BHP Billiton chairman Jacques Nasser has slammed the Queensland government's decision to raise coal royalties, describing it as an ''unbelievable'' and ''counter-productive'' move that would cause more job losses and lost investment.
Mr Nasser said the budget decision to raise royalties from 10 per cent to 12.5 per cent for coal prices above $US100 a tonne - an attempt to boost its coffers by $1.6 billion - would heap further pressure on miners already struggling under declining coal prices, a high dollar and high labour and capital expenditure costs. The royalty rises to 15 per cent for coal prices above $US150 a tonne.
''I would suspect that many coalmines in Queensland today will be cash-flow negative,'' he said at a business lunch in Melbourne.
Australia's biggest miners have been hit by a slump in commodity prices due to slowing economic growth in China, driven in part by political uncertainty caused by an upcoming once-in-a-decade leadership transition, made more dramatic by the mysterious absence - rumoured to be due to ill health - of Vice-President Xi Jinping.
Premier Wen Jiabao has also been forced to deliver a strident defence of China's economy on Tuesday at the World Economic Forum, where he pledged to act to boost growth.
Benchmark iron ore prices have rebounded in the past two sessions from below $US90 a tonne to just above $US100 a tonne, but remain well off the $US180 a tonne levels of just a year ago.
BHP, Rio Tinto and Xstrata have all hit out at the Queensland
government's tax slug, which comes as the industry sheds workers, closes mines and delays projects because of falling commodity prices.
BHP has put the brakes on more than $50 billion of investment and on Monday announced the closure of its Gregory coking-coal mine in the Bowen Basin, with the loss of 300 jobs.
Iron ore miner Fortescue recently sacked about 1000 staff and cut its planned capital expenditure by a quarter.
''What we are going through is a wake-up call for everyone,'' Mr Nasser said yesterday.
The chairman of the world's biggest miner also called on both federal and state governments to ''stop fiddling'' with new taxes - including Canberra's carbon and mining taxes and work more closely with industry to provide a more sustainable and stable investment environment.
''At the moment, no change in taxation policy in Australia is a good change,'' Mr Nasser said. ''Because it seems to me every time they change, it's to the detriment of industry and economic growth.''
The former global president of automotive giant Ford said the constant reference of a two-speed economy in an attempt to justify ''handicapping'' the mining industry ''was driving him nuts'' and it was akin to ''taking out a shotgun'' and shooting an elite athlete in the foot.
Mr Nasser was tight-lipped when asked about any potential succession plans for chief executive Marius Kloppers, who has been in the top job for five years.
''If I look at the top team of BHP Billiton … I wouldn't swap that team for any other team, and that says something,'' he said.
''I wouldn't swap them when the world was booming, and I certainly wouldn't swap them now because times are more difficult.''
BHP gained 27¢, or 0.8 per cent, to $32.85.