House debates

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Constituency Statements

Christmas Island: Phosphate Resources Ltd

10:31 am

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

This evening on Christmas Island there will be a great celebration for the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Phosphate Resources Ltd's phosphate mine on Christmas Island. Phosphate mining commenced on Christmas Island in 1896, and, after a number of iterations, in 1981 an Australian government owned company, Phosphate Mining Company of Christmas Island, took over the mine. Then, sadly, in 1987 the then Labor government closed the mine, much to the chagrin and opposition of the Christmas Island community. The Union of Christmas Island Workers, led by the redoubtable Gordon Bennett and his union executive, as well as the wider community members, fought to have the mine reopened. Gordon was a revered, enigmatic and brilliant organiser, leader and communicator and a very good friend to many. Sadly, he is no longer with us.

After a mighty campaign, including taking the Australian government to the Federal Court, in 1989 the government agreed that the mine could reopen. The UCIW led efforts to have the union and community members fund, as shareholders, a new company, Phosphate Resources. A joint venture was formed between the community, Christmas Island Phosphates and Clough Engineering. The mine reopened in September 1990 and remains in operation today. Since then, the mine has exported over 16 million tonnes of phosphate, created hundreds of jobs and paid hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes, royalties and dividends and many millions in community grants. It has won a national export award. Since its establishment it has seriously been the backbone of the Christmas Island economy and it continues today to be its mainstay. It has now developed a very successful diversified business and is active in many areas of the island economy. It is now looking for investment opportunities in infrastructure and tourism.

The company has been built on strong social and environmental foundations, with a track record of supporting and working with the local community. The current managing director, Mr Lai Ah Hong, was one of the union members who, along with so many others from the community, put his own money in to get Phosphate Resources up and running. Lai is a good friend to many and a wonderful leader of the company. Other original shareholders maintain their stake in the company today. The success being celebrated on Christmas Island is testimony to the perseverance, hard work and sacrifice and underlying belief in the power of community engagement and action. Congratulations to Phosphate Resources. Congratulations to the Union of Christmas Island Workers, the workforce generally and the wider Christmas Island community. It's a great day for Christmas Island. Today it's a tribute to you all.