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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 781


Senator O'SULLIVAN (Queensland) (14:45): My question is to the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia. Minister, I note that at midday today black coal was providing 50 per cent of our total electricity generation and brown coal was providing 18 per cent. Before you get your shoes and socks off, that is 68 per cent. With the coal industry employing 44,000 people—thousands in coal-fired power stations—and paying over $5.7 billion in wages and salaries, can the minister advise the Senate how the Australian resources sector benefits our nation's energy mix?

Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:46): I thank Senator O'Sullivan for his question. We have grown rich as a nation on our abundant cheap energy sources in our country, including our coal, our gas and our hydro resources down here in southern Australia. We are very lucky as a nation to have been given these resources and to be able to use them to underpin many industries that provide good, high-paying jobs for average Australians. This is because a cheap energy in this country means we can have dear wages in those industries.

Since we have cheap energy, we can have industries like an aluminium sector, which provides thousands of jobs for Australians who just want to have a good job to provide for their families—people like Tim Price, who lives down the road from me and works at the Boyne Island smelter in Gladstone. His job relies on coal. There is no other way around it. If it were not for the Gladstone Power Station just down the road from the Boyne Island smelter, there would not be a Boyne Island smelter in Gladstone. That smelter employs around 1,000 Queenslanders. It needs a cheap energy source to be able to survive, and it is only because we have that high-quality cheap resource close to Gladstone and the Bowen Basin that we can have those jobs.

This government wants to protect those jobs. We want to keep those jobs here. We want to keep those high wages for Tim and others at the Boyne Island smelter. May I say, traditionally and before, the Labor Party used to support those jobs too. They were their people; they were their jobs. But, right now, they are deserting those people at the Boyne Island smelter because they are turning their back on coal. If you do not support a coal industry—if you do not support coal-fired power—we will not make aluminium in this country and we will not have jobs for people like Tim at the Boyne Island smelter. On this side of the place, we support those jobs. We support people like Tim. He is a hard worker. We should back him, and we should back our coal industry.

The PRESIDENT: Senator O'Sullivan, a supplementary question?

Senator O'SULLIVAN (Queensland) (14:48): I note that around the world there are 216 coal-fired power stations being built. Many of these are supercritical or higher technology. Can the minister appraise the Senate of the contribution that clean, green coal technology could make to Australia's resources sector?

Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:48): The senator is absolutely right about the hundreds of coal-fired power stations that are being built around the world. There are thousands that are being planned or are in construction around the world, and many of them are using the latest technologies that produce less carbon emissions than current coal-fired power stations.

To go back to real-world examples, I will use the Boyne Island Smelter. I think what is important to note is that the Gladstone Power Station that powers that smelter is 40 years old. It has a capacity of 1,680 megawatts. It is a big power station. At some point in the future, possibly in the next decade—the Boyne Island smelter has a contract with them for the next decade, and it runs out at the end of 2020—we will need to look at refurbishing or replacing it. We would be mad not to look at the latest technologies being installed and used in our region to replace that technology. If we ignore those technologies, we most likely will not have those thousand jobs in Gladstone that I want to protect and this government wants to see survive.

The PRESIDENT: Senator O'Sullivan, a final supplementary question?

Senator O'SULLIVAN (Queensland) (14:49): I know the minister knows the answer to my next question. Is the minister aware of any alternative energy policies?

Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:49): As I said earlier, we used to have a Labor Party in this country that supported workers and supported a coal sector. Indeed, it was only as recently as the Rudd and Gillard governments, when they sought to unnecessarily, in my view, impose a carbon tax on this country. They did modelling, and they said that we would still have coal going out into the future.

Now we have a Labor Party that has subscribed to a view that we should shut down all of our coal-fired power stations in this country. We had a Senate inquiry report endorsed by Labor senators last year just before Christmas—endorsed by the shadow minister, Mark Butler—that said we should shut all our coal-fired power stations in this country. Apparently we can still export the coal to other countries, like Japan and China. They can make the aluminium for us, and we can import it back here for our planes and for our cars. We can still enjoy the resource but not have the jobs. We will not have the jobs if we do that. Well, we back jobs on this side of the chamber, and that is why we back coal-fired power and we back our aluminium sector.