News | 4th Mar, 2011

Coal safe come ‘hell, high water’

Friday, 4 March 2011
Josh Gordon and Royce Millar, The Age

State Treasurer Kim Wells has vowed to protect Victoria's brown coal competitive advantage ''come hell or high water'', warning he will not put at risk hundreds of thousands of jobs that rely on cheap power.

In an interview with The Age, Mr Wells also said the government had not yet decided whether Victoria would sign up to the federal government's carbon tax, but would honour a commitment to cut state greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent over the next decade.

''We are not going to agree to something that is going to grossly disadvantage this state,'' he said.

''We don't have the minerals that Queensland and WA have … but cheaper power means that manufacturing and other big businesses will come into Victoria because of the competitive advantage. So we want to protect that competitive advantage come hell or high water.''

The comments follow a report in The Age yesterday that brown coal mining companies anticipate a more coal-friendly attitude from the Baillieu government than the former Brumby government.

The Age revealed that a controversial scheme to export Victorian brown coal for use in overseas power stations – shelved by the Brumby government in 2009 – has been dusted off and that in January companies associated with it sought approval for an exploration licence over a large area of prime dairy country and bushland near Mirboo North in South Gippsland.

Mr Wells said Victoria would be closely watching the federal government's efforts to introduce a carbon tax, but a lack of detail made it impossible to commit.

Mr Wells would also not say whether the state government would support Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's promise to repeal the tax if in government.

''We are obviously watching what happens in Canberra. We have obviously put forward our concerns. We have a high reliance on brown coal power and we want to make sure that Victoria is not disadvantaged as a result of the decisions being made in Canberra.''

At the state level the Coalition has backed a plan by the former Labor government locking in an ambitious target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent from levels in 2000 by 2020. But it has provided scant detail about how the target might be achieved. Nor does the new government support Labor's proposed strategy for a staged closing of Hazelwood power station, a contributor to Victoria's emissions.

Environment Victoria campaigns director Mark Wakeham said Mr Wells's comments about brown coal being this state's competitive advantage were 30 years out of date. He called for a moratorium on new coal-fired power stations and new coal mining permits.

Mr Wells acknowledged that achieving the target in the absence of a carbon price would be difficult.

''What we want is someone to come along and invent a conversion of brown coal into clean power. That person would be the wealthiest man alive, or the wealthiest woman.''