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Australia PM hails coal deal amid poll slump
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) July 12, 2011

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Tuesday hailed a record coal mining bid as proof the key resources sector would thrive, shrugging off a slump in the polls over her plans for a pollution tax.

Gillard said the joint Aus$4.68 billion (US$5.0 billion) bid for Macarthur Coal from European steelmaking giant ArcelorMittal and US mining firm Peabody defied industry claims that a new carbon emissions tax would hurt the sector.

"We are seeing the biggest takeover bid in Australian history for a coal company," she told public broadcaster ABC.

"You couldn't get a better indication that business people see a good future in coal mining in this country."

Gillard unveiled a controversial new Aus$23-per-tonne levy on the nation's top 500 polluters on Sunday in a bid to reduce carbon emissions blamed for global warming, starting July 1 next year.

Australia is one of the world's worst per capita polluters due to its reliance on mining exports and coal-fired power, and the heavyweight coal industry says the new tax will shut mines and cost thousands of jobs.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott said the Macarthur takeover, which will be the biggest ever of an Australian coal miner if it goes ahead, showed offshore companies stood ready to move in on firms left vulnerable by the carbon levy.

Coal industry chief Ralph Hillman said "internal dynamics" of the bid had dictated its timing, not the tax, which he said would cause high-cost operations to shut and other projects to be put aside.

But Gillard said it underscored the prospects of the coal sector, which has been promised an Aus$1.3 billion buffer package to ensure no jobs are lost as the tax comes in.

"You have to track where the money is going... it's going into buying an Australian mining business," Gillard said. "People would only do that if they thought it had a great future."

Gillard is blitzing the nation with an election-style campaign hoping to win support for her plan from a sceptical public, with a poll published Tuesday showing just 30 percent of voters were in favour and 59 percent against.

The Newspoll survey of 1,203 Australians, taken ahead of Gillard's unveiling of the tax's full details Sunday, put her ruling Labor party's first preference vote at just 27 percent, the lowest in the poll's history.

Abbott's Liberal/National Coalition rose three points to 49 percent compared with the last survey two weeks ago, and Abbott led Gillard as preferred prime minister, 43 percent to 38 percent.

If an election were held today Abbott would storm into government with a landslide, according to the Newspoll, which was published alongside dire predictions for the already embattled aviation and tourism industries.

Natural disasters in the country's north and the rallying Australian dollar has hammered domestic tourism, and industry experts said operators such as fuel-dependent dive boats on the Great Barrier Reef would suffer from the plan.

"This tax may well be the straw that breaks the camel's back," said the Australian Tourism Export Council.

Gillard insisted she was not shaken by the polls and denied losing the public's confidence.

"Reform is difficult and this nation is a better place today because hard reforms were faced up to yesterday," she said.

"I will be leading this country to a clean energy future, that's what I'm determined to do."

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Australia PM slips in polls amid pollution fight
Sydney (AFP) July 12, 2011 - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard suffered a fresh fall in the polls to new lows, a survey showed Tuesday, as she blitzed the airwaves trying to sell her controversial carbon tax to voters.

A Newspoll in The Australian newspaper showed a lift in voter satisfaction with Gillard as leader, but her ruling Labor party fell three points to 27 percent, the lowest primary vote for a party in the poll's history.

Opposition chief Tony Abbott's Liberal/National Coalition rose three points to 49 percent compared with the last survey two weeks ago, and Abbott led Gillard as preferred prime minister, 43 percent to 38 percent.

If an election were held today Abbott would storm into government 58 percent to Gillard's 42 percent after preferences, second only in the poll's history to Labor's 63 percent result after ex-leader Kevin Rudd's landslide 2007 win.

The poll of 1,203 Australians was taken before the full details of the carbon levy were unveiled on Sunday, including the per-tonne price of Aus$23 ($24.38) and extensive compensation measures to buffer households and businesses.

Gillard's fortunes have steadily declined since she announced plans in February to tax the nation's top 500 carbon polluters for every tonne of emissions produced, before moving to an emissions trading scheme.

She had done little to shift public opinion, according to the Newspoll, which found 59 percent of voters opposed her pollution reduction plan and 30 percent were in favour -- the same result as two months ago.

Gillard has launched an election-style roadshow to sell the tax's merits to a sceptical public, blitzing television and radio across the nation.

Conservative Abbott has responded with similar tactics, touring workplaces to tout his message that the tax will damage Australia's key mining industry and do nothing to reduce global emissions.

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21 trapped in China iron ore mine: report
Beijing (AFP) July 11, 2011
Twenty-one workers are trapped underground after a flood in an iron ore mine in eastern China, state media said Monday, in the latest accident to hit the notoriously dangerous industry. Seven people managed to escape when water poured into the pit in Weifang city in Shandong province at around 11 pm (1500 GMT) on Sunday, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing a statement from the local ... read more

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