Coal Needed for Clean Energy

It is a great honour to stand up in unity with so many other senators in this chamber to condemn the economic lunacy of the Greens. These guys are economic lunatics when it comes to this issue.

It is not about the Liverpool Plains, this motion; this motion says clearly that the Greens party:

… calls on all parties contesting the New South Wales state election to commit to a ban on coal and coal seam gas mining.

To ban coal mining in New South Wales! That would bankrupt the state of New South Wales and it would bankrupt this country, but the Greens do not care because they know nothing about economics.

You know that you should not believe anything they say on this issue, because this is a case where you should not do as they do; just do as they say. The Greens, I am sure, like the rest of us, get planes to come here. I am sure I have seen Greens senators turn up to this place in cars—in cars! And I do not think that they are solar-panel-powered cars! I do not think that we have those in the COMCAR fleet.

Today we heard in question time that the Greens referred to a road being invested in in Victoria, in Melbourne, as a 'polluting' road. I did not realise that roads could pollute, but apparently they can pollute. Everything pollutes, according to the Greens. So, every time we are on a road we pollute. Why do the Greens actually get in a car and come to this place? Why do they use cars to come to this place, Senator Nash?

Senator Nash:  "That's right!"

I do not quite understand it. If they are polluting when doing that, why do they not come here by some other means?

Now, I realise that we do not necessarily have the facilities or infrastructure in this place to provide for alternative modes of transport for the Greens. For example, I have never seen—and maybe Senator O'Sullivan can correct me, because I know he is a keen horseman—hitching posts at the front of the Senate chamber. So maybe the Greens would like to ride their horses into the chamber one morning—instead of getting into their cars, they would love to ride their horses. But we do not have any hitching posts. I am sure this corner of the chamber, the Nationals—and I have not taken this to our party room—would support a motion for some hitching posts to be installed at the front of the Senate chamber so that we can all ride our horses to the Senate and we do not have to rely on the evil fossil fuels that we all do today.

The Greens do want to take us back to the dark ages. They do not believe in modern society—at least, they talk about not believing in modern society. They are happy to live with the benefits of it, but they do not believe in steel, because that is made from coal; they do not believe in cars, because they are powered by petrol; and they do not believe in modern agriculture, because modern agriculture is actually powered by fossil fuels. I will get to that as well.

The other thing that is interesting about this motion is that it actually calls for us to ban coal mining. I remember during the last federal election campaign that the Greens had all these spending proposals. They wanted to build a fast rail from Brisbane to Melbourne—that is about $100 billion—and they wanted to introduce free dental care—that is another few billion dollars. All their promises added up to hundreds of billions of dollars. And when they were asked—as, of course, they would be by a forensic media—'How are you going to pay for all of those commitments? How are you going to pay for all of those promises?' do you know what they said? Their stock standard response was, 'We're going to put in place a mining tax. We are going to put in a mining tax to fund the fast rail from Brisbane to Melbourne. We are going to put in a mining tax to fund all these multibillion dollar promises.'

I do not know how a mining tax works when you do not have a coal-mining industry. How is that going to raise any money, if they want to ban the coal-mining industry but they are going to put on a mining tax to fund all their promises? It does not add up! Something is not quite right there. If you believe you are going to fund everything from a mining tax then you must believe that you want to continue some form of mining which is going to make money to pay the tax.

The Greens always want to talk about the future, because they know that they can confuse people about the future. The future, of course, is undetermined, so they talk about what we will have in the future. I have heard Senator Rhiannon, who just contributed to this debate, say before that we could be 100 per cent renewable by 2020 in Sydney. One hundred per cent renewable! I do not know what we are going to do when the sun does not shine or the wind does not blow, but we can be 100 per cent renewable. But you cannot argue about the past. The past is the fact of the matter and you cannot argue about what has happened in the last 30 years across the globe. And in the last 30 years across the globe, we have used 40 per cent more oil than in 1980—so 35 years, actually; we have used 107 per cent more coal—we have more than doubled our use of coal in the global economy; and we have used 131 per cent more natural gas. Those are all fossil fuels and all fantastic technologies that have pulled—as Senator Ketter said before, and I fully support his comments—hundreds of millions of people out of poverty across our globe.

There are still hundreds of millions of people without access to electricity—not any electricity; not dearer electricity, or cheaper electricity or some electricity—no electricity. There are about 300 million people in India who do not have access to any electricity. In Central Queensland we had a tropical cyclone go through recently—through Yeppoon and Rockhampton. Many of us were without power for a week or more. My house was out of power for six days. I tell you what: people understood what it was like not to have electricity. People understood that we have probably become a bit soft these days—after six days people were at their wits end in not having air conditioning, in not being able to refrigerate food easily or even in not being able to cook food at all if they did not have gas or some other source of energy.

People understood that actually they did not want to go back to the dark ages. It is actually a fantastic thing that people have access to cheap electricity to warm their homes for their families or to cool them in hotter areas. That is a great thing; it is a great advancement for human beings all around the world, and the only way we maintain that is through access to cheap and affordable electricity which, right now, means fossil fuels. You cannot get away from the fact that if you want to have access to cheap, permanent, consistent electricity, across 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, you need to use fossil fuels. It is a basic scientific fact right now. I say, 'Let's listen to the science and support those industries that provide those great benefits to the whole globe.'

