

That’s especially the case when economic conditions are less than buoyant and when many people are frightened of losing employment.

Across Australia recent announcements of job losses have many workers on tenterhooks and many politicians and business leaders full of enthusiasm for a new round of cuts to working conditions.

Against that background of job insecurity, news that up to 900 people may soon be out of work with Newcastle shipbuilder Forgacs will cause concern.

The company says the federal government has the power to stave off the possible cuts by moving more quickly to order new warships recommended by the most recent defence white papers.

Forgacs’ predicament is typical of big contractors. Projects arrive in a rush and support jobs and training while they last, but in the periods between when cash-flow dries up, it becomes difficult or impossible to maintain the workforce and expertise needed to ensure future viability.

Whether the government – already complaining bitterly about reduced revenue and diminished spending capacity – can do anything to help remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, a familiar game of brinkmanship is being played out by the powerful NSW coal industry, which is pushing hard for new mine extensions to maintain production at the lowest possible cost.

Anglo-American, the owner of the Drayton mine, near Muswellbrook, has ramped up its campaign to overturn last year’s refusal of its extension proposal.

The transnational miner has managed to get the government to set up a second planning assessment commission panel to review the earlier decision and one of its senior executives, Seamus French, has labelled NSW ‘‘an investment risk for the coal industry’’, questioning whether ‘‘the Hunter Valley was really open for coal business’’.

Now the corporation is threatening to lay off 500 workers, adding jobs to about $35million a year in royalties said to be at risk.

Unusually for the Hunter, the proposed mine has a powerful opponent. Dubai-owned Darley horse stud has threatened to leave NSW if the miner gets its way, warning that a mine so close to its operation will ruin its business.

Winemakers, horse breeders and tourist operators have warned that the mine approval stands to cost the state $457million, strip $120million a year from the Hunter economy and cost 640 jobs.

It’s a high-stakes game, with jobs among the chips on the table.

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