Mineral Resources could be 'saving grace' for Cliffs workers

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union has called on the state government to reconsider Mineral Resources Limited’s mining application, following the announcement that Cleveland-Cliffs could close their Australian mining operations this year.

In December 2017, the state government rejected the company’s application to develop an iron ore deposit in the Helena Aurora Range upon the advice of the Environmental Protection Authority.

With an estimated 140 jobs at stake, the Union’s West Australian Branch secretary Philip Woodcock said a review of the decision could be their ‘saving grace’.

“The only thing that could really make any difference to [the situation] is if the Premier reviews the Mineral Resources decision and, if so, it needs to be now and it needs to be happening now,” he said.

“Mineral Resources Limited could carry on the Cliffs operations because they have the facilities there in Koolyanobbing.

“Pacific National had already conducted a feasibility study of transporting through Esperance last year and the problem for them was the pathway that Cliffs occupied at the time and their use of the Port; there was limited availability for them.

“On that basis, if they got the extension, they’d be able to use Esperance Port because there will now be very little on that line.”

A WA Government spokesperson said the decision not to proceed with the proposed mines in the Helena-Aurora Ranges was made after ‘careful deliberation’ and, under the Environmental Protection Act, the matter was final and ‘without appeal’.

“Southern Ports Authority and the State Government are working hard to identify opportunities to increase throughput at Esperance Port.”

Member for Agricultural Region Darren West said the government had made the decision against the mine extension with the ‘support of the public’.

Mr Woodcock said the move would benefit both the town and the state government, with the revenue still coming through the mine site.

“I understand that the Environment minister said it was not subject to appeal by Mineral Resources Limited, I get that point, that’s why we’re saying the Premiership should review it,” he said.

“If he reviews it with the assistance of the Treasury and the Environmental minister to see what can be done around the site, it could help to protect and maintain the mining and the services going through Esperance for five or ten years.”

Mr Woodcock expressed concern for the ‘ripple effect’ the closure would have on the community and said the decision was a ‘major blow’ for the Union.

“It’s a major concern for the union but it should also be a major concern for the government,” he said.

“I cannot stress this enough, for Esperance, this is going to be dire and the community will suffer immensely.

“There will be no work there, no work for those people, and they might stay in town and wait it out or move from town but the money isn’t going to be there.

“When you start looking at the figures, the sort of money that will be moving outside of the town, it will have a significant impact - ‘catastrophic’.” 

Currently, the Union believe job losses could begin as early as June.

Member for Roe Peter Rundle echoed Mr Woodcock’s sentiments and said the government had ‘taken jobs away’ by choosing not to support projects like the Mineral Resources’ expansion.

Cleveland-Cliffs chief executive officer Lourenco Goncalves made the announcement during an earnings call on Thursday, January 25.

Currently, the mining giant own the Koolyanobbing complex and serve much of the Asian iron ore markets and represent more than 75 per cent of the export volume processed through the Esperance port.

Southern Ports chief executive Nicolas Fertin said the news was a blow for staff and the broader Goldfields-Esperance community and would impact Southern Ports as a whole.

“Port staff have been working hard to make Southern Ports more competitive and attract other trade to mitigate what we knew was the risk of the possible closure of the Cliffs operations,” he said.

Mr Fertin said Southern Ports would work with staff, stakeholders and customers to move forward in the wake of the announcement, with plans to provide ‘face-to-face meetings’ and support in relation to the matter.

The Esperance Chamber of Commerce and Industry said there would be an impact for the ‘flow-on’ services connected to the Port, Arc Infrastructure and Aurizon. 

The Chamber said they were concerned about the situation and would meet with government representatives during February.

An Aurizon spokesperson said the company were seeking a meeting with Cliffs to understand the details of the potential closure. 

Cleveland-Cliffs could not be reached for comment.