Thursday, 15 February 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Senator Canavan. Could the minister please inform the Senate of the status of the coal sector in Australia and how the sector contributes to jobs and growth?
It's a fantastic segue from Senator Williams. I thank him very much for his question. I know that Senator Williams is a very strong defender and protector of the fantastic Hunter coal industry in New South Wales.
The latest ABS figures show that Australia's coal exports totalled $56.5 billion last year, a 35 per cent increase from 2016. In fact, it's the highest amount of coal exports on record in Australia. Coal is still king; it is still king in this country. It's our second biggest export and it employs thousands and thousands of people. I know that that is why Senator Williams supports those jobs and supports those hardworking Australians that rely on the coal sector for their livelihoods.
They are people like the 16,170 people employed in the Hunter Valley, whom Senator Williams represents so well. There are also the 650 coal-fired power workers in the Hunter Valley and the 610 that are in the Newcastle-Lake Macquarie region. Not only does the coal sector provide them with jobs and their livelihoods; it also then provides cheap power as well. That is the cheap power that then fires the Tomago aluminium smelter and supports thousands of jobs in that industry as well.
The reason that we support industries like the coal sector is that they support jobs in this country. They support people being able to have the dignity of a job, to be able to provide for their families, to make sure that they can put their kids through school and to save for their retirement. That is why we support them. It is why we don't go on frolics with the Greens to try and get their preferences at different elections—elections like the Batman election—and desert our own base just to save one seat. We will not do that, because whatever the attacks are, whatever the ill-formed views are about the coal industry, we will stand up for them and for their jobs.
I thank Senator Williams for his question. Senator Williams is right to point out that there are many emerging technologies in the coal sector that are making sure that the coal industry becomes cleaner and more efficient, and delivers even more benefits to our country and to the world.
There is great interest around the world in new technologies in carbon capture and storage. That is why the head of the International Energy Agency, Dr Fatih Birol, this morning endorsed the action we're taking to support carbon capture and storage technologies. These are important technologies to help bring down the carbon emissions of our coal sector. That is already occurring through new efficient coal-fired power stations. Carbon capture and storage offers to reduce carbon emissions from the coal sector by up to 90 per cent.
That is why we support allowing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to invest in coal-fired power stations with carbon capture and storage. What is the problem? Dr Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency, supports the Australian government's position, and let's hope the Senate comes to the same position on this to support our coal sector.
You would hope that the industry that supplies thousands of jobs for Australians and that is our second-biggest export industry would have a level of bipartisan support in this place. Unfortunately, the Labor Party, as I said, are on a frolic with the Greens at the moment. They're deserting their base; deserting people like Tony Maher, a union official, who said today:
… what do you do with the next [coalmine], and the next one, and the one after that?
I see no reason for Labor to toughen its position. Why win Batman and lose in central Queensland?
The environment groups have worked themselves up into a passion about it. I don’t know why. Adani is just another project and it should be judged on its merits.
But the Labor Party are disagreeing with their own union officials.
There is still hope, though, because while some in the Labor Party did say a while back:
One count was the Prime Minister suggesting that somehow I did not support clean coal technology—