TOPICS: Coal Mining; Reducing Emissions
LUKE GRANT, HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon wrote, I think, a terrific piece in the News Limited papers today, he says “Stop Demonising Our Coal”. He’s put the word out in Newscorp papers that if you believe in climate change, the best thing that we can do is help China cut emissions by selling them our cleaner burning, more efficient coal. He says our climate is changing and that long and hot dry spells are creating a tinder box for bushfires, he also says that hazard reduction burns are getting harder and harder to complete because the windows of opportunities to do them are fewer and far between. Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has agreed with this in part today admitting that climate change is among a range of factors contributing to these bushfires, but what can we do? The Shadow Agriculture Minister says Australia is only responsible for 1.3% of global emissions so acting alone will make no practical difference, I agree with that. Despite this, he says we must do enough to give us credibility on the world stage. Joel Fitzgibbon says we need to honour the Paris Agreement but we should not forsake our coal mining jobs. His solution is to help the big emission countries like China reduce their emissions, so how do we do that, it’s not a bad question. Joel Fitzgibbon, Shadow Agriculture Minister, Member for Hunter, is on the line. How are you sir?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: I’m going okay Luke, can I just pick you up on one point, yes I am the Shadow Minister for Agriculture but I‘m also the Shadow Minister for Resources including, of course, the mining sector so it gives me a deep seated interest in these issues.
GRANT: My god, did I just give you a pay cut? Do you get more money if you’ve got more portfolios, mate?
FITZGIBBON: Sadly not Luke, no.
GRANT: You should, you should.
FITZGIBBON: And I don’t think the punters, your listeners would appreciate that too much.
GRANT: I think that’s a fair observation. I really do. How do we get other countries like China and India to reduce their emissions. You’re suggesting our coal is better for them to burn is it?
FITZGIBBON: Well most of them are signatories to the Paris Agreement, Luke. Unfortunately, under Donald Trump the US has pulled out but most of the big emitters have signed up to that deal but what we do need to do is make sure that they honour the deal. It’s easy to sign the document but then you’ve got to go back to your own country and actually take some action and some countries are doing that better than others. Under the arrangement of course, China is allowed to allow its emissions to grow in the near years because it is such a difficult task and their output is so high but what I’m saying is that we can only really make a difference if the whole world acts together and, dare I repeat something the Prime Minister said, um you know, we’re 1.3%of emissions, we can’t do it alone but we do need to do enough to allow us to preach the gospel to others. So if China’s not doing enough, India’s not doing enough, the US is not doing enough and we want to be critical of that we need to be able to demonstrate that we’re having a go ourselves and it’s a pretty simple formula when you think about it.
GRANT: Yep, I understand that, I agree with that. How is that received by your colleagues?
FITZGIBBON: Well of course the Labor Party is a broadchurch as is the Liberal Party, I mean they’re fighting amongst themselves about the extent to which we go about reducing emissions and how we go there. The main part about my article this morning is my very, very deep concern and growing concern that we now have this emerging cultural conflict in our country where you have one group of people, typically not universally but typically living in the inner suburbs of our capital cities, typically not concerned about where their next mortgage payment is coming from, and those living typically in the regions who are highly dependent on blue collar jobs for their income, many of whom are worried about where their next mortgage payment comes from. I should say that applies to many people living in the outer suburbs of our capital cities as well. Now what we have seen in recent times is one side of this equation demonising and even blaming blue collar workers and in particular coal miners, for the drought and for the current fires and it all came to a head when last week I met with Minister Matt Canavan, the Minister for Resources. You know now people are always calling upon us to work in a bipartisan manner, rather than be fighting with one another, and with the CEO of the World Coal Association and that’s a fairly normal thing for a Shadow Minister for Resources to do and we posted a photograph, as we all do these days – it seems we don’t go anywhere without getting a happy pic, you know a selfie or something and I had 2,000 people on twitter criticising me and blaming me and the coal miners and Matt Canavan and everyone else for the bushfires and for the drought and I thought, gee there’s something very deep happening here in our society in our communities, and we need to address this and call it out. We can’t be, you know, I have something like 75,000 people in the Hunter region either directly or indirectly employed by the coal mining industry, Luke. Now it’s easy for someone who is not concerned about where their next mortgage payment is coming from, or someone living you know in Surry Hills to demonise coal miners in the Hunter Valley or in Central Queensland, but I’m not going to sit back and cop it. It’s unfair and it too often shows a basic misunderstanding or a poor understanding of the coal mining industry and the contribution it makes to our economy.
