GUNNEDAH BASIN COAL EXPLORATION
Mr NEVILLE NEWELL:
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Mineral Resources. What is the latest information on coal exploration in the Gunnedah basin?
Mr KERRY HICKEY:
The New South Wales minerals industry is going from strength to strength, with the total value of production in 2004-05 set to top $9 billion—an increase of more than 30 per cent on the previous year. The strong demand for coal in the world market is especially focused on New South Wales because our industry is reliable, safe and efficient. China continues to be the key driver of our coal markets. On Friday 1 July I will host the Australia-China Coal Summit in New South Wales. This meeting between Australian and Chinese Ministers, directors of State-owned corporations, coal companies and peak industry bodies will further cement our relationship with one of our most important trading partners. Interest from both Chinese and Indian companies is not limited to our raw product. There is a growing market for our knowledge and mining technology, particularly in the area of safety, which will always be my number one priority as Minister. Further, I am working hard to ensure the future of our industry by encouraging investment.
Order! There is too much audible conversation in the Chamber by both Government and Opposition members.
Mr KERRY HICKEY:
In the past 12 months alone I have met with more than 40 Chinese and Indian delegations. Those meetings have preceded investment in New South Wales coalmines: Gujarat NRE No. 1; the Illawarra coking coalmine, which was previously known as Bellambi West; and the Austar mine in my electorate of Cessnock, which was previously known as Southland Colliery. It is not only foreign investors that are reaping the rewards from the New South Wales coal industry. New South Wales producers are also benefiting with Xstrata's 2004 annual profit up 277 per cent on 2003, BHP Billiton's half-yearly profit up 127.3 per cent from the corresponding period in 2003, and Excel Coal's net profit for the six months ending December 2004 up 427 per cent. This good news all adds up to a Government that is keen to promote its minerals industry. I draw to the attention of members the development of the coal industry, particularly in the Gunnedah basin, where the Carr Labor Government has exciting plans for the area.
Order! I call the honourable member for Upper Hunter to order for the second time.
Mr KERRY HICKEY:
It gives me great pleasure to inform the House that expressions of interest will be sought to develop the Caroona coal area in the Gunnedah basin. Over a number of years the Caroona coal area, which is situated west of Werris Creek in the Tamworth electorate, has been explored by the Department of Primary Industries and the Department of Mineral Resources. Large resources of coal suitable for underground mining have been identified and there is potential for some open-cut mining. Given the current boom in coal prices and the long lead time to develop a greenfields site such as Caroona, it is now time to seek competitive expressions of interest for the area.
Expressions of interest for the development of the area will close in mid-December and evaluation and selection of the recommended applicant will be made by the end of February 2006. The good news for the towns of Werris Creek, Narrabri, Boggabri and Gunnedah does not end there. In early March the honourable member for Tamworth and I joined the Premier when he announced the approval of a $10 million Werris Creek coalmine development. Construction is now in full swing, with at least 50 people currently working on the site. Up to 70 full-time jobs will be created when the mine is fully operational. Operations at the mine site are due to start by the end of the year and the $10 million capital investment will significantly boost this town.
In Boggabri an environmental impact statement was put on display for an open-cut coalmine in late May, a project that is openly supported by the Gunnedah Shire Council. Approximately 100 jobs will be created in the construction phase and 60 ongoing mining jobs, as well as work for subcontractors in road haulage and rail loading. These projects will bring much-needed economic activity and employment to the New England and north-west region, which has an 8.8 per cent unemployment rate. It is little wonder that the remains of a once proud Country Party held its annual conference in a Gunnedah phone booth last weekend. The Nationals are driven to despair by the fact that the honourable member for Tamworth continues to serve the region as another fine Independent member of Parliament. Mining is the way to go for the New England and north-west region. The Carr Labor Government and the Independent members of the New South Wales Parliament understand that to give country towns real help and real hope for the future you need economic activity.
Order! I call the honourable member for Murrumbidgee to order.
Mr KERRY HICKEY:
Rural communities are rejecting The Nationals in droves. All The Nationals can come up with is a $1 million program or promotional campaign—not jobs, not wealth! I look forward to coming back to the House with more good news from the Carr Labor Government, Country Labor and the members of Parliament who will deliver for the bush.
Questions without notice concluded.