A major hospital says it regrets its public support for a new coal mine, after its doctors complained they were embarrassed to be associated with the campaign.
Queensland’s Mater Hospital has faced an open rebellion since adding its name to an advertisement — paid for by mining giant New Hope Group — calling on the state government to overturn a court decision and approve its New Acland coal mine, about 180km west of Brisbane.
The $900 million project was rejected by Queensland’s land court in part because of public health concerns.
The only other signatories to the ad were five meat processing companies.
But Mater, whose chair Brian Flannery is managing director of coal company White Energy, now says it has made a mistake.
It said it originally chose to support the mining project because it needed an ongoing supply of coal for its sterilisation boiler.
But after a series of internal and external complaints, last week, the hospital reviewed its position.
Mr Flannery, one of Australia's wealthiest people, said: “Mater regrets the use of our logo beyond the fact that we are a client of New Hope as we currently have a reliance on coal supply to run some services at our main South Brisbane campus.”
In the statement released on Friday, Mr Flannery said Mater has been actively investigating alternative energy sources for its sterilisation boiler “for some time”.
“Mater's logo on the advertisement should in no way be seen as support from Mater for any coal related activity that doesn't meet the many strict environmental and health-related government mandated requirements,” he said.
The New Hope sponsored campaign website now features no mention of Mater although it continues to display a photo of a woman in surgical scrubs on promotional material.
Much of the criticism of Mater’s endorsement centred on the ties between three members of the hospital’s board and the coal industry.
Along with Mr Flannery, the hospital’s deputy chair Terry Crawford and another director, Vince O’Rourke, are also executives of White Energy.
Dr David King, a GP in the hospital’s refugee clinic, welcomed Mater’s unexpected U-turn but says the staff deserve an apology from management.
The state AMA refused to weigh in on the issue, but Dr King led a group of employees who took their concerns directly to the hospital's leadership.
“I’m satisfied that we are no longer supporting this campaign and I’m happy they are going to investigate clean energy sources but we need an explanation of why this happened and what steps are going to be put in place to stop it happening again,” he said.
“I would like to see us stop using coal but how can we do that if three of our board members have ties to coal companies?”