“Nationals for coal”. It has a certain ring to it, don’t you think. And it leaves no doubt where the party now owes its allegiances, not so much with farmers and the regional communities they feign to support, but with Big Fossil. Perhaps it’s all about who donates the most.
The former and still aspiring federal leader of the National Party, Barnaby Joyce, and his former chief of staff, former Nationals leader in the Senate and former resources minister Matt Canavan have been on a two day tour of coal mines in the Hunter Valley, slamming the NSW Coalition government’s renewable transition plan and calling for a new coal fired power station in the area.
According to the Newcastle Herald, which sent a photographer down a mine shaft to take a picture of Joyce, Canavan and another Nationals MP David Gillespie, the Nationals trio are calling themselves the “caravan of common sense”. Numerous alternatives spring to mind.
On Thursday, we are told, they visited Centennial Coal’s Mandalong underground mine, and the Vales Point power station that is half owned by prominent LNP donor Trevor St Baker, where they launched a new website – huntercoal.com.au – which calls for a new coal-fired power station under the banner of “Nationals for Coal”.
“The Hunter is a perfect place to build a new power plant, with locations near Muswellbrook easily able to accommodate a new power station that would not only bring jobs to the area but the entire state,” the Nationals petition says.
Joyce, Canavan and Dr Gillespie spent much of the day talking to commercial TV hosts, and of course Sky TV, using the media platform to say bad things about wind and solar, and the newly legislated bill that represents the NSW government’s embrace of a renewable energy transition.
Canavan wondered why, if renewables were so cheap, they needed support or a government plan. Almost in the same breath, he fretted about the fate of his federal government’s grant to St Baker’s coal generator, the one St Baker bought off the NSW government for just $1 million and which has delivered him hundreds of millions of dollars in profits.
Gillespie urged Australia “to follow America’s lead” and cut power prices by building more coal fired power stations. Someone must have forgotten to tell him that the US coal industry is moribund and mostly bankrupt, and US coal production has fallen to its lowest level in more than 50 years.
Gillespie is a medical doctor, so one area where he might have been able to advise his fellow Nationals with some authority is on the health impacts of coal generation. If he did, it fell on deaf ears, including his own.
The three of them appeared in this Facebook post spruiking the case for a new coal fired power station. Gillespie got so excited he compared a new coal fired generator to a “Maserati”, and renewables to an old Holden, which got me confused. Joyce mumbled something about renewables only operating 33 per cent of the time, and a very “unreliable 33 per cent of the time” at that.
Canavan said: “If you want to make stuff in Australia again join our fight to build a new coal fired power station to bring manufacturing jobs back to Australia.”
People do want to make stuff in Australia. But it won’t be with coal, because it’s dirty and expensive. It will be with wind and solar, with cheaper electricity, and through “green metals”, using low cost renewable to value add Australian minerals – rather than just exporting the ore and buying back the processed product, like a third world country.
And don’t think this is just a bunch of government back-benchers doing the dirty work of the fossil fuel lobby. Current resources minister and Nationals MP Keith Pitt put in his two cents worth on Sky News, describing the NSW plan – which is whole-heartedly supported, incidentally, by the NSW Nationals, – as a “fantasy”.
Pitt, who reminded viewers that he is an electrical engineer, then went on to talk about “carbon capture and storage”, which he said was already commercial, which will be news to the carbon capture and storage industry which is seeking massive government handouts.
Pitt then went on to say CCS was merely promising. “Technology has to be the solution,” he said. It will be, but not the technologies that these Nationals are talking about.