Wakey, wakey. The shelving of the Olympic Dam expansion is not just a $30 billion loss to South Australia and the nation.
BHP Billiton is also saying: Now will we wake up from this dangerous fantasy?
The fantasy is that fat-cat miners are just trying to rip off Aussie battlers when they complain about new taxes and workplace laws.
Even now, some will look at BHP’s full-year net profit – the $US15.4 billion also announced yesterday – and still think the company is conning us when it cries poor and scraps the expansion of our biggest copper and uranium project.
But the toxic political attacks on “greedy miners” have masked a fact that yesterday hit this state like a bomb.
Yes, some miners may be rich (at the moment), but Australia is getting too expensive for them.
What’s more, they now have options, not least in Africa and South America.
And one more thing. No mining boom lasts forever. News from China suggests this one is ending faster than predicted.
Those “greedy miners” have tried to warn us for a long time of all this, and check the vilification they got for trying.
In May, for instance, BHP chairman Jac Nasser made a rare – for him – political speech, noting the World Bank’s “Ease of doing Business” index showed Australia falling from 11th place last year to 15th.
He blamed red tape, rigid workplace laws and a rising union militancy that had led BHP’s Queensland coalmines to suffer an astonishing 3200 industrial disputes in just one year.
Then there were the new taxes.
“While governments have the right to make tax and royalty decisions, those decisions have repercussions,” Mr Nasser said.
For this warning, Mr Nasser was rewarded with abuse.
Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, for instance, said blaming the Fair Work Act for holding back productivity was “ a lie and should be called for the lie it is”. The union trouble was more BHP’s fault.
Same thing when mining billionaire Gina Rinehart this year warned that new carbon and mining taxes would stop some mining projects from going ahead.
“West Perth, where my offices are, for instance, is filled with companies investing in low-cost, highly resourced Africa,” she said.
“Now the evidence is unarguable that Australia is indeed becoming too expensive and too uncompetitive to do export-oriented business.”
For such warnings, Ms Rinehart was blasted by Treasurer Wayne Swan for her “greed” and “poison”.
It was the same story when consultants Port Jackson Partners, in a report for the Minerals Council of Australia, warned that high labour, energy and transport costs had made our mining projects among the most expensive in the world to develop, and Olympic Dam’s expansion was threatened.
The study said iron ore projects in Australia were up to 75 per cent more expensive to build than those in West Africa.
How did the Prime Minister respond? By attacking one of the authors, Angus Taylor, as a Liberal candidate who was showing “reckless negativity” about Olympic Dam by just “talking it down”.
Right. Can we now stop this infantile debate?
That includes blaming the Olympic Dam decision on the carbon tax, as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott tried yesterday.
“(Thousands of jobs) will be lost because of the changed investment climate created, in significant measure, by the Government’s new taxes,” he said.
But while the carbon tax and mining tax are indeed symptoms of the mining industry’s troubles, they are not the cause of what BHP announced yesterday.
The mining tax does not apply to uranium or copper mines, and BHP made no mention of the carbon tax.
Chief executive Marius Kloppers vaguely blamed “current market conditions, including subdued commodity prices and higher capital costs”.
Fact is, the project is huge, China is looking shaky and prices have come down. It’s too big a gamble.
But more projects of that “record investment pipeline” we were promised also seem uncertain.
BHP is expected to delay the $20 billion iron ore harbour expansion at Port Hedland.
We face severe challenges to keep the investment flowing on which our future relies, and not the least is to cut spending, lower taxes and strip back many of the workplace laws that stop us from working more nimbly.
And can we stop screaming at rich miners? When they warn they might have to pull out if things don’t get cheaper, they may be telling a truth we dare not ignore.
Andrew Bolt’s columns appear in Melbourne’s Herald Sun, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Adelaide’s Advertiser. He runs the most-read political blog in Australia and hosts Channel 10’s The Bolt Report each Sunday at 10am, and his book Still Not Sorry remains very widely read.