As 2012 draws to a close the challenges posed by the Australian carbon tax to the Australian cement industry are starting to show. First, Holcim Australia announced it was to lay off 150 staff. Then Boral released the news that it was planning to cut 90 jobs at its Waurn Ponds cement plant.
Following years of debate the Gillard government introduced the Clean Energy Act in July 2012. Heavy polluters were initially charged US$23/t of CO2 emitted, more than twice the cost of similar schemes in Europe where it is US$10/t. A key criticism of the scheme was that it would damage the Australian domestic cement industry with cheap imports. However the Australian government cushioned the move with compensation packages for major polluters, including cement producers, currently set to last five years.
Although the Australian cement industry hasn't totally collapsed, with the loss of 1800 jobs as the Australian Federal Opposition warned of in 2011, imports have been favoured in recent months. Boral's suspension of clinker production at Waurn Ponds will increase imports. The change will result in 25-30% of Boral's clinker being imported. It's worth noting that Boral pointed out in its press release that this was 'in-line' with the Australian industry.
Adelaide Brighton, the country's third biggest producer after Holcim and Boral, may not have laid anybody off but it has secured a 10-year supply of foreign clinker. On 5 December 2012 the building materials producer announced that it was going to a buy a 30% stake in Malaysian white clinker and white cement producer, Aalborg Portland Malaysia. In the accompanying press statement the company's chief financial officer explicitly blamed the carbon tax as one of the reasons for the acquisition.
Whether the job losses at Boral and Holcim can be totally blamed on the carbon tax remains to be seen. Boral's second-half profit for the year ending 30 June 2012 suffered a fall of 59% to US$35.7m. Holcim noted weaker demand outside of mining regions for the third quarter of 2012. By contrast, Adelaide Brighton reported steady gains in its half-year report for 2012 although cement sales only increased 'marginally'. Elsewhere in its report Adelaide Brighton stated that it would cope with the impact of the carbon tax by reducing reliance on domestic manufacturing. These can hardly be comforting words for the Australian cement industry.