In 1970 Gough Whitlam welcomed the federal government’s announcement that it would finance the building of the Gladstone Power Station.
Whitlam said “power was the determining factor in the development of natural resources in the area and the attraction of greater human resources to the area”.
Since that time the Labor Party has given up trying to attract working-class jobs to develop an area. This week Anthony Albanese has compared new, job-creating, coal-fired power stations to unicorns. Without new coal-fired power stations, thousands of manufacturing jobs across Australia will be lost.
There are 3000 people employed in alumina and aluminium production in central Queensland thanks to that Gladstone Power Station built by the federal government 50 years ago.
That was a time when we developed our resources not just to export overseas but to create jobs here too.
Without further investment, however, we will lose this industry and thousands of jobs. Other countries will instead take these jobs because, in the words of the Opposition Leader, they’re building lots of unicorns.
According to the environmental activists at Global Coal Plant Tracker, China is building 105 more unicorns (coal-fired power plants), India 31 more, Indonesia 24 more and Japan 14 more. Around the world 223 coal-fired power stations are being built, including seven in Europe, and there are 343 coal-fired power plants in the “pre-construction” planning stage. Coal-fired power is imaginary only in Albanese’s mind.
If other countries build coal-fired power stations (often fuelled with our coal), and we do not, they will take our jobs. We will not just be shipping the coal overseas, our jobs will be shipped over there too.
That will also happen if we succumb to the glib talk that we should adopt a target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. How will this work? We are due to receive our last diesel submarine in 35 years, but apparently we can hit net-zero emissions in 30 years.
The net-zero advocates will respond that we can “offset” the diesel-powered subs with investments that help cut emissions in other countries.
But we are being told that we need all countries to hit net zero by 2050 to save the planet. Who are we going to buy carbon emissions from if all other countries have stopped emitting too? We can’t buy carbon credits from Mars.
What the advocates are really suggesting is that we can have our cake and eat it too. That we can still drive our cars, heat our homes and even fly around the world on holidays, providing we tick a box that says “green offset credits” for the low, low, low price of $2 a trip.
If only it were that simple.
The 223 coal-fired power stations that are being built around the world have economic lives that will last until 2070.
Other countries will not handicap their economies by shutting them down early. They will keep producing our wind turbines and solar panels using coal-fired power. And, they will make a lot of money out of this.
But renewable energy will not protect our manufacturing jobs and industries.
Electricity prices are cheaper in other countries that use our coal. The proposed policy of exporting our coal while denying ourselves the use of it hurts our manufacturing industry at both ends. Not only does it make the costs of making things here more expensive, it gives our competitors a leg up.
The proposed Collinsville power station is backed by an indigenous-led company, Shine Energy. This company is run by proud members of the Birri nation. They want to build a coal-fired power station on their land so they can enjoy good-paying jobs on their own country.
The Birri people have experience working on power projects. They worked on the Collinsville solar farm. They managed to get jobs out of that project, but they were temporary.
Once the panels were installed all the jobs disappeared, and that doesn’t help the Birri achieve their long-term economic goals.
Renewable energy investments are often just sugar hits for country towns. In contrast, a coal-fired power station promises to deliver 500 long-term, well-paid jobs for north Queensland. That’s heaps more than the Birri can hope to fill and the project will be a boon for all north Queenslanders, not just indigenous Australians. A new coal-fired power station in north Queensland would return us to Whitlam’s wise words of developing our natural resources to attract human resources to an area.
Matt Canavan is a Nationals senator for Queensland and the former minister for resources and northern Australia.