Roll up, roll up, it’s coal magic

THE art of sleight of hand comes when you're telling your audience where to look. The key is making sure that the magic happens in full view, and the trick happens out of sight.

Bundaberg is experiencing a flurry of exploratory drilling for coal deposits.

The 13 coal exploration permits recently granted, alongside 18 for minerals, literally encircle the town. The mining sector is buzzing, and its investors are trumpeting the region as Queensland's newest coal centre.

The mining industry giants are well versed in the tricky talking points they use to drum up public support for these projects. They promise jobs, money, and a shiny white rabbit from under their hard hat!

The Bundaberg community isn't convinced.

They fear the coal mine expansion will adversely affect the local agriculture industry (the region's third largest employer).

Coal magnates have heard the concerns and insist that mining and farming can co-exist peacefully. But is this a trick?

Bundaberg need only look over at the Galilee Basin Waratah Coal project for answers. Its economic impact assessment outlines the affect its development would have on the region's economy.

It states the new mine will crowd out jobs in agriculture and manufacturing.

The local community and businesses can expect rising costs and prices, inflation, business closures, and a breakdown of social cohesion.

These claims came from Waratah Coal's own economists. The damage the report predicts didn't make it into any of their media releases though. Tricky.

Queensland is already showing signs of becoming a two-speed economy. Growth forecasts for the state in 2014 will come off the back of mining expansion, while non-mining sectors will continue to underperform.

This doesn't mean that mining is the only prosperous way forward for coal-rich Bundaberg.

There is another definite winner in the forecasts this year, and that's tourism. The lower Australian dollar will see continued growth in overseas visitors in 2014. Queensland is set for its best year in tourism in the past 10.

Queensland's tourism industry employs more than double that of the mining sector, and attracts $22 billion in direct spending per year.

Bundaberg, with its competitive advantages in climate, lifestyle and environment, could become a big winner in tourism growth.

There's no doubt Bundaberg has been hit hard in recent years, with rising input costs and falling productivity taking their toll on the region's economic output.

It's wise to investigate solutions.

Mining companies do a great job of selling the positives of coal.

Believe it's a magic bullet? You're just missing the trick.

Dr Richard Dennis - Executive Director The Australia Institute

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