Miners deserve a straight answer

ANNASTACIA Palaszczuk's attempts to reset her struggling administration began in earnest at last weekend's annual Labor state conference.

The Premier and party president John Battams both made a show of publicly declaring the party's support for coal mining while collectively the conference acknowledged the ongoing role that the resources sector will play in the state's economy.

In many ways, it was an acutely perverse spectacle.

Why would any Queensland Government, let alone one whose often-stated raison d'être is job creation, have to publicly state its support for mining?

However, that's the predicament in which the Palaszczuk Government finds itself just over 12 months until the next state election.

Between the Premier's scuppering of a Federal loan for Adani's Carmichael project to Deputy Premier Jackie Trad's declaration that coal miners would need to re-skill, it's not hard to see why many Queenslanders, particularly those in the regions, see the Labor Government as anti-mining.

Palaszczuk's proclamation in the wake of Labor's Federal election drubbing that she was fed up with her own Government's dilly dallying on Adani did nothing to relieve this sentiment.

If anything, the fast-tracked approval of the Carmichael mine which followed just confirmed that the Government had been playing games.

Labor finds itself in a hole of its own making and it's one it desperately needs to climb out of before the October 31 2020 state election.

However, a seminal test looms within days over whether all those words committing to coal actually mean anything.

Can the Palaszczuk Government match reality to its rhetoric?

The test I'm talking about revolves around mining company New Hope's much-maligned thermal coal mine proposal, New Acland Stage 3.

New Hope says it will start making half its 300-strong workforce redundant after September 1 if it doesn't get the mining and water licenses it needs.

Can the Palaszczuk Government match reality to its rhetoric? Picture: Glenn Hunt
Can the Palaszczuk Government match reality to its rhetoric? Picture: Glenn Hunt

It's running out of coal in its current pit and without the new site there will soon be little for its workforce to do.

New Acland is hardly a new proposal.

You might have heard shock jock Alan Jones bang on about it, however on this occasion he's actually opposing a mine proceeding rather than condemning people for being anti-coal climate crusaders.

This saga has been dragging on since 2007 when New Hope first lodged approval papers.

That was three years before Adani's Carmichael project was first proposed and as New Hope has been at pains to point out, the same year that Apple produced its first iPhone.

It really is an appalling indictment on Queensland's approval processes that it can take a dozen years for a decision to be made on any project, regardless of how controversial it is.

Court challenges have played a significant part in the time it has taken but that's only because that's what the law allows.

It's demonstrative of how contentious New Acland is that even the Liberal National Party, who lately like to lay claim to being the great defenders of coal industry and its workers, have not managed a consistent position on the proposal.

The Newman Government, including current LNP Leader Deb Frecklington, originally opposed New Acland's expansion but later backed New Hope's scaled-back version, much to the chagrin of Alan Jones.

The problem with New Acland is its proximity to Oakey and the fact the 7.5 million tonne per annum mine would sit on what critics claim is prime agricultural land in the Darling Downs, one of the most productive food bowls in the southern hemisphere.

This all just makes the Palaszczuk Government's looming decision so problematic.

 

The Newman Government, including current LNP Leader Deb Frecklington, originally opposed New Acland’s expansion. Picture: Liam Kidston
The Newman Government, including current LNP Leader Deb Frecklington, originally opposed New Acland’s expansion. Picture: Liam Kidston

 

There are genuine concerns about New Acland (all of which New Hope insists it has addressed) and these are only exacerbated by the fact that the operational life span of the mine might actually be less than the time it has taken to get it approved.

Yet the economic consequences of killing off the proposal go further than just New Hope's workforce and the immediate region around Oakey given the company supports hundreds of contractors and suppliers and spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually on freight.

With Labor struggling against a view that it is anti-mining, forcing it to publicly declare support for one of Queensland's key economic contributors, the Government can ill-afford the spectacle of sinking a mine and forcing workers to be sacked.

It's at risk of looking like bunch of bloviating hypocrites who spent a weekend producing nothing but hot air.

QLD'S NEXT BIG EXPORT COULD BE HYDROGEN

MENTION hydrogen and most people think of the Hindenburg.

Some even remember the time Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen talked about a future of hydrogen-powered cars and made a show of pouring water into the petrol tank of a test model then watched it drive off.

However, while the Hindenburg disaster proved hydrogen-filled flying machines might not have been the brightest of ideas, it now appears Sir Joh was well ahead of his time.

More than 100 industry leaders with an interest in hydrogen as a future renewable fuel gathered in Brisbane this week to hear more about the Palaszczuk Government's plans.

The headline act was Australia's chief scientist, Alan Finkel, who has talked up hydrogen and its potential to be this nation's next big export ­industry.

Given the significant energy losses and huge cost, hydrogen might not seem to make sense as an alternative renewable fuel source.

However, for nations like Japan, which has moved away from nuclear and doesn't have the land mass required for solar and wind and imports 97 per cent of its energy, hydrogen has huge potential.

Chief scientist Alan Finkel after listening to The Treasurer Josh Frydenberg deliver his National Press Club address at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture Kym Smith
Chief scientist Alan Finkel after listening to The Treasurer Josh Frydenberg deliver his National Press Club address at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture Kym Smith

Car manufacturers see this potential with Toyota, Hyundai and Honda already producing hydrogen-fuelled models.

And while Australians will be more likely to switch to electric vehicles in future, our ability to produce and export hydrogen puts Queensland in an advantageous position.

An expert panel headed by Dr Finkel last year found a hydrogen export industry could produce an economic dividend of $1.7 billion and create 2800 jobs by 2030.

Like Sir Joh, Annastacia Palaszczuk has been ahead of the curve on hydrogen, kick-starting a study into a demonstration plant and developing a strategy.

Its early days but at least no one is talking about fancy flammable flying machines.

Don't you worry about that.

MORE COMPETITION IS NOT THE ANSWER

STRUGGLING construction firms won't be impressed with the Palaszczuk Government decision to re-establish QBuild. With 1400 construction firms collapsing over the past five years, the introduction of a state-sponsored builder is the last thing the industry needs.

This is not the first time the Government has set up a company to compete with the private sector. It established Yurika to compete with electricians and power generator CleanCo, which is now contesting in the renewable energy space. Spending public money competing with business seems a sure-fire way of cutting jobs, not creating them.

DON'T GET TOO CROSS OVER RAIL DISRUPTION

TAKE a stroll down Brisbane CBD's most picturesque strip, Albert St, while you can.

The street named after Queen Victoria's consort and cousin is about to become a construction site for Cross River Rail.

Street furniture will be removed in coming weeks before demolition teams move in to mow down some of the buildings resumed for the $7 billion project.

It will be a trying few years for the remaining Albert St traders but when the underground CRR station is complete, currently planned to be by 2024, it will become some of the city's hottest property.

GOOD WEEK

Tourism Minister
Kate Jones, who locked in a unique deal for the GC600 to be held at night from 2020.

Queensland tourism minister Kate Jones.
Queensland tourism minister Kate Jones.

 

BAD WEEK

Education Minister Grace Grace,who was forced to make herself scarce after some rather lacklustre NAPLAN results.

 

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

 

I am many things but I'm not a sausage roll"

Whitsunday MP Jason 'Costo' Costigan still throwing pies at the LNP.

Queensland Member for Whitsunday Jason Costigan.
Queensland Member for Whitsunday Jason Costigan.

Steven Wardill is The Courier-Mail's State Affairs editor.