The Guardian August 2, 2000


Union calls on ACCC to prosecute coal price fixers

In the last decade alone, Australia has lost billions of dollars in 
earnings as a result of collusion by Japanese buyers to fix coal prices. 
While greedy Australian exporters have cut each other's throats and 
undermined the national interest in a grab for market share, the 
Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union has consistently pointed 
out that strategic investment in Australian coal operations by the Japanese 
buyers has provided them with the vital information they require to drive 
down prices.

The CFMEU has possession of documents from Japan that prove their claims of 
collusion are correct.

They have passed them on to the Australian Competition and Consumer 
Commission (ACCC).

"The ACCC is never hesitant when it comes to threatening the MUA or other 
unions with prosecution for alleged breaches of the competition and 
consumer regulations, but not so when a union demands action", said the 
CFMEU Mining and Energy Division in a report in its journal Common 
Cause.

The papers from Japan's New Energy and Industrial Technology Development 
Organisation (NEDO) are 10 years old. They call for Japanese companies to 
drive down the price of coal by investing in Australian mines (which they 
have done) to ensure a deliberate oversupply of coal.

"Japanese companies need not only to assume ownership rights and interest 
in Australian coal mines, but to invest and finance these via low interest 
loans from Japan ...", says the NEDO papers.

"Through the ... enlargement of supply by the promotion of new development, 
the price of thermal coal will be stabilised at a lower price."

Even though the ACCC agrees that there is a case for prosecution, it has 
declined to pursue it because of a lack of support from spineless coal 
producers.

The ACCC also claims that the cost of such a prosecution might outweigh the 
public benefit and it is concerned about the potential for Japanese trade 
reprisals.

General President of the Mining and Energy Division of the CFMEU Tony Maher 
has made it clear that this is a cop out and the Union is considering legal 
action to force the ACCC to act.

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Acknowledgements: Common Cause

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