Hunter Coalmining

I begin my speech by taking the unusual step of recognising the contribution made by the member for Riverstone. I do that because he said in the Chamber that this place should be about inspiration, hope, positivity, connectedness, reality and recognising the wonderful. Tonight I speak about the fearmongering and scare campaigns that have been launched in my community regarding coal. We are all elected to this place to offer our communities truth, honesty, transparency, inspiration, hope and reality as to what the future looks like. Sadly, during the two recent election campaigns, in my area of the Hunter Valley—Cessnock and the middle and Upper Hunter; an area traditionally known as “the coalfields”—the Coalition Government took the opportunity to misquote Labor’s talk of “transitioning from coal” as Labor “hates coal”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Irrespective of your political colours, in the coming decades coal is going to be a part of our economic reality—as it has been for the past 200 years. Coalmining started in the Hunter Valley, and the Hunter Valley may be one of the last places in Australia where it continues to exist—that is the reality. The scaremongering amongst people whose livelihoods depend on coal does no justice to the State and Federal Parliaments. It does no justice to this Chamber. I sometimes sit in the Chamber and listen to comments made by members with deep roots in the coal community—if Hansard could insert sarcasm that would be appreciated. The member for Willoughby and the member for Epping talk about coal as if it is in their backyards.

I place on record the fundamental answer I give when people in my community ask, “Clayton, does Labor support coal or not?” The reality is that 80 per cent of the coal that comes out of the Hunter Valley, where the people in my community work, goes offshore. It is about international demand. The reality is that members in this Chamber cannot control international demand. Over the past four to five years several hundred brand-new coal‑fired power stations have been built offshore in the south-east Asian market—in Korea, Japan, China and India—that have an appetite for coal from the Hunter. Why do they want coal from the Hunter? It is because it is the most efficient coal to burn. You require less kilograms of Hunter coal to achieve the same energy output and electricity supply compared with dirty brown coal.

The normal lifespan of a new coal-fired power station is in the vicinity of 35, 45 or 50 years. That means new coal-fired power stations built in recent years will require coal fuel for the next 40 or 50 years. By that time I will be in the vicinity of 80 or 90 years old—or I might be in the ground pushing up daisies. That is my answer to the community. Is coal going to die in the Hunter in the next five, 10 or 30 years? It is highly unlikely. There may be an unpredictable, seismic shift in the offshore appetite for coal from the Hunter, but that is something we cannot control.

What we can control in New South Wales and throughout the Hunter is the message we send to the coalmining communities. First, in the short term—over the next decade or two or three decades—their careers, lives and futures are assured. Secondly, at some stage down the track coalmining will end, as did car manufacturing and steel manufacturing in Australia. There are jobs on farms that no longer exist because of mechanisation. Certainly if autonomous vehicles are perfected some truck-driving jobs in coalmines will disappear. We have to talk responsibly about transition. Please stop the scaremongering. [Time expired.]