Hunter Coal Mining Industry

Clayton Barr - Private Member's Statement

I speak again on the issue of coal, the environment, climate change and jobs. If members care about the environment they should want the last pieces of thermal coal burned on earth to come from the Hunter Valley. I ask members to put down their swords for a second and hear me out. The reality is that the coal that comes out of the Hunter Valley is some of the purest and most efficient coal on planet Earth. That means one consequently needs to burn less of it to get the energy output required. If one wants to generate electricity for the community through a coal-fired power station, and if one cares about the environment, then one would want to burn the least possible amount of coal. That would be better for the environment than burning lots of dirty coal, which would be worse for the environment than burning clean coal.

If the Hunter’s coal is some of the cleanest, purest and most efficient and if there are countries currently building brand-new coal-fired power stations that will have a lifespan of some 30 or 40 years, then one would hope they would engage the best-quality coal for those power stations. That coal comes from the Hunter. Putting aside people’s views about whether coal should have stopped yesterday or whether it will continue for a thousand years—and, in part, putting aside people’s ideological positions about which side of politics is most for or against coal and all of that sort of hoo-ha—the reality from an environmental perspective is that burning Hunter coal in our coal-fired power stations is the cleanest and least damaging outcome for the environment that we could hope for.

Yes, we send more than 140 million tonnes of coal out of the Port of Newcastle. Yes, there are tens of thousands of people in the Hunter who are directly employed through our coalmines. Yes, there are tens of thousands of families and businesses across the Hunter and other parts of New South Wales and Australia that rely on coal and the income it generates—but in particular in the Hunter, because the coal coming out of the ground is some of the cleanest. The great risk to careers in coal in the Hunter will come from automation more than anything else—from machines and equipment that no longer need a driver or an operator but talk to each other without human interface. That is the greatest threat facing our coalminers, coal workers and coal families across the Hunter, not the coal itself or the issue of the declining appetite for coal.

People can debate that and I do not want to get into that debate, but the reality is there will be an appetite for coal in the coming decades because there are countries building brand-new coal-fired power stations. A coal‑fired power station has a lifespan of more than 30 years, so decades worth of coal is due to come out of the Hunter in the coming years. That will provide important employment, which will allow families to put food on the table and a roof over their heads, to get an education and decent lifestyle for their kids, and to make sure that they have opportunities going forward. What those opportunities are will be determined by cycles other than those that are within the power of this House. Hunter coal is the future and Hunter coal needs to be the last coal burned on planet Earth, whenever that day comes.