The appointment of Whitehaven Coal boss Mark Vaile as Chancellor of Newcastle University sends the wrong message at a time when the need for a well-funded plan to help the Hunter region adjust to the coming structural decline of thermal coal exports is urgent.
Hunter Renewal has been engaging with people across the Hunter for four years about the need for creative leadership and consensus building in order to manage the transition.
The appointment of Mr Vaile has attracted criticism and prompted the resignation of one member of the University Council, Professor Jennifer Martin, who is the chair of the discipline of Clinical Pharmacology in the School of Medicine and Public Health.
Hunter Renewal spokesperson Georgina Woods, an alumnus of the university said, “The Hunter region is facing complex and profound challenges in the coming generation as the world strives to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and the use of coal for electricity is cut back.
“With Mr Vaile as chair, Whitehaven Coal has resisted effective action to align its business with the Paris Agreement and prevent catastrophic global heating.
“Whitehaven has just pleaded guilty to water theft in the Namoi Valley and has a string of environmental crimes to its name.
“The University should be led by someone dedicated to a strong future for young people, but through his role as chair of Whitehaven, Mr Vaile is putting young people at risk.
“There’s a fundamental conflict here, and at the very least, Mr Vaile should immediately resign as chair of Whitehaven.
“The appointment as Chancellor of the chair of a coal mining company as notorious as Whitehaven sends the signal that the university is not going to contribute to the region’s heroic transformation.
“We had hoped the region’s university would play a leadership role in meeting this challenge.”