The Baillieu government is preparing a campaign to promote development of Victoria's brown coal reserves, as it confirms plans to open up new coal allocations for industry.
The Age has seen a draft cabinet submission outlining the communications strategy and proposals for a tender for new allocations of Latrobe Valley brown coal expected to be finalised by the middle of next year.
The draft submission says one of the objectives of the communications effort will be to ''address community concerns about the ongoing use of brown coal in a carbon-constrained future''.
It also aims to ''increase industry interest in participating in the proposed allocation of brown coal''.
Victoria's brown coal-fired power industry has become the focus of widespread environmental campaigns due to its high carbon emissions and contribution to global warming.
Several local community campaigns have also emerged against plans to explore for and mine new brown coal deposits west of Melbourne, including at Bacchus Marsh and Deans Marsh.
Resources Minister Michael O'Brien confirmed last night the government would be ''seeking new expressions of interest for new allocations of brown coal''.
''The allocations will be based on a competitive tender process with the goal of delivering real benefits to the Latrobe Valley region and Victoria,'' Mr O'Brien said.
''The Victorian government believes that brown coal can, and should, play a key role in our energy future. The allocation process will deliver this.
''Encouraging new investors and the right technologies could deliver a new generation of industry in the Latrobe Valley, boosting the local economy and creating new jobs.'' He said the government would make a formal announcement on the coal allocation process in the near future.
The draft submission says any new tender process would begin with a market assessment to confirm there is sufficient commercial interest to warrant an allocation.
Clean Coal Victoria – a government body that aims to maximise the value of coal resources – would be charged with establishing the best areas to allocate.
As part of the draft submission, it is proposed $120,000 will be spent on general communications material, local information sessions, industry engagement and promotion and marketing for the coal communications plan.
The document outlines a number of ''key messages'' to be delivered to the community, such as ''Victoria's abundant and easily accessible brown coal resource has helped keep electricity prices down and provided the Victorian economy a strong competitive advantage''.
Another message would be that ''the government is supportive of the export of high-value treated brown coal products so long as these comply with relevant federal, state and local legislation and regulation''.
On opposition from environment groups, the draft submission says ''an aggressive and pro-active communications campaign is required that demonstrates the continued relevance of brown coal in a carbon-constrained environment''.
It quotes 2010 research by the Department of Primary Industries into attitudes on brown coal, which found, among other things, that ''communities are becoming more willing to stand up against companies and advocate with governments for action to address specific problems''.
It proposes media releases, briefings, fact sheets and brochures, websites, call centres and presentations as tools that could be used in the communications plan.
Environment Victoria's Mark Wakeham hit out at the strategy.
''Given the established link between coal and climate change, green-washing coal is completely inappropriate and unacceptable. It is akin to a taxpayer-funded campaign promoting the tobacco industry,'' Mr Wakeham said. ''The document confirms that the Baillieu government plans to proceed with a coal allocation despite the fact that past coal allocations have completely failed and that releasing billions of tonnes of polluting coal would be a climate disaster.''
The Australian Industry Group's Victorian branch director, Tim Piper, said if the government was looking at new coal allocations, it would be a positive for employment in Gippsland.
''The Gippsland area is in the middle of some economic tough times and it should be good for employment,'' he said.
Mr Piper said the expansion of coal beyond current allocations would be good for the wider economy in Victoria.
Read our media release on this issue here
Find out more about coal allocation in Victoria with CoalWatch