Queensland MP Keith Pitt – an outspoken supporter of coal and nuclear and critic of wind and solar – has been elevated to the federal cabinet and replaces Matt Canavan as the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, as flagged by RenewEconomy yesterday
Canavan had been the strongest pro-coal advocate in the Morrison cabinet for some time, but the track record of his replacement suggests the fossil fuel lobby won’t be too concerned about the loss of an ally who likes to describe himself as “Mr Coal.”
Pitt, who has served as the LNP member of the coastal Queensland electorate of Hinkler since 2013, has been an outspoken supporter of the coal industry, has pushed for the establishment of a nuclear industry in Australia and supported the Abbott government’s efforts to abolish the federal government’s renewable energy initiatives.
So strong is Pitt’s opposition to climate change action that he resigned as an assistant minister in 2018, following Scott Morrison’s elevation to the Prime Ministership, citing Australia’s commitment to the Paris Agreement as one of his core grievances.
“I will always put the national interest and the interests of my constituents above my own. I will always put reducing power prices, before Paris,” Pitt said following his resignation.
Pitt has advocated for a new coal-fired power station in Queensland and was part of a group of National MPs that sent a scare through the office of party leader Michael McCormack ahead of the 2019 federal election, when they demanded faster action on providing financial support to a new coal generator.
The group succeeded in securing financial support, up to $10 million, for a feasibility study into a potential new coal project, that has focused on a proposed new power station in Collinsville.
Pitt subsequently argued that Queensland should separate itself from the rest of the National Electricity Market, saying the state should not share electricity generation with New South Wales, claiming it would lower prices for Queensland consumers.
It was a proposal (nearly) unanimously slammed by the energy industry, as a proposal that would lead to lower electricity prices, and in fact, would cause Queensland generators to lose income received from electricity exports.
Pitt has been a regular advocate for “clean coal” technologies as well as nuclear power, as he did in response to a motion seeking to declare a climate change emergency in Parliament last year.
“If it is a climate emergency, then everything should be on the table—everything—and we shouldn’t just be ruling things in and out because we like them or we don’t like them. That means that you should consider nuclear energy. That means that you should consider HELE coal. If a HELE coal power station can reduce emissions by 40 per cent, why wouldn’t you use it?” Pitt said.
Pitt was one of the main agitators for a parliamentary inquiry to a potential nuclear industry in Australia, a request that was acquiesced by federal energy minister Angus Taylor.
“Australia is one of the few developed nations which is not using nuclear as an energy source, yet we mine uranium here and send it overseas,” Pitt said following the establishment of the nuclear enquiry.
“It’s not just about looking at whether nuclear could be an affordable, reliable power source with virtually no emissions, it could be a new strand to the economy with fabrication, reprocessing, mining and exporting of uranium.”
Opposition energy spokesperson Mark Butler said that Pitt’s appointment to the resources portfolio raised serious questions about where efforts to stimulate an Australian nuclear industry may ultimately lead.
“Having appointed such a strong nuclear advocate to the resources portfolio, Scott Morrison must now come clean about his government’s nuclear power plan and let Australians know which regions are in his nuclear firing line,” Butler said.
“Over 100 Australian communities have previously been identified as possible locations for nuclear reactors and nuclear dumps, including; Jervis Bay, Townsville, Gladstone, Perth, Western Port in Victoria and the New South Wales North Coast.”
“Keith Pitt’s appointment to the crucial resources portfolio is also another signal that Scott Morrison is walking even further away from action on climate change.”
In 2015, when the Abbott government negotiated a reduction in the Renewable Energy Target with the Labor Party, Pitt spoke out against leaving the large-scale target as high as 33,000GWh (reduced from 41,000GWh), claiming at the time that there was already too much supply in the National Electricity Market and that the renewables target would cause an unnecessary excess in electricity generation.
“I will not be supporting the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015 that is currently before the Australian parliament. In my view, the renewable energy target—the RET, the deal the coalition has been forced into with Labor, will achieve only three things. It will increase the cost of electricity for those who can least afford it, Australian taxpayers will have spent billions of dollars subsidising private enterprise, and, come 2020, environmentalists will have little more to show for it than a warm and fuzzy feeling.” Pitt told parliament.
“Under this bill, $15 billion will be spent over the next five years on infrastructure that will run concurrently with coal fired generators, supplying into a market that is excessively supplied,” Pitt added.
As it turns out, the investments in Australia’s large-scale renewable energy projects have been crucial in maintaining Australia’s supply of electricity, as the ageing coal-fired power station fleet begins to falter, and considers exiting the market altogether.
Pitt also claimed that it was not possible for the renewables industry to meet even the reduced 2020 target.
“Do I honestly think they can install the capacity needed to meet the reduced target? My answer is no. We will be back having this debate again in two or three years’ time, when it becomes apparent that even huge subsidies will not be enough to get sufficient facilities built,” Pitt added.
Despite Pitt’s pessimistic prediction, the Clean Energy Regulator declared in 2019 that the Renewable Energy Target had been easily met.
Keith Pitt’s elevation to the resources portfolio was part of a wider cabinet reshuffle made by prime minister Scott Morrison, made necessary by the resignation of two ministers in the first parliamentary sitting week for 2020.
Deputy Nationals leader David Littleproud will also take on the agriculture portfolio, while Darren Chester was also promoted to the cabinet, with the veteran’s affairs ministry being upgraded to a cabinet position.