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Coal mining executive Mark Vaile turns down University of Newcastle Chancellor role

Vaile’s decision follows a storm of opposition against his appointment.

Former deputy prime minister and coal mining executive Mark Vaile has quit his position as the next University of Newcastle Chancellor before his term had commenced.

In a statement released yesterday afternoon, the University confirmed that Vaile had advised of his intention “not to proceed” with the appointment after receiving “feedback from some of the University’s constituents.”

After Vaile was voted in by the university council earlier this month, there was a storm of opposition against his appointment, including the resignations of two council members, a ban on donations to the university by anti-coal philanthropists, and rolling protests organised by the University of Newcastle Students’ Association.

Criticism was directed at Vaile’s role as an independent chairman and non-executive director of Whitehaven Coal, which operates four mines in the Gunnedah Coal Basin and is seeking to expand its Narrabri underground mine. 

A petition which received over 2,000 signatories pointed out that Whitehaven had been involved “in the destruction of Gomeroi Country” and fined by NSW courts for water theft.

Vaile’s role as the former leader of the National Party of Australia — closely tied to the fossil fuel industry — also drew criticism.

A letter to the Newcastle Herald, penned by philanthropists and climate activists, read: “We … will not support a university who would choose as their leader someone who is determined to build new coal mines when most of the world is determined to reduce fossil fuel use.”

Vaile has since commented on his decision, saying that the campaign against him bore “all the hallmarks of the worst intolerance of the self-righteous.”

“This has been a very difficult decision for me but has become necessary given the unjustified campaign against the appointment led by minority groups placing ideology before proper governance and what is in the best interests of the University of Newcastle and the communities it serves.”

The university council said it respected Vaile’s decision, and recognised he made it in the best interests of the institution. It will be meeting today to discuss the appointment of a new Chancellor, “cognisant of the need for continuity of appropriate governance.”

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