Bushfires magnify mining's image problem

ANGER and misinformation around Australia’s devastating bushfires is highlighting how much work miners have to do to gain public favour.
Bushfires magnify mining's image problem Bushfires magnify mining's image problem Bushfires magnify mining's image problem Bushfires magnify mining's image problem Bushfires magnify mining's image problem

Image: iStock/angyee054

Multiple media outlets have been criticised for the spread of misinformation around the fires and the causes, but it's social media where things really get out of hand.

Spend an hour on Facebook, Twitter or even Instagram and it's clear miners are getting caught in the crosshairs of fierce public debate.

Many are blaming mining companies outright for the disaster, based on the argument they are Australia's biggest emitters, which is in turn contributing to climate change and worsening conditions for fires.

Wherever you sit in that debate, data from the government's clean energy regulator shows that the country's top 10 emitters in the 2018 financial year, contributing over half of Australia's emissions, were dominated by electricity companies, with no miners making the list.

Coal miners are particularly maligned by the public, with bushfire-related protests in Munich over the weekend against Adani contractor Siemens, supported by teen activist Greta Thunberg.

The hashtags #SiemensFuelsFires and #StopAdani briefly trended on Twitter yesterday.

However, the hysteria seems that all miners are being tarred with the same brush.

An image widely circulated on Facebook last week listed the names of billionaires and some of the country's miners next to their financial contributions (all zero) to bushfire relief.

Apart from being factually incorrect, Vale's inclusion on the list was particularly random given the Brazilian giant exited Australia in 2016.

In reality, mining companies have been some of the biggest financial contributors to bushfire relief.

Evolution Mining yesterday announced a A$3 million donation to support bushfire and drought relief, comprising $750,000 each to the Queensland Rural Fire Service and NSW Rural Fire Service, and $1.5 million to Rural Aid.

Rio Tinto and South32 first donated to bushfire relief back in November, taking total contributions to $1.5 million and $1 million, respectively.

Rio tweeted about its gesture, but almost all of the 46 comments in reply criticised the miner for being a "climate criminal", a tax-dodger and for pledging too little.

BHP donated $2 million via its charitable foundation, but curiously didn't tweet about it.

Before Christmas, Glencore donated $1.7 million in partnership with Rural Aid.

Kirkland Lake Gold and Fortescue Metals Group last week each announced $1 million donations.

Newcrest Mining has donated $400,000 and pledged to match up to $200,000 of employee donations.

Alcoa donated $50,000, while Saracen Mineral Holdings donated $25,000 and will match all employee donations.

The largest personal contribution came last week from Andrew and Nicola Forrest, with their charitable foundation Minderoo donating $70 million for bushfire relief, recovery and research.

Again, the reaction on social media was mostly negative. Search ‘Twiggy' on Twitter and you'll mainly find anger towards Forrest.

"Let's not applaud parasites for spitting back a bit of what they've sucked out of us," one tweet said.

Comedian Celeste Barber called out Gina Rinehart on Twitter for not donating to bushfire relief, but the publicity-shy billionaire reportedly made a private donation.

The two iron ore magnates have become the primary targets of a group called Uni Students for Climate Justice, which have over 17,000 followers on Facebook and held protest rallies around Australia last week.

The group has made viral posters criticising the two with the slogans ‘Mining CEOs are the problem, not the solution' and ‘Make the climate criminals pay!'

Rinehart's face is being used on the poster for protests being held across six capital cities this week.

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"If billionaires like Gina Rinehart won't get serious with bushfire relief, this is where a fossil fuel levy to fund climate mitigation measures would make a lot of sense," shareholder activist Stephen Mayne tweeted last week.

Many of the thousands of angry tweets about Forrest, Rinehart and other big miners aren't suitable to print.

Whether social media debate is based on facts or complete rubbish, it shows the mining sector is still losing the public relations war.