Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Generational tensions and the future of the Beaconsfield Gold Mine

As I noted a few days ago, the convoluted ownership structure of the mine necessarily left a media/responsibility “gap”, one that, in the media sense anyway, was competently filled by union boss Bill Shorten.

On the "management" side, the ultimate beneficial owners of the mine, Macquarie Bank, were conspicuously silent, at least until they made the promise, on ~ May 7, to give their stake to a workers’ trust. Which left fronting the media on behalf of the side of "capital" to just two men; mine manager Matthew Gill and Tasmanian Minerals Council chief executive Terry Long.

The former would be a familiar face to anyone who followed the long rescue unfold on TV, but there’s an interesting backgrounder on him here. In any case, it is the less media-promiscuous, and presumably more powerful behind the scenes, industry body chief Terry Long who interests me much more.

If the overall rescue drama had some hugely see-sawing moments, Terry Long has gone through similar amplitudes of media highs and lows. Not about the rescue itself, but about the related issues of mine safety and the mine’s future.

Staggeringly, this morning Long was suggesting (TV interview) that the mine could quite possibly re-open, subject of course, to safety concerns being met, and proper inquiries done first:

The Tasmanian industry body says the highly technical mining industry will find a way for the mine to re-open

Long bolstered his optimism here by using a darker side-current, about what would happen to the town if the mine did not re-open (TV interview), the gist here being that while some miners (and certainly so the rescued duo) would never go back, economic circumstances would probably see the majority willing to do so – but only in due course and with stringent safety measures, blah blah.

Nice. Only a boomer, IMO, could possibly make such a callous comment without wincing, and further, such a comment could only be made, in the circumstances, if the cohort of desperate employees he is referring to are inferior humans, in some sense. That is (I’m assuming) such a cohort is mainly of Xers (like the rescued duo).

What makes Terry Long’s comments more egregious still is that as recently as May 4, he was taking the completely opposite tack:

"You can consider it closed, and I'm not talking from the mine operator's point of view, but just from the level of common sense within the mining industry," Mr Long said.

(FWIW, these comments greatly angered the locals)

So why the big turnaround in Long’s opinion, as soon as the trapped duo were safely above ground? Even I’m not sure. It can’t strictly be to get MacBank off the hook (even though it seems plausible enough to regard Long as Macquarie’s media proxy over the past week) – as Macquarie's head of treasury and commodities Andrew Downe elegantly put it this morning, the mine’s re-opening, or not, is now a ball firmly in its workers’ court:

"If the mine does not re-open, the [workers’ trust] has no value."

Translation no. 1 (for boomer ears): it’s not MacBank’s problem now, because in return for washing their hands, they’ve given away a potentially valuable asset.

Translation no. 2 (for Xer ears): You’ve been given the booby prize from hell. If you disclaim it (by keeping the mine closed), don’t expect any sympathy, much less money, from us (aka “Why didn’t you listen to the soberly-concerned-for-*your*-future Terry Long on 9/5?”). And if you decide to re-open, and something goes wrong, don’t blame us boomers – we told you so! (aka “Why didn’t you listen to the common-sense/safety-first Terry Long on 4/5?”).

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