June 21st, 2010 at 06:56am
The plane load of missing mining bosses in Africa is concerning for a number of reasons. Most importantly of course it’s concerning because the plane has been missing for over 20 hours with absolutely no communications. Whilst I hope that it all turns out well for all on board the plane, I fear that it won’t.
Domestically this is concerning because of the impact it may have on the ongoing debate over the mining super profits tax (which is a crazy scheme, but that’s a debate for another time) in which the mining companies and the federal government are locked in a bitter fight. Under normal circumstances, a missing chartered flight carrying a handful of Australians somewhere in Africa wouldn’t get a lot of attention, in fact it would probably be in the news one day and not be in the news the next, however with the ongoing battle over the mining tax, anything to do with mining takes on extra importance in the media.
Neither the government nor the miners will want to be seen to be playing politics with this, however it seems somewhat inevitable that they will use it in one way or another. Take Foreign Minister Stephen Smith for example. He’s in a rather tricky situation…he runs the department which is responsible for doing everything it can to ensure the safe return of the missing miners, however he is also a member of a government which would be quite glad to have a handful of mining executives and a mining company off their backs. Stephen Smith gave a press conference yesterday as, after all, that is what the Minister for Foreign Affairs does when a group of Australians go missing overseas, however he did not look in the least bit comfortable. He looked like I might look if I was dragged out of bed at 4am to answer questions about a topic which is not as interesting as my sleep. He looked like he was forced to be there, but really didn’t care about the missing people and was just there because somebody else in the government decided that they needed to look as if they are doing the normal things for missing people.
The miners on the other hand could also use this to their own advantage, although I don’t think that they will be stupid enough to do it directly as, currently at least, they are winning the PR war over the mining tax and would know better than to use a potential tragedy for political gain…something to which Australians don’t usually take kindly.
It could be pointed out that the mining executives were en route to an almost unpronounceable mining project in a mostly unpronounceable part of Africa…the type of foreign project which would be more likely to occur on a more regular basis if the proposed mining tax forces the companies to invest more heavily in foreign projects. These less developed parts of the world have less safe transport infrastructure, and it could be argued that the mining tax would lead to a higher likelihood of lives being lost.
As I say though, it’s unlikely that the miners will say that directly, and certainly not this soon, but I think it is inevitable that the missing miners will influence the direction of the debate over the mining tax, which is sad. In the infamous words of Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste”.
I do sincerely hope that the missing miners are found safe and well. Any time that people go missing it is concerning, especially when it involves a plane in a remote area.
On the bright side though, we can usually learn from situations like this, and I think it’s safe to say that the one good thing which will definitely come out of this is that companies will be much more careful about allowing their entire board to travel together from now on.