Those in the Parliament who know me well also know I’ve devoted a large part of my political career resisting what I call “over-reach on climate change”.
I believe our climate is changing and growing more erratic. It’s more than likely humans are contributing to that change, so we need to adjust our behaviour and government has a big role to play.
Avoiding overreach is important. In six years the Labor Government I served achieved less than we would have liked on energy reform because we left ourselves exposed to the mother of all scare campaigns. A deceitful and ultimately successful campaign which arguably, provided Tony Abbott with a mandate to unravel much of what we’d achieved.
Avoiding overreach remains important. But had the former Government’s policy framework remained in place we would all now be in a much better place. The nation would be operating under an emissions trading scheme in which carbon would be trading at a considerably lower price than $23 per tonne. Intensive trade exposed emitters would be supported on an ongoing basis, pensioners and low income families would be protected from any price rises, carbon-revenue would be funding projects which lifts productivity in our farm sector and initiatives designed to protect our environment.
Just as important, our economy would now be better prepared for its energy transition and more advanced.
My belief in the coal industry remains strong and it can continue to count on my energetic support.
So too can those who keep our coal-fired electricity generators humming, keep our lights on, our fridges cold and our manufacturing plants and other businesses running.
But in the not-too-distant-future, Australia’s coal-fired generators will have reached the end of their commercial lives. Four of those generators – with a combined output of almost 10,000MW - can be found in or on the edge of the Hunter region. One, with a capacity of 2,000MW will be gone in five years. In twenty years, they’ll all be history.
It’s not just a problem for the Hunter, such a huge energy supply loss is a problem for the whole Nation.
The good news is the Hunter is well placed to remain the Nation’s powerhouse. The high voltage transmission lines are here. The skills are here. Solar energy already has a foothold. We have excellent wind and geothermal resources and plentiful gas. We have a range of clean energy institutes in Newcastle including the CSIRO.
But where is the transitional plan? Given he backed Tony Abbott when he destroyed Labor’s plan, what is Malcolm Turnbull’s Government doing to ensure the lights stay on, prices are stable, and Hunter jobs are preserved?
I was flabbergasted when Malcolm Turnbull recently made things worse rather than better by putting the cause back further by offering false hope on the development of new “clean-coal” generators.
The Rudd Government invested a fortune in “carbon capture and storage” but the results have been less then promising. Super-critical coal generators are cleaner but sadly, not clean enough.
Just as important, the energy companies have no interest in building coal-fired generators that require 30 or more years of operation to deliver a decent return on investment.
We cannot further delay the Hunter’s transition by bleating on about “clean coal”.
Sadly, it isn’t going to be our future and we don’t have a moment to lose before we accept that and begin building a new beginning.