CFMEU Mining and Energy Qld president Stephen Smyth. Picture: Daryl Wright
CFMEU Mining and Energy Qld president Stephen Smyth. Picture: Daryl Wright

Union wants mine inquiry to include Moranbah North scrutiny

The miners union is calling for urgent changes to be made to a Queensland mine inquiry in the wake of an evacuation of workers at the Moranbah North mine last weekend.

CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland president Stephen Smyth has written to Resources Minister Scott Stewart about his concerns over the state of health and safety within the mining industry.

The union is calling for the terms of reference of the Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry to be broadened to include scrutiny of Moranbah North.

It also wants the Coal Mine Safety and Health Act to be changed so key witnesses can be compelled to give evidence to the inquiry regardless of self-incrimination privileges and wants amendments to the Act to boost protections against reprisal and potential prosecution for workers who give evidence to the inquiry.

Last Saturday, a potential spontaneous heating event in a longwall panel at Anglo American's Moranbah North mine triggered an evacuation of workers, with the mine remaining closed to workers since then.

Mr Smyth has flagged concerns about similarities between events at Moranbah North and those at Grosvenor Mine last May, where an underground blast horrifically injured five workers.

Workers protested near Anglo American's Moranbah North Mine over safety concerns on Friday June 5, 2020.
Workers protested near Anglo American's Moranbah North Mine over safety concerns on Friday June 5, 2020.

But the Daily Mercury understands there was no evidence an explosion occurred at Moranbah North and methane levels on the longwall were within regulatory levels.

Mr Smyth said the Board of Inquiry - which was announced in the wake of the Grosvenor Mine disaster - was impeded because managerial and supervisory staff could avoid giving evidence due to self-incrimination protections.

He said workers were also "too scared" to give evidence for fear of being targeted.  

"The impact of the tragedy at the Grosvenor Mine will continue to be felt by those impacted for years to come," Mr Smyth said.

"While prosecutions of those responsible must occur, it is critical that the issues impacting coal mine workers safety and health are addressed in a fulsome manner before an even greater tragedy occurs."

Anglo American’s Moranbah North mine. Picture Tara Miko
Anglo American’s Moranbah North mine. Picture Tara Miko

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Anglo American's metallurgical coal business chief executive Tyler Mitchelson said the company had engaged regularly with the CFMEU and continued to welcome any feedback on safety improvements at its mines.

"We are still investigating the cause of the Moranbah North coal heating incident with external technical expert support, and are continuing to keep our workforce updated," he said.

"Ultimately our processes worked to keep people safe, but we are always striving to find solutions to detect and address issues before they arise."

Mr Mitchelson said Moranbah North was piloting remote longwall operation and other technological innovations to improve safety across underground mines.

Resources Minister Scott Stewart said in assessing such a request, the government had to weigh up a number of factors including a person's legal rights, impact on future prosecutions and the ability of the board to do its work.

"The board may, under its current powers, call eyewitnesses to give evidence to the inquiry," Mr Stewart said.

"The management of methane hazards at all Queensland mines is already within the board's current terms of reference.

"The recent incident at Moranbah North, which relates to elevated levels of carbon monoxide and ethylene, will be the subject of thorough investigation as required under coal mining safety and health legislation."

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*Note: This story has been updated with comment from Resources Minister Scott Stewart.