Minister For Energy Efficiency Forecasts Forecasts Strong Economic Growth For Local Coal Industry (26/06/2012)

combet-illawarra.jpgMr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (14:43): My question is to the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and Minister for Industry and Innovation. Minister, with the carbon price due to start in six days time, what are the future investment prospects for the coal industry, particularly in the Illawarra region, and how does this demonstrate that resource companies' investment decisions are being guided by facts not fear?

Mr COMBET (Charlton—Minister for Industry and Innovation and Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) (14:44): I thank the member for Throsby for his question, because the coal industry is extremely important to regions that he represents in the Illawarra and also to the region that I represent in the Hunter. There has been a range of forecasts about the future of the coal industry in recent months, all of them overwhelmingly positive, but there is one that has been incredibly negative, and that is from the Leader of the Opposition. We know about his economic forecasting! He has predicted from 1 July, next Sunday, the death of the coal industry. The death of the coal industry—the end of it. In the Illawarra, coalmining has gone; in the Hunter, it has gone. That is what he has predicted. But the closer we get to the introduction of a carbon price from Sunday and the more facts that come out, the more utterly ridiculous, hypocritical and misleading the Leader of the Opposition's comments have been.

Just take the Illawarra: last Friday, BHP Billiton approved an $833 million investment in Illawarra coal. The carbon price starts in less than a week, the Leader of the Opposition has forecast the death of the industry, and here is BHP Billiton announcing an $833 million investment commitment. In fact, it is the largest capital investment that BHP Billiton has ever made in its Illawarra coal subsidiary. The new mine will support the ongoing employment of 500 workers currently employed at the West Cliff mine and generate 300 new construction jobs. With my background I have some familiarity with the industry. The coal seams in the Illawarra are relatively methane intensive and will attract a carbon price liability. Nonetheless, notwithstanding the forecasts of doom, $833 million has been committed in Illawarra coal, just days before the introduction of the carbon price.

On the one hand, we have got the death of the industry being forecast by the Leader of the Opposition, who will be held to account for this by workers in the coal industry—they will hold him to account for what he has predicted and the insecurity that he has engendered—but on the other hand, we have got BHP Billiton and $833 million on the table. Just as the Leader of the Opposition was misrepresenting the position with Alcoa earlier in question time, so he has misrepresented systematically the circumstances in the coal industry. In fact, there has been an upward revision from $96 billion to $107 billion in the investment pipeline in coal and it has a strong future.

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (14:47): I have a supplementary question, Minister, you have spoken about the impact of the carbon price on the $833 million investment by BHP in my region. Will you inform the House of what assistance families in my electorate, and other electorates around mine, will have as part of the carbon price?

Mr COMBET (Charlton—Minister for Industry and Innovation and Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) (14:47): I thank the member for Throsby for the question because the fact of the matter is that the carbon price will have only a modest impact on the cost of living—that is, 0.7 per cent increase in the CPI—less than one cent in the dollar.

The government is assisting pensioners, it is assisting families eligible for tax benefits, it is assisting many self-funded retirees and it is assisting many veterans and others in receipt of Commonwealth payments. In the Illawarra region, more than 20,000 families have already received extra cash in their bank accounts over the past month. More than 53,000 Illawarra pensioners have received $250, if they are single, or $380 for couples combined—that is 53,000 pensioners who have received an advance payment already. And 4,300 students have received up to $190. That is very important in the Illawarra with the University of Wollongong and the many students there. But over on that side, the Leader of the Opposition has opposed all of those things. He has opposed it all and he continues to go out into the community and claim that these are not permanent increases and that they are not indexed. It is completely misleading. It is a complete untruth. It is totally wrong. Regular payments are going to be increased, they will be indexed in the future, and a lot of the assistance is being delivered by tax cuts. (Time expired)