House debates

Tuesday, 22 June 2021


Climate Change

7:49 pm

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I join with the previous speaker, the member for Menzies, in paying tribute not only to the soldier he just named but also to our first responders. I also acknowledge his outstanding service to this House over a 30-year period and wish him the best after the next election. But, on a more sombre note, I can sadly report to the House that a new form of McCarthyism has kept crept into the Australian culture, and it's alive and well in the Hunter region, deep in coal-economy heartland. This 21st century version of the Cold War doctrine has been on display at our local university, where a quite extraordinary, misleading, ideological and shrill campaign has resulted in former Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile's decision to decline the offer of the position of Chancellor of the University of Newcastle.

During the Cold War, people found themselves blacklisted on suspicion they were supporters of or sympathised with the Communist Party. Suffice to say, many on the blacklist appeared without cause and suffered greatly as a result. Many lost their jobs or were discriminated against in the workforce. In Australia today, the blacklist is not so shadowy; Mark Vaile's listing has been very public. The crime he has been publicly shamed for is his association with the coalmining industry. It's a very slippery slope.

Today the excessive progressives target those associated with the coal industry, but no doubt tomorrow it will be anyone associated with the oil, gas and fuel-refining industries. What's next? The meat-processing industry? The steel-manufacturing sector? Will the blacklist extend to those who invest in or work in the energy intensive aluminium smelters or the wool industry, which regularly cops it from animal welfare groups? Maybe those industries that manufacture our fertilisers and crop protection products will be next. Who is the final arbiter of these things? Where and when will this madness end?

The world is moving rapidly towards a lower carbon economy. So too is the Hunter region, with pumped hydro, solar thermal, solar photovoltaic battery, hydrogen, biomass and gas-peaking projects in the investment pipeline. We are leading the country, and that's a good thing. But the coal industry will also be with us for many decades to come, and that is also a good thing.

Investment in new low-carbon technology is growing exponentially, and the investment around the world is largely being led by large corporations with a history in the oil, gas, energy and mining sectors. Imagine if we argue that the chair of BHP, a coal and steel company now heavily investing in low-carbon technologies, should be excluded from any involvement in local institutions which have, as part of their mission, ambitions for a lower carbon economy. That would be massively counterproductive.

Yes, Mark Vaile chairs the board of Whitehaven Coal, but he also chairs an investment fund with around a billion dollars worth of wind and solar technologies under management. Expressing interest in the largely ceremonial job on offer at the University of Newcastle, Mark Vaile said:

When considering the role, I took a close look at The University's strategic plan, Looking Ahead, and was impressed by what I found.

He went on to say:

I am excited by the role I can play in helping the University deliver on the University's commitment to become carbon-neutral by 2025.

He also said:

The importance of an energy transition is here in our backyard.

The education sector has a critical role to play in this challenge.

Mark Vaile would not have, and probably could not have as chancellor, changed the university's strategic direction, even if he wanted to. The university will recover from the loss of a former deputy prime minister with extensive management experience, with deep connections within our state and federal government, and a commitment to the institution which educated his children. The bigger concern is the misplaced campaign against one of our regions most important industries and the message the demonisation of Mark Vaile sends to the tens of thousands of local people who work in the coal industry and associated sectors. This month the excessive progressives demonise them—shame on them.