Matter of Public Importance - Fossil Fuels

I always try to find redeeming features in people. You always try to be fair to people, even those you disagree with, and I certainly have my disagreements with the Greens political party. But everybody in life will have some qualities that shine through and mark them out from others, and there's no doubt the Greens have the gold medal in exaggeration and outlandish statements.

They have the gold medal in taking an inch, taking a little bit of evidence, and stretching it out as far as the eye can see.

What we just heard from Senator Waters was an enormous amount of hyperbole, exaggeration and outlandish statements. Senator Waters, through this motion, and the Greens party are making out that somehow if you shut down thermal coalmines in Australia then we won't have bushfires anymore. We won't have a problem anymore; it will all go away. I think people listening to this would understand how absurd that notion is. As a country, we have been subject to bushfire risk for as long as we know. As a country, we are proud of having one of the longest continuous histories in the world. Indigenous Australians have records of fighting fires with fire for tens of thousands of years, but I can't think of and I don't know of any records of Aboriginal Australians mining coal prior to the arrival of European settlers. I don't think coalmines were the problem back then. We had bushfires back then; we have bushfires today; we are subject to this risk.

The challenge we have is from those who want to shut down our coalmines. They want to shut down an industry that is our nation's largest export, employs more than 50,000 people, sustains so many towns and provides billions of dollars—especially to state governments to fund hospitals, schools and other services. So they want to shut down an industry that provides all those benefits. That's their policy. You would think that they would be able to tell us: okay, how many bushfires will this stop? How many days will we be without bushfire risk because of this change? They have no such evidence, no such data, and no such rigour in their arguments; they're just broad, outlandish statements that don't add up.

In fact, it's worse than that, because the statements of the Australian Greens are also misleading this chamber. They are misleading because Senator Waters tried to put a big weight on the fact that Australia is the world's largest coal exporter. Yes, we're a very large coal exporter. We have vied for the top prize with Indonesia over different time periods. We're not the largest thermal coal exporter, not by far; Indonesia beats us on that mark. But if you add in coking coal, steelmaking coal, we sometimes go above Indonesia; sometimes they're above us. That's exports, though. That's not the use of coal; that's the export of coal from one country to another. It's not the total amount of coal used in the world, which the Greens provided no evidence about. I'm sure they'd know this. They are not silly people. I think Senator Waters is a smart person, and I'm sure she can look up these figures as easily as I can. She could use the resources of the Parliamentary Library. She could just ask the Parliamentary Library: What is Australia's contribution to the world's coal production? What is the answer to that question? It's not a hard question. It's not a complex one. The data is all available. It's an easy one: the world market for thermal coal, the global use of thermal coal, is over six billion tonnes a year. Australia produces about 250 million tonnes of that.

That's not what you heard from Senator Waters. We're a big coal exporter so we must be bad! But we actually account for only five per cent of the world's coal production—just five per cent! But that's not what you got from Senator Waters' contribution. From her contribution it would seem like we were the cause of it all, and if we just shut down the five per cent of world production that we account for then everything will be fine. That is patently absurd, because we produce such a small proportion of the coal.

But I will grant that what our great coal industry—our fantastic coal industry—produces is a high-quality product. It's a very high-quality product. It has high energy content. Typically, it has low ash and it often has low NOx. I should explain that: it has low nitrous oxides and sulphur oxides. Those are the things that can create the worst types of smog. So we have coal that goes onto the world market which helps to improve the quality of coal used in other countries.

There is a good reason for that: countries are not going to pay for coal to be transported enormously long distances unless it's of high quality. It is costly; it's costly to put the coal on the ships and the rail lines to be transported long distances. So that only happens with a high-quality product, and that's what we produce. We produce that. In raw numbers, the specification of our coal out of Newcastle is around 6,000 to 6,300 kilocalories per kilogram. So every kilogram of our coal has about 6,000 kilocalories of energy embodied in it. That might not mean much, but when you compare it to the energy content of other country's coal it is much, much better. Indonesia's coal is typically around 4,700 kilocalories per kilogram, so we're a good 20 to 30 per cent higher than Indonesia's coal. India's coal content is around 3,000 to 3½ thousand kilocalories per kilogram, and so we are a good 50 to 60 per cent higher.

