OPINION: Hunter’s future brighter than coal industry

JONATHON Deans made a number of statements in his article ‘‘Stopping T4 will just start more problems’’ that cannot go unchallenged.

He argues that Newcastle competes against other exporting countries like Indonesia, Russia, South Africa and the US and  that any reduction in exports from one region will be offset by an increase in exports from another.

But that is not supported by evidence. Analysis such as that conducted by the United States Energy Information Agency shows the unique and dominant place of Australia in the global seaborne coal trade.

Indonesia is marginally increasing exports and attempting to divert some of its coal to domestic use; Russia’s mines are mostly located vast distances away from ports; South Africa and Colombia have serious political and infrastructure hurdles to overcome. 

The USA exports about 30million tonnes of steam coal a year, which is less than a quarter of the port of Newcastle’s output.

For these reasons, if Australia were to reduce its coal exports, other countries would be unable to swiftly fill the gap in global coal demand.

He claims that jobs generated by T4 would be well-paying and secure jobs for tradespeople and professionals in engineering, logistics, accounting and HR.

T4 itself will not generate any new jobs other than in the construction phase.

But T4 will have a negative impact on jobs, such as in the thoroughbred industry, viticulture, agriculture and tourism. There is also the indirect loss of jobs in trade-exposed industries due to the high Australia dollar – a direct result of the rapid expansion of coal exports over recent years.

When Jonathon argues that Australian production operations are some of the ‘‘least carbon-intensive in the world’’, so it is better to do the mining here than overseas, it is like saying that it’s better to set someone’s house on fire with newspapers rather than petrol, because the firefighters will have a slightly better chance of extinguishing the blaze.

We have just had the ‘‘angry summer’’ and the Arctic ice cap is getting ever closer to complete collapse. We need to stop expanding coal usage. 

Likewise, the  claim that coal is a friend of the poor is laughable.

Besides the fact that the majority of Australia’s thermal coal exports go to Japan, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan, it is well established that the least developed countries will be most affected by the impacts of climate change.

The climate impacts of coal will drive food prices through the roof and it will be the world’s poorest who bear the brunt.

Renewable energy is becoming cheaper by the day. Wind energy is on par with coal as the equal cheapest new source of power generation. It is entirely conceivable, and certainly preferable, that disadvantaged countries leapfrog coal entirely and go straight to cheap modern renewables for their energy needs.

Expanding coal exports from Newcastle to more than double current levels is not necessary. The local, regional and global economy will be fine if we don’t do it, and the Hunter Region will avoid major problems, including the health costs associated with increased dust pollution.

Importantly, we will retain jobs in farming and equine industries that will otherwise be destroyed.

Coal dependence is not inevitable, nor sensible. We see a brighter future for the Hunter, and for NSW.

Annika Dean is the president of the Hunter Community Environment Centre and spokesperson for the Coal Terminal Action Group.