An iron ore civil war plays out on social media in Australia – by James Wilson and Neil Hume (Financial Times – July 16, 2015)

http://www.ft.com/home/us

“Our family. Our jobs. Our future,” is the message conveyed on the Facebook page and Twitter feed. Gazing out from the screen are a blonde woman, two blonde children, a pair of sheepdogs — and a miner wearing overalls.

This is the all-Australian family, with the mining sector at its heart, as envisaged by a campaign called “Our Iron Ore”. It is one of two competing public relations initiatives embroiled in bitter argument in Australia over this abundant commodity.

As the patriotic element of the “Our” campaign suggests, iron ore is anything but prosaic in Australia, whose economy relies heavily on the hundreds of millions of tonnes sucked in annually by China’s steelmaking industry. In Western Australia’s Pilbara region, the iron ore heartland, its price movements are part of everyday conversation.

In 2011, the price of iron ore scaled the heights of $190 per tonne and brought a bonanza for Australia. Four years later, the price has slumped by about 75 per cent: this month it fell below $45/t. Thousands of jobs are being cut and smaller, domestic miners are under pressure.

What has ensued is an Australian iron ore civil war, in which the main antagonists are the miners themselves.

Behind the “Our Iron Ore” campaign is an Australian miner called Fortescue Metals Group and its combative founder and chairman, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest. It blames the price slump on multinational rivals — meaning BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto — and accuses them of harming Australian interests by flooding the iron ore market with excess supply, driving down industry profits and tax revenue and putting jobs at risk.

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