Speech to Parliament – Coal

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Our resources are one of the great strengths of this country. Baked into      the words of the first verse of the national anthem is the reminder that ‘our land abounds with nature’s gifts’. Australians are rightly proud of the strengths of the resources sector and its contribution to our economy and our national prosperity. It’s very good to have in the chamber at the moment the chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Mining, the member for Durack. It’s up to Australians to manage these resources for the benefit of our nation.

I want to focus on one particular aspect of the resources sector—that is the coal industry, which is constantly under attack. I’m for coal. Providence has given Australia a wonderful natural advantage, an advantage that many nations would love to have. Coal has been the backbone of our prosperity and our industrial development. Australia has the fourth-largest reserve of coal in the world—around 13 per cent of the world’s reserves of coal exist in Australia or around 145 billion tonnes. Australia’s coal industry accounted for $17.9 billion of GDP in 2015-16 or 1.1 per cent of GDP. Coal is Australia’s second largest source of export revenue behind iron ore. Coal exports in 2016-17 were worth $54 billion, which was 15 per cent of Australia’s total exports of goods and services. Australia’s coal exports in 2016-17 were of higher value than each of agriculture and manufacturing exports.

The coal industry directly employs 47,500 Australians, and estimates indicate around 110,000 indirect jobs are also created in the coal industry. Australia is the largest exporter of coal in the world. We export both metallurgical and thermal coal, primarily to Asia. Australia’s metallurgical exports in 2016-17 totalled 170 million tonnes; the main destinations were India, China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Australia exported 202 million tonnes of thermal coal in 2016-17, and the main destinations were, in order, Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia. We have the highest-quality coal in the world right in our backyard. With increasing worldwide demand—with thermal prices having risen to $87 a tonne this last year and coking coal from $820 a tonne to $200 a tonne over the same period—it’s a good news story.

Around 84 per cent of Australia’s electricity comes from coal. Despite these advantages, despite its strength  and centrality to our economy, some don’t see the real benefit and, indeed, some people deliberately want to undermine an industry that is of great benefit to this country. A few years ago, a range of left-wing activist organisations, including Greenpeace, GetUp!, Lock the Gate, the Australia Institute and United Voice, got together to put together a strategy document called ‘Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom’. The document spells out a six-prong strategy to:

… ‘disrupt and delay’ key projects in infrastructure while gradually eroding public and political support for the industry.

The six prongs of the strategy are to: (1) disrupt and delay key infrastructure; (2) constrain the space for mining; (3) increase investor risk; (4) increase costs; (5) withdraw the social licence of the coal industry; and (6) build  a powerful movement to oppose the coal industry.

Lawfare, through legal challenges in the court, was an essential element to this anti-coal campaign to help slow down the approval process. As the document says:

This means lodging legal challenges to five new coal port expansions, two major rail lines and up to a dozen   of the key mines. This will require significant investment in legal capacity. While this is creating much needed breathing space, we need to continue to build the movement and mobilize to create pressure on politicians and investors alike.

Here we have a very important industry in Australia that creates jobs, creates prosperity, wealth, creates energy, and that creates wonderful export opportunities for the country, and we have left-wing activist organisations trying to put a stop to the whole thing.

Ironically, this strategy document was funded by the Rockefeller Family Fund. Here we have a foreign organisation playing a key role in a debate behind a secret smokescreen, using taxpayer-funded charity exemptions to boost the war on coal. One of the authors of the report, Greenpeace Senior Campaigner John Hepburn, eventually admitted to receiving $70,000 from the Rockefeller Family Fund. This is a family, it should be remembered, that made their money in the oil extraction business from the famed Standard Oil Company, which was started in 1870. Why are they suddenly opting to fund a paper aimed at destroying one of Australia’s extractive industries? Similarly, the Lock the Gate Alliance, which is intent on killing coal, has accepted sizeable donations over the years from the US-based Tides Foundation, which was established with the proceeds of a tobacco company fortune. Why is it that the heirs of big tobacco and big oil are trying to assuage their consciences by destroying one of Australia’s key industries? Why is it that left-wing activists being funded by foreign interests are trying to destroy one of Australia’s homegrown industries, an industry providing a very important energy source?

These campaigns, backed by overseas interests, are costing Australians jobs and money, particularly in regional areas, by making investment in good-quality Australian coal too hard, and it’s having an impact. India’s minister for coal, Piyush Goyal, is on record saying that experiencing difficulty for Indian investment in Australian  coal projects will, ‘Certainly dampen future investments.’ This is at a time when India is forecast to need 142 megatonnes of thermal coal imports by 2021, which is almost the total level of annual coal exports from New South Wales alone. We need to be able to take advantage of the demand for coal in Asia; otherwise, these nations will flock to other markets, with poorer regulation, such as Indonesia and South Africa.

While Australia’s on the verge of an unprecedented worldwide coal boom, a boom that will see coal demand in 10 ASEAN countries triple, the political left, including Labor, the Greens and left-wing activist groups, have decided it’s time to wage a war on coal. The Leader of the Opposition used to say he was a supporter of coal. When he was a union leader in 2007, he said:

We believe completely that coal is part of Australia’s energy future. As a first-term MP in the Rudd government, he said:

We’re going to keep a coal industry.

For some people who believe the way to solve climate change is to shut down coal. That answer is not going to give you any joy at all.

But with the Leader of the Opposition you can never be sure. The Leader of the Opposition might have supported coal as a union official, but he also gave union members’ money away to anticoal organisations. The Leader of the Opposition was a founding director and donor for GetUp!, giving at least $100,000 of union funds to the left-wing activist group as start-up capital when he left the Australian Workers’ Union. That’s $100,000 of union member money raised from workers in the coal industry going to an organisation that’s dedicated to closing coal- fired power stations.

Labor have abandoned the coal industry. This is despite the fact that they hold seats like Herbert, Hunter, Shortland and Newcastle, where coalminers are the backbone of the local economy. We see how a future federal Labor government would operate when we look at the Labor governments of South Australia and Victoria, and the great joy that they take in closing coal-fired power stations. You know they take great joy, because they don’t just close the stations; they tear down the towers when they close the stations to ensure that the power stations are not only closed but also completely dismantled. The image of the towers being torn down is a purely ideological exercise. The fact that these scenes are reminiscent of statues being torn down by liberation movements after the fall of some oppressive tyrant demonstrates the pervading anticoal ideology which is at the heart of the political left in this country.

We’ve already seen the impact of Labor’s policies. In Victoria, as a result of pushing out Hazelwood, energy companies AGL and Energy Australia increased electricity bills by up to $135 in 2017. In South Australia, as  a result of pushing out Northern, contract prices for large industrial users jumped 50 per cent and spot market prices tripled in the months following. But the coal industry will do no better under a federal Labor government. Federal Labor have vowed to close coal-fired power stations. In their climate action plan, Labor said they would ‘kickstart the closure’ of coal-fired plants. Labor teamed up with the Greens in the Senate to pass a motion to encourage the closure of coal-fired power plants, saying:

The question is not if coal fired power stations will close, but how quickly …

This will lead to the destruction of jobs at Australia’s 24 coal plants and thousands of other jobs. The Australian Energy Market Commission said a forced closure policy could cost up to $24 billion.

I couldn’t speak this evening without contrasting the approach of Labor with the Coalition. Labor are pursuing a dangerous mix of policies that will hit energy security and affordability, with their 45 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030. Coal is the backbone of Australia’s economy. Let’s stop letting foreign nationals, Labor and the Greens wage a war on coal to dictate policy that won’t deliver affordable and reliable energy for all Australians. The anticoal movement is a threat to this country.

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