22 February 2020

Canberra MP doubles down on anti-coal position following Otis emails

| Dominic Giannini
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Federal member for Bean, David Smith

Federal member for Bean, David Smith, said he does not support any more coal-fired power plants in Australia. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Federal Canberra MP David Smith has doubled down on his anti-coal position following revelations last week concerning pro-coal Otis group emails.

Accidentally-leaked emails were sent between a group of 20 Labor MPs who met at the Otis Dining Hall in Kingston to discuss the party’s position over coal.

Not all MPs in the email chain attended. Mr Smith says he received an invitation by phone to attend a dinner which he declined.

The federal member for Bean, which covers the south of the ACT, told Region Media the whole story has been blown out of proportion.

“There is not a group. That was a complete beat-up about a dinner of MPs. It is just rubbish,” Mr Smith said.

“As far as I know they only had one dinner and I did not even know who was going and who wasn’t.

“I was invited and did not go. I had a better offer.”

Labor leader Anthony Albanese recently said there was no place for new coal-fired power plants in Australia, and Mr Smith said he supports the position.

“I do not support coal power stations, of course not. It is going to be a redundant technology for coal power stations in five to ten years,” he said.

Mr Smith said new coal fire power plants do not stack up economically.

“The subsidies that it requires means that it does not stack up at all,” he said.

“That group was not meeting about that, they were talking about the community. There is an issue about what happens with work in those communities.

“You need to find a way to provide other opportunities to those communities as they transition out of those industries.”

Mr Albanese released the party’s new emissions reductions and renewable energy targets today following criticism of the party’s position on coal.

Federal Labor has adopted a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, with an initial 45 per cent reduction by 2030, bringing it in line with NSW and Victoria.

The ACT has a policy of net-zero emissions by 2045.

Mr Smith insists the party is unified in its position on coal.

“There is a relatively consistent position across the party. It is not a simple issue but I think Albanese has been quite right in his approach,” he said.

“In terms of our policy process, our national conference is in December this year so policy and platform are evolving. You do not put out your policy platform two years before an election.

“But there is a lot of conversation about policy areas at the moment and different people feed into those processes.”

Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon, who was a part of the Otis group, previously said he wanted Labor to re-embrace the coal industry after Bill Shorten’s election campaign was hammered in his electorate of Hunter.

Mr Fitzgibbon suffered a 9.5% swing against him at the 2019 Federal election in his NSW seat of Hunter, partly because of Labor’s ambiguous language on Adani, combined with some anti-coal rhetoric within the coal mining community in the Hunter Valley region an election review found.

Deputy Leader, Richard Marles, who was not on the Otis emails, similarly refused to rule out supporting new coal developments in early February but said it would be a “good thing” if the thermal coal market collapsed.

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Would love to move away from coal but when you look at our top 3 exports, see below, I would like to see some ideas on how we are going to replace the income and jobs that will go.

Total (b) 438,127
1 Coal 66,860 15.3
2 Iron ores & concentrates 63,277 14.4
3 Natural gas 43,298 9.9

Also it appears currently around 73 – 80 % of our current electricity supply is from coal. The electricity grid is also not designed to accept renewable energy randomly inserted at various locations. Coal fired power stations are not designed to be switched on and off like a TV. So moving forward it will be a redesign of the grid, building enough reliable renewable energy sources to replace the coal and then creating new industries for local needs and exports to replace what we end.

HiddenDragon7:31 pm 22 Feb 20

“You need to find a way to provide other opportunities to those communities as they transition out of those industries.”

If the hype about Australia becoming a “renewable energy superpower” goes the same way as the hype, a generation ago, about Australia having a world class car industry, there’ll be a lot of transitioning going on in this town when the federal budget loses all that easy revenue from coal exports – and the other industries which would be shut down in pursuit of a zero emissions target.

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