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New South Wales

Jun 10, 2014

Canada bests Australia for mining, but don’t blame resources tax

Canada has finally broken Australia's run as the world's top mining investment destination as CSG faces increasing opposition in eastern states.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

As Tony Abbott enjoys some Canadian hospitality, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who faces a big test in the Ontario provincial polls on Thursday, can enjoy bragging rights as leader of the most attractive mining investment destination in the world.

In the latest mining investment survey by US mining analysts Behre Dolbear, Canada has broken Australia’s four-year run as the world’s most attractive mining environment despite Australia lifting its performance, edging us out 61.6 points to 60.3 points.

Unexpectedly, however, the reason relates to coal seam gas projects and not Australia’s tax policies, which have for years has been used by the Coalition and the mining industry to claim that Australia was unattractive to mining investors even as Behre Dolbear repeatedly gave us top honours. Liberal/National Party governments in New South Wales and Queensland have proven to be just as hesitant about handling CSG projects as their Labor  predecessors were; if anything, the O’Farrell-Baird governments have been tougher than their ALP predecessor, and it may have been this that caused Australia to lose its top place.

Canada was assessed as lifting its performance in handling “social issues” by 4 points, compared to only 1 point for Australia. Berhe Dolbear isn’t exactly soft when it comes to assessing such matters, saying about social issues:

“The watchwords in the mining industry have become ‘sustainable development’, ‘indigenous rights,’ and ‘social license,’ which, while sound in principle, have often been used by opponents to delay or completely halt mining development, not to mention adversely impacting established operations …  A persistent issue, especially in developed economies, is the ‘NIMBY’ (Not In My Backyard) syndrome, where personal prosperity outweighs public’s necessity for minerals.”

Canada also surged ahead on stopping delays to projects, while Australia marked time. Coal seam gas and coal mining projects have been targeted by what the analysts would undoubtedly call “NIMBY” protesters, while in NSW there have been allegations of corruption in relation to major projects as well as government efforts to halt and better regulate the environmental impacts of CSG extraction. Canada and Australia both lost a point on the corruption segment of the index but are still the top-ranked countries.

However, on tax, Australia outperformed Canada despite the allegedly disastrous impact of Labor’s mining tax, which Behre Dolbear blames for sparking similar moves around the world:

“The impact of increasing government debt, combined with relatively recent rising commodity prices, has inspired officials in almost every minerals-producing nation to consider raising mining-related taxes and fees. The inspiration for these efforts may have been bolstered by Australia’s actions over the past year to increase taxes, both directly and indirectly on mining operations.”

But Australia gained 3 points on tax, compared to Canada, which gained only 1. The net result is that Australia picked up 4 points from its score last year, while Canada picked up just over 7 to seize top honours — a result that almost certainly will be spun by the industry as demonstrating the need to remove impediments to investment such as ensuring fracking doesn’t damage water tables or allowing local communities a say in what mines go ahead next door.

But while Harper and Abbott might see themselves as naturally aligned in the climate denialism club, things are more complicated. Both Australia and Canada are major carbon emitters (per capita) through being big producers of fossil fuels — Australia through a bit of oil and a lot of coal and Canada through some coal and a lot of oil, especially that produced from the tar sands in the western province of Alberta. Canada wants to export more of its oil and associated products from the tar sands to the United States through the all-but-completed Keystone pipeline, which US President Barack Obama is delaying approving for environmental reasons — and because of strong opposition in the US to tar sands-produced oil and its large carbon footprint.

But Australia’s energy future is liquefied natural gas exports from Queensland and Western Australia into Asia, especially China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. That’s on top of our already large volumes of LNG exports from WA. Our best interests lie in producing and exporting as much gas as possible and replacing thermal coal (if we can). Gas is in greater demand than the tar sands-based oil and other products Canada is trying to flog to the US.

Harper’s attempts to push a gas export project through British Columbia have triggered an outbreak of opposition and his government has to decide by next Tuesday, June 17, on whether to approve pipelines to carry oil and other products to British Columbia from Alberta, a decision that will play a major part in the 2015 national elections. Already there are court challenges to the pipeline, with the provincial government not very supportive of the proposal either. This decision will be far more important to Harper’s political survival than any glad-handing with a fellow denialist for the cameras in Ottawa.

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2 thoughts on “Canada bests Australia for mining, but don’t blame resources tax

  1. Roger Clifton

    Fellow readers are surely aware that hydrocarbon fuels come in the form of “coal, oil and gas”. All of them produce CO2 and all of them leak methane.

    That is of course, unless we realise that we, through our jobs or super or house price growth, can get stinking rich on exporting and using say, gas, ourselves. Then it becomes just “coal and oil”. Then we shout it to each other until there are too many of us to hang when we are found out.

    Do I hear you agree that “Our best interests lie in producing and exporting as much gas as possible”? Why the urgency? Is it because we’re afraid that the coal-burning nations might convert instead to nuclear and cheat us of our profits?

  2. old greybeard

    Canada of course is a leading example with Athabasca. Another point is that Canada is bloody huge and 3 parts frozen. Not too many residents to upset. My sister in law is an environmental adviser to the Ontario government. She would I think cheerfully run Harper under her car. They BTW have a carbon tax in BC (Abbott lies). The world has failed to end.