Coal's Economic Contribution

The Australian coal industry is a key pillar of the Australian economy and a world leader in innovation, efficiency and safety.

Coal benefits all Australians through its contribution to exports, wages, investment and tax revenue. It is Australia’s comparative advantage in coal – together with iron ore – that has helped to sustain the longest period of continuous economic growth in the nation’s history.

In 2016-17 Australia produced 440 million tonnes of black coal – 250 million tonnes of thermal coal and 190 million tonnes of metallurgical coal.

This made Australia the fourth largest producer or black coal in the world. In addition, around 60 million tonnes of lignite was produced in Victoria for use in its electricity sector.

This production is possible because Australia has vast resources of coal. According to Geoscience Australia, Australia has over 70 billion tonnes of economically demonstrated resources of black coal and 76 billion tonnes of lignite.

At current production rates these resources will sustain production of black coal for 125 years and lignite for over 1,200 years.

Most of Australia’s coal production is sold overseas, mainly to countries in Asia. Australian coal is highly sought after around the world for its high energy content and low impurities which make it ideal for use in modern High Efficiency-Low Emission (HELE) power plants and steel mills.

Australia’s coal export markets

Source: Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Resources and Energy Quarterly March 2018, released 9 April 2018.

Coal is Australia’s second largest export behind iron ore. In 2016-17 Australia exported 202 million tonnes of thermal coal and 177 million tonnes of metallurgical coal with a combined value of $54 billion.

Since 1999-00 the value of Australia’s coal exports has increased by 550 per cent, underpinned by growing demand for steel production and electricity generation in key Asian markets.

Growth in Australia’s coal exports

Source: Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Resources and Energy Quarterly March 2018, released 9 April 2018.

The economic benefits of the coal industry are distributed across Australia through jobs, royalties and payments to local suppliers.

In 2016-17 the coal industry provided around 47,000 direct jobs and a further 120,000 indirect jobs across Australia. 

According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, this made coal the largest employer in the Australian minerals industry. These are highly paid jobs with the average annual salary of coal industry employees exceeding $155,000.

The industry generated $5 billion in royalties and $254 million in payroll tax for state governments in 2016-17 - funding nurses, police, teachers and other essential public services and infrastructure.