If you use a tonne of Australian coal to generate electricity compared to a tonne of Indian coal or Indonesian coal you are saving something between 20 to 60 per cent of carbon emissions because you get more energy for the same input. It's not a hard concept to understand. If we want to reduce carbon emissions then we should move towards more energy-efficient and energy-rich fuel sources which can help lower carbon emissions but still provide the same amount of electricity. We should provide electricity to people who do not have it. It's very easy for us to say here: 'Let's just cut all this coal use. Let's get rid of it.' For people in countries which are much poorer than ours it's the difference between being able to heat or cool their homes with a safe energy source. In India, 20 per cent of their energy still comes from biomass—straw or wood based products, and sometimes worse things. The burning of those fuels, particularly indoors in households, contributes to terrible health outcomes. Our coal helps to electrify those systems and helps countries to cut their air pollution, as well as their carbon emissions, and is generating much greater environmental outcomes as well as supporting economic growth and development. That is why our coal industry is so good.

I also heard from Senator Waters that somehow coal markets are in decline and people are moving away from it. Again, that is actually not just misleading, it's just wrong. It is just factually, factually wrong. In the last couple of years, coal use in the Asia-Pacific region has boomed. Over 300 terawatts hours more are produced through coal-fired power than two years ago. That's a much greater increase than the increase in solar and wind. They are increasing quickly too—they are increasing substantially—but the increase in coal-fired power across the world has outpaced the increase in solar and wind power over the past couple of years. That's because, thank God, we are still seeing economic growth in the Asian region. It's a great thing that people are being brought out of poverty. Yes, we should seek to cut our carbon emissions, but we should also seek to support other important goals—the Sustainable Development Goals, for example, of ending poverty and supporting economic growth.

I've only got a little bit of time. I could talk for a lot longer, but I wanted to reserve some time to comment on the broader scientific issues. Again, comments from the Greens are highly misleading. We heard from Senator Waters that they are linking all types of weather—when it rains; when it hails; when it snows, presumably, or when it doesn't snow; or when there is fire; or when it's hot or it's cold. All of those things are due to the coal industry. It's an amazing industry that can cause all these issues!

What I didn't hear from Senator Waters was her quoting any science—any science at all. There were no quotes of scientific papers or anything like that. So that's what I'm going to do. There is a report called Climate change in Australia. It's the go-to guide by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology which outlines what the baseline science thinks about future projections in Australia due to climate change. That report shows that the number of fire-weather days—days that are hot, windy and dry—has increased over the past 40 years, and there's almost certainly a climate change impact from that. The report goes on to say:

      … no studies explicitly attributing the Australian increase in fire weather to climate change have been performed at this time.

That's in the CSIRO's document. In the latest IPCC special report there's a table which has different natural disasters that are potentially linked to climate change and the state of science on them. In that report the IPCC concludes that for Australia there is little to no information about a link between climate change and bushfires. You wouldn't hear that from those on that side, because they don't quote you the science. There's a lot more I could quote, but I don't have time.

Senator Pratt: 
That's because you cut the research.

Senator CANAVAN:
I will take the interjection from over there, because I don't want to leave the Labor Party out of this. They've been trying to make out in the past year that, somehow, they're converts and they might actually support the coal industry. They definitely didn't a year ago at the election. Now they're trying to say: 'We didn't mean what we said. We actually support coal jobs.' We've seen the lie of that statement today, because today they had an opportunity to back, just a business case, for a coal-fired power station at Collinsville to support an Indigenous group that wants to build a coal-fired power station on traditional owners' land. Don't give me any rubbish about the Greens supporting Indigenous Australians. They definitely don't. That group wants to build that power station. The Labor Party have been tested here and they've come up short, because they're not supporting it. They're not supporting those economic development goals. You cannot say that you support the export of Australian coal and the creation of Australian jobs if you don't also support some of the use of that coal in Australia to support jobs here too. (Time expired)

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