GRANT: You’re right, it’s fever pitch the opposition now to the coal mining isn’t it. I’m really, I’m trying to rack my brain as you’re talking. I’m trying to understand how we got to a point where, you rightly say Shadow Resources Minister you have a picture with the Minister and someone from the coal sector and all of a sudden it’s the end of the world. You know there’s another part of this and I’m thinking back to the times when I was working near enough to your seat, I had a union leader come and see me one day and say on air and say we’ve got to move people from coal mining jobs to renewable jobs and I thought to myself how does a bloke or a woman who goes underground and mine coal, how do they earn 120, 130 K sitting there, what, cleaning solar panels? Do they make sure that the turbines are turning, I mean how do you go Joel from earning that sort of money, good money in coal mining in renewable energy unless you’re tertiary qualified and some engineering genius? I don’t simply don’t understand it.
FITZGIBBON: Spot on Luke. And we should strive and can develop a world’s best renewable energy sector in this country there are fantastic opportunities for us. But if you’re living in the Hunter Valley or Central Queensland, you’re getting $140,000 for driving a huge dump truck and you’ve taken out a pretty handsome mortgage as a result of securing that job, you are not going to get a job currently in the renewable sector that is going to pay that mortgage for you. Those jobs just don’t exist and coal miners know they don’t exist, Luke, and that’s why you know I get so angry when I hear people sitting in our capital cities talking about this transition. One point I want to make is this. This is a myth. Our coal mining industry is not in transition. Our coal-powered generation is, because no one is going to invest, I don’t believe, in new coal generators because they can’t be guaranteed the return they need over such a long period, it’s about 40-50 years. However, our current coal generators will run to the end of their current physical and financial life, so there’s a transition there. But coal exports are in very, very strong demand globally and that demand is growing, particularly for coking coal. And I remind your listeners that it takes 200 tonnes of coking or metallurgical coal to build one wind turbine, so if we want India and China to come out of developing status, to grow their economies to build cleaner economies, they’re going to need a hell of a lot of our metallurgical coal and even a hell of a lot of our thermal coal to build the solar panels and the other renewable forms of energy so by exporting to them we are helping them modernize and clean up their economies and we are off-setting dirtier and less efficient coal which they would be buying from other countries if they couldn’t get it from us.
GRANT: You know what mate? I’m just thinking again as I’m listening to your answer, if we were more prepared to have walked down the you know those HELE coal fire power stations and been at the forefront of developing coal burning technology that was much cleaner than the old generation rather than thinking for god’s sake don’t mention coal, if we had been actively doing that and we might have made breakthrough’s ourselves then we wouldn’t find ourselves in the position that you and I rip our hair out now, now don’t you think?
FITZGIBBON: No, I don’t necessarily agree with you on that point. HELEs are very, very expensive; they’re cleaner and more efficient but you know only some 20% cleaner and more efficient than current coal generators and we’re not going to make an orderly transition to cleaner power generation if we’re going to use tax payer subsidies to build new coal generators, and you would need tax payer subsidies because in terms of their (inaudible)
GRANT: But we’re subsidising wind turbines and solar panels mate aren’t we?
FITZGIBBON: But at the same time though you are moving to that cleaner economy. You know, Luke, in the Hunter Valley, god forbid I’m not suggesting it be done, but you could close down all of our coal generators and you’d still be mining just as much coal because we just continue to export it. Now, I’m glad that those coal generators still have a lot of life in them, Liddell doesn’t but Bayswater, Eraring and Vales Point do and they’ll run the rest of their lives, but every day I see more people putting solar rooftops on their houses so I wouldn’t be chucking money into a coal fire generator because I don’t know what the energy system is going to look like in ten years let alone forty years.
GRANT: No it’s a fair point. Good to chat mate, have a Merry Christmas, appreciate your time very much.
FITZGIBBON: And to you and your listeners, Luke.
GRANT: Thank you, that is Joel Fitzgibbon
TOPICS: Coal Mining; Reducing Emissions