Coal is a small employer and a small contributor to government budgets in Australia. Other industries employ many more people, per unit of output, than mining. Even in Queensland, our largest coal exporting state, coal employs just 1 per cent of the workforce and pays only 3 per cent of state revenue through royalties, around the same amount received through car registration.
The coal industry is heavily subsidised by state and federal governments. Staying in Queensland, that state spent $8 billion assisting the coal industry between 2008-09 and 2013-14, expenditure that Queensland Treasury expressly states “means less infrastructure spending in other areas, including social infrastructure such as hospitals and schools.” Tax breaks, particularly relating to fuel inputs reduced federal taxes by $4.5 billion in 2012-13. These figures do not consider economic, health or ecosystem impacts from coal mining.
While coal export earnings are considerable, the industry is almost entirely foreign owned, meaning most profits are also exported. At the moment, many mines are struggling to make a profit, because the rush to develop more mines has led to a collapse in coal prices. According to IEEFA in late 2014 “the Average Australian thermal coal mine [is operating] at a marginal loss on current pricing of US$63/t Newcastle benchmark.”