Senate debates

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Statements by Senators

Central Queensland

1:30 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to take this opportunity to talk about my travel through Central Queensland last week with Chris Bowen, Labor's shadow minister for climate change and energy. It was a great opportunity to get out and about with Chris following him taking over the portfolio of climate change and energy. It's an important issue to all Australians, but I think particularly for those throughout Central Queensland, which have a long history and tradition of working in that space.

We began the trip in Emerald, where we visited the reopened Gregory mine, which was shut down a couple of years ago by BMA but has been reopened recently by Sojitz. The day we visited, they had just been approved to restart their underground operations, which had been shut down. So they have an open-cut operation going, and soon they will have the underground mine reopened as well. It's a really positive story for the local community in Emerald. There are more jobs and investment in the region as a result. The great thing about the Sojitz Gregory mine is that the majority of the workforce, about 85 per cent, come from the local communities; they live in Emerald or Capella or surrounding areas. It really was great to meet with Cameron, Ben, Jake and others to hear about the jobs that have been created, the long-term planning for the mine and what the future holds for that community and those workers.

We were able to get out and about and do a tour of the mine. I have been to a lot of mines and observed the rehabilitation efforts, which are basically continuous as those mines operate. It was particularly interesting to see the efforts they are undertaking in this area, including the potential, down the track, for solar to be used on part of the rehabilitated land. It shows you the world in which we are living and what is possible at coalmines in the future. It's a mine that has a large power need, and there is plenty of infrastructure in place to feed the potential solar power back into the grid. We had the opportunity to get up on the drag line and see the sheer volume of material that can be moved. Apparently this was only a medium-sized drag line, but it was moving something like a hundred tonnes effortlessly. I really appreciated the opportunity to go and visit. I thank the workers for taking the time out of their day to enable Chris Bowen and I to learn about their mine, what they do for work, as well as their future.

Following the mine visit we drove back into Emerald and visited the Emerald Solar Park, where Kevin showed us around his site. It's been operating for a couple of years now. They've got 260,000 panels, producing around 72 megawatts of energy. All of that is sold directly to Telstra, who use the solar that is being produced in Emerald. This site is one of many renewable energy projects in the region, and there are also a number of proposed projects, which will continue to create jobs as well. Particularly at the moment there are a number of wind farms that are being pursued in this part of the world throughout regional Queensland.

Following the visit to Emerald Solar Park, we visited the Central Highlands Development Corporation, where we met with Councillor Daniel and Peter. They were able to brief us about their focus on job creation for the region, particularly given Chris Bowen was there. They had a focus on energy as well. That was a great opportunity. We had limited time, but it was great to hear firsthand from a council in the region that certainly has good, strong, bold plans for the future and understands the reality of what is happening in regional places like Emerald.

Ending the day in Emerald, we met with some local mineworkers from mines like Ensham and Kestrel. It was great to catch up with these people over a beer and just have a bit of a chat about what is happening in their workplaces and what is happening in the region and get a general sense of the mood of these communities that have been such a significant part of powering Australia for years and will continue to be for many years to come.

The next morning we got up early and drove 320 kilometres to Biloela. It took us about 3½ hours. We had a stop in Blackwater on the way and we visited the Callide B coal-fired power station. The Callide power station employs around 260 workers. The adjoining mine employs approximately 200 as well. It was first commissioned in 1988. Callide C, which is the adjoining power station, was commissioned in 2001. Together they produce around 1,525 megawatts of energy, which is about 20 per cent of Queensland's energy needs. I want to thank CS Energy and particularly Lee, Dan, Dave, Scott and Stacey for showing us around the power station. It was a valuable opportunity to get in, get around and talk to workers and see how it operates and also get a sense of the challenges that are confronting a coal-fired power station that is as old as that one is. We do understand the ageing nature of this.

Following the tour, we were able to have morning tea with the workers. They issued a general invitation to anyone who wanted to come along. About 30 or 40 of the workers took time to have a chat to Chris and me. I found it really invaluable being able to have quiet conversations with those workers and get a sense of their knowledge of what is going on in their industry but also their understanding of what their future looks like and the types of decisions that they have to make about their long-term future, whether it is in a place like Biloela and what the future job opportunities are there or if it's something that they need to look at. Talking to parents who are making decisions about where their children will go to high school and those sorts of things really gives you a sense that the decisions we make in this place have such an impact on those people as they go about planning their lives. We heard some frank views about those ongoing operations and what the future of energy generation will look like in that area.

Finally, we caught up with the Central Queensland Regional Organisation of Councils, who just happened to be meeting in Biloela that day as well. They were from the Rocky, Central Highlands, Banana and Gladstone shires. We got to hear from them about their needs for communities and the importance of local jobs being created, with a particular focus on energy. But we didn't miss the opportunity to talk about Inland Rail with Gladstone as well.

One of the key messages that I took from this trip—and this was consistent no matter which industry, council or worker—is that the government needs to have a plan. That is what is sadly lacking from this government. These people don't have their heads buried in the sand. They understand what the future holds, but they also want to ensure they can continue to live and enjoy life in these parts of the state. They want to ensure that businesses continue to invest and create jobs and create the future and certainty that comes with that.

We know that the energy market is changing. Demand for power will actually continue to increase. As we see things like more electric cars being bought and driven there will be more demand for electricity as a result. We need to invest in the grid and in new projects to meet this demand. I have no doubt that this will create jobs and investment in regional Queensland.

The contrast couldn't have been clearer last week when we saw the announcement of the closure of the Yallourn power station. Instead of the federal minister working constructively with state counterparts, all we saw from the federal minister was him taking pot shots at the state of Victoria in terms of how that closure is managed and transitioned. It is so frustrating when you go to these parts of Queensland that have significant workforce in this industry because you just know that it would be so important and so valuable if you actually had federal and state governments working together on these challenges. But instead all we see from the federal government in relation to this is an opportunity to take pot shots, an opportunity to create division and an opportunity to run scare campaigns rather than dealing with the reality of what Queenslanders and Australians are confronting in regional communities.

I really thank Chris Bowen for his time in regional Queensland. Over a long period time and no matter which portfolio he has been in, he has always been someone who has been willing to get out, travel, listen and learn. It was a great first step for his first visit to regional Queensland. I'm confident that over the course of the next 12 months he'll be a regular visitor as Labor starts to talk more about what our plans are. We'll be upfront with these communities and we'll engage them in discussion. It will only be a Labor government that can offer those regional communities a better vision and opportunity for the future.