NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet has challenged Labor to pledge support for Hunter coal industry jobs in the face of the party’s commitment to growing the renewable energy sector.
“The Opposition continues to demand a 50 per cent renewables target and a 45 per cent cut in emissions in an unrealistically short timeframe,” Mr Perrottet said on Wednesday.
“How will they achieve this without destroying thousands of jobs and driving energy prices through the roof?”
Mr Perrottet cited Australian Bureau of Statistics figures that show the number of people directly employed by the mining industry in NSW had increased from 35,800 in 2010-11 to 40,700 in 2017-18.
He also said the value of NSW coal exports had increased to $16.9 billion in 2017-18, up from $11 billion in 2010-11.
While Coal-fired power presently provides about 75 per cent of the state’s electricity, the figure is expected to decline over the next 10-15 years as coal-fired power stations come to the end of their life.
Labor’s energy spokesman Adam Searle said Mr Perrottet lacked a basic understanding of the NSW coal industry.
“NSW Labor has a long and strong tradition of supporting coal mining and coal mining communities in this state. We also know that there must be the highest standards of protection for our land and water in assessing any proposals for new or modified coal mines,” he said.
“Growing renewables for our domestic energy supply poses no threat to the coal mining industry in NSW as the vast majority of coal mined is exported.”
Mr Perrottet agreed that reducing emissions and increasing renewable energies were important but argued the the coal industry was vital to the state’s economy and could not be sacrificed.
“Mining is our biggest export earner, it employs tens of thousands of people indirectly across NSW,” Mr Perrottet said.
“Labor can’t be one thing to the people of Newtown and another thing to the people of Newcastle.”
Mr Searle said defended Federal Labor’s 50 per cent renewable energy target.
“As our ageing coal-fired power stations come to the end of their lives, like any machine they need to be replaced. Renewable energy is the cheapest, new-build source of energy,” he said.
Upper Hunter MP and Shawdow Minister for Rural and Regional Australia Joel Fitzgibbon said Mr Perrottet’s comments reflected “a level of ignorance you’d expect from a city-based conservative.”
“The Hunter’s coal-fired generators will all operate until they meet the end of their commercial lives. In the case of Liddell, that’s another five years. The Bayswater and Eraring power stations have a couple of decades left in them,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“The overwhelming majority of the Hunter’s coal goes to overseas power generation and steel making customers. The Hunter’s coal remains in demand and the industry has a bright future”.
Upper Hunter Michael Johnsen said the coal industry continued to provide the cheapest and most reliable source of energy.
“The coal industry powers NSW, and it is of even bigger importance locally because of the jobs it creates for our communities,” he said.
“If Labor wants to kill coal they need to tell people how they are going to be able to afford to keep the lights on, and also be upfront with the people who are actually working at the coal face as well as the thousands of others employed across NSW.”