SPEECH: The Turnbull Government’s War on Hunter Coal Miners

May 29, 2017

Mr Conroy: (Shortland) (19:31): I am proud to represent the Hunter region, a region built on coal. Coal was discovered in Newcastle in 1797 and the first export coal in 1799, somewhat ironically given the Adani debate, was shipped to India. Each year, along with most local elected representatives I attend the Miners Memorial Day, which commemorates the 1,800 workers who have lost their lives in the northern minefields. Ages on that memorial range from a tragic 11 to 76. My neighbours are coalminers. My kids go to child care alongside the children of coalminers. My local footy club is run by coalminers and sponsored by coal companies. It is in this context that I state categorically and without any exaggeration that the coalition government has declared war on the 18,000 Hunter coalminers and the communities that depend upon those jobs.

When one looks beyond the patronising and hollow rhetoric of this government and looks at its actions, one can only conclude that this government has absolutely zero concern for the miners of my region. Nothing highlights this attitude more than the proposed $1 billion subsidy to the Adani Carmichael mine in Central Queensland and the proposed government loan to start a massive coalmine in South Africa. On the latter, this government, through the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation, is considering a loan to develop a gigantic coalmine in South Africa. This project will compete directly against Australian coalmines. The government will claim that Australia may win some exports of mining equipment, but experience has demonstrated that most of these exports do not eventuate. What will definitely happen is that the coalmine will suppress the international price for thermal coal and this subsidised coal will threaten the livelihood of coalminers I represent.

I now turn to an even greater threat to Hunter coalminers, and that is the Adani Carmichael mine and this government’s reckless support for it. Most industry experts agree that this project is a direct threat to existing coalminers. Why is this? It is because official figures from the International Energy Agency, which are always optimistic in terms of the future of coal, concede that coal consumption globally peaked in 2013 and has declined every year since. Chinese coal consumption has fallen by 3.4 per cent; Indian coal imports declined in 2015 and are on track to decline again in 2016; and seaborne thermal coal peaked in 2013 and has fallen by nearly six per cent again.

The truth is that, as the international coal market is declining, any increase in supply will, by definition, reduce the international coal price and lower the volume of coal exported from Australia’s other coal ports. In essence, the coalition government is planning on providing a $1 billion subsidy to lower the price of coal and reduce coal exports from Newcastle. This threatens the jobs of 18,000 Hunter coalminers—and for what? Adani have stated in court that their project will create only 1,400 jobs. I acknowledge that these jobs are important to Central Queensland, but why should the federal government threaten the livelihood of Hunter coalminers to secure these jobs?

Beyond falsifying the state of the international coal market, the minister for resources argues that Adani should be subsidised because the Hunter and Bowen coalmines benefited from previous Commonwealth infrastructure investment. This ignores two important facts. Firstly, this investment was in the context of growing international demand for coal. This infrastructure investment did not threaten the existing coalmines. Secondly, it ignores the centuries of wealth these coal regions generated before that investment occurred. The 1961 Commonwealth investment in Newcastle port was made after the region had mined coal for 162 years. It was not a downpayment on future economic activity but a partial repayment of all the wealth generated by the Hunter coalminers over many generations.

The coalition government is asking Australians to ignore all these actions and just focus on the rhetoric—rhetoric characterised by immature and unsubstantiated statements by ministers who debase themselves and their positions, a Treasurer handing out a lump of coal in this nation’s parliament as a cheap gimmick, a resources minister who was born in Brisbane, worked as a Productivity Commission economist and lived for a couple of years in a coal region and now claims to be the best friend of coalminers, and, most disgracefully of all, the Deputy Prime Minister, a former accountant educated at the $40,000-a-year private school St Ignatius’ College at Riverview, bellowing that Labor MPs hate blue-collar workers. This is utter rubbish. My coalminers and the rest of Australia deserve better.

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