It is not just about access to cheaper electricity for people to turn on their lights and their air-conditioners and power their cars; it is actually also to have food as well. The Greens love to talk about how the black soil plains look fantastic and it is fantastic to see a wheat crop growing when you drive past it on your way back to Sydney, but they never actually understand how this stuff works, how it is grown and how people actually turned what is a barren, sometimes treed area of land into something that produces food for millions of people around the world. We produce enough food to feed 60 million people around the globe. How do we do that? We do that by converting energy into food. That is all farmers do. They take energy that is in the soil, in the ground and in organic matter and turn that into products that human beings can eat, whether that is through a cow that can eat grass and turn that into the protein or whether it is nitrogen being turned into a wheat crop. It is all farmers do.

This takes a lot of hard work, because when you look at modern food production—the fact that we can feed a lot of people around the world very easily today, many more than we could hundred years ago—a lot of energy goes into it. There was a study done in the United States—I have never been able to find one for Australian cropping—where someone showed that it takes actually 100 kilograms of oil equivalent to produce just one tonne of wheat. That is taking into account all of the fertiliser, tractors, diesel that is used and electricity to irrigate a hectare of land. It is 100 kilograms of oil equivalent of power. That is their metric. We tend to use the actual metric rather than imperial measures. If you convert that to our measures, it is four gigajoules of power for one tonne of wheat.

What does that mean in cost terms? Urea is just basically taking nitrogen out of the air, which is all around us; more than 70 per cent of the air around us today is nitrogen. Nitrogen is compressed through the basic technology into urea, which can be used—as it is now in a physical form of nitrogen—to replenish land and to then grow crops, grass or whatever you want to grow. It costs about $5 to $10 a gigajoule to convert nitrogen into urea. The diesel used for tractors, if you convert petrol prices to gigajoule terms, is about $30 per gigajoule. Irrigation, which often uses diesel powered or sometimes networked electricity, is about $60 a gigajoule.

All up, when you add all of those things together and their relative uses in the production of a wheat crop, it costs around $80 a tonne in energy inputs for one tonne of wheat. Eighty dollars a tonne is what our wheat is made up of. The cereal we eat costs about $80 a tonne to produce. I just checked the actual wheat price itself before I came in here and it is about US$250 a tonne, which is a little bit more in Australian-dollar terms these days. Still, somewhere around a third or a quarter to a third of the price of wheat—the final value of wheat after it leaves the farm—is embodied in energy. If we do not have access to cheap energy, we will not have access to cheap food and we will not be able to feed people.

All of these farmers that the Greens pretend to represent will not be able to make a profit because we will be producing wheat at a much higher cost. We will not be able to sell at the world price, because we export most of our wheat, and they will be out of a job. They will be out of a job, they will be off their farm and they will not be able to employ all the people they do when they produce food for our nation. But the Greens think that it will all be okay because we will not use natural gas to make urea any more, we will not use diesel to power our tractors and we will use wind and solar for everything. We will use wind and solar for everything we do!

The Greens always like to present wind as some form of virgin, absolutely pure and clean form of energy. But when you drive past a wind turbine next time, just think about how much steel has to be made and how much concrete has to be manufactured to make a wind turbine. What makes steel? It is coking coal and iron ore. In this motion, the Greens want to ban coalmining. You will not be able to make steel anymore. If we ban coalmining, there will be no more steel and there will be no more wind turbines. Even if you did allow some steel production still to occur in some developing country somewhere, a wind turbine takes around 460 tonnes of steel to make. One wind turbine is 460 tonnes of steel—sorry, that is wrong. I misread my notes. Each megawatt of wind power produced takes around 460 tonnes of steel. Each megawatt of wind power takes around 870 cubic metres of concrete as well as an input into the production of that megawatt of power.

Let's compare that to natural gas: natural gas takes 27 cubic metres of concrete and 3.3 tonnes of steel. Wind is 460 tonnes of steel per megawatt; natural gas is 3.3 tonnes of steel. Wind is 870 cubic metres of concrete; natural gas is 27 cubic metres of concrete. Which one is more environmentally friendly? Which one will ultimately use less resources and make less of an environmental impact on our manufacturing processes and our mining processes as well, which are needed to make steel?

Under the Greens' policy and the Labor Party's policy at the moment, they want us to get to a renewable energy target which is basically unachievable. We need around another 3,860 megawatts of wind to be installed by 2020 to do it. That will take, on those sums that I read out before, 1.8 million tonnes of steel. That is enough steel to build 35 aircraft carriers. We would be using the same amount of steel before 2020 in wind turbines as to actually manufacture 35 aircraft carriers. I think I know which one of those options would be of more use to Australia. The Greens do not care about all the facts in this debate. That is because they are on an emotional campaign to touch into people's dreams of having not to rely on dirty mining or the unfortunate things we have to do, but still maintain our standard of living—which is an absolute impossibility.

We have heard all of this before in regional Australia. I want to finish by quoting from a letter to The Land today, which points out that around 30 years ago the Greens ran a campaign in exactly the same area we talking about—the Liverpool Plains in Gunnedah—to ban the use of crop dusting and aerial spraying for cotton and other crops. They wanted to ban that. This letter from Geoff Swain at Carroll rightfully points out that: 'Some people have very short memories. Do they not recall that a former state government and the Greens, with the tacit approval of the then independent member for Tamworth, combined to lock up the Pilliga.' That is a forest up there. He said, 'Have they forgotten the devastation caused to the timber industry? How about the native vegetation laws, which have impacted so heavily on farmers in New South Wales?'

That is exactly right, because the Greens in this debate do not care about the people who rely on the mining sector to provide their jobs, people who rely on the timber sector to provide jobs and people who would not have a lot of other options otherwise. They only care about their votes in the inner city, which are mainly voters who rely on massive amounts of fossil fuels to power their lifestyles and continue their comfortable livelihoods.


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