Resources Minister backs new coal plant as Labor reconsiders climate policy

A new coal-fired power station is back on the federal government's agenda in the wake of its election victory, with ministers supporting a major project in Queensland despite calls from environmentalists to accelerate the shift to renewable energy.

Resources Minister Matt Canavan is backing the new power station proposal and pointing to the Coalition's strong vote in his home state of Queensland to warn off critics from southern states who want to halt the project.

Senator Canavan is also heightening pressure on the Victorian and NSW governments to open up more gas fields in order to prevent further increases in energy costs for households and manufacturers.

The message comes as Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese embarks on a "listening tour" of Queensland and prepares to reconsider party policy on climate change.


The move also sets up a clash with the environmental movement over the Adani coal mine in Queensland and the Narrabri gas field in northern NSW, which Senator Canavan likened to "NSW's Adani" because its approval has taken so long.


While some Liberals and Nationals avoided calling openly for more coal-fired electricity during the election campaign, Senator Canavan said a pilot scheme to build a new power station would go ahead and could be expanded into a major project within a few years.

"The government will progress investments in coal-fired power," he said.

"That was what we took to the election, it was a key part of our policy package in North Queensland – that we would look at building a coal-fired power station in North Queensland.

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"That's been overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of North Queensland."

The Queensland Nationals within the Coalition party room, including Senator Canavan, have been buoyed by their ability to hold seats such as Capricornia and Flynn and are attributing this to their support for coal-fired power and the Adani mine.

Senator Canavan said former Greens leader Bob Brown had helped the Coalition in Queensland by leading a protest movement from the southern states to try to stop the Adani mine, galvanising Queenslanders who did not like the interference.

"Undoubtedly Bob Brown was a net plus for our election," he said, adding that the protesters encouraged an attitude that was ungrateful, ignorant and patronising.

"It's ungrateful because the coal industry delivers billions of dollars in royalties to the state governments and billions of dollars in taxes to the federal government.

"It's ignorant because a lot of people make comments about the coal market and they have no bloody idea about the coal market.


"And then it's incredibly patronising because these out-of-town people think they have the right to come into someone else's community and tell them they're all evil and wrong and need to the be sacked or re-skilled."

Emboldened by their election victory, government ministers are challenging Labor to rethink its policies on the Adani mine, coal-fired power, a 45 per cent target to reduce emissions and the mechanism to be used to meet that target.

One day after Energy Minister Angus Taylor claimed an election mandate for the government’s 26 per cent target to reduce emissions, Senator Canavan claimed a mandate for coal-fired power.

Queensland Labor Senator Murray Watt backed the continued use of coal in the wake of an admission by likely Labor deputy leader Richard Marles that he had been “tone deaf” to make light of the end of the coal industry.

"I completely reject any suggestion that Labor is a party that is against coal, that wants to see coal close down immediately – that's the position of the extreme Greens and it's not the position of the Labor Party," Senator Watt said.

Mr Albanese made no criticism of the Adani coal mine while visiting the Queensland electorate of Longman on Tuesday, but he disputed whether there was any need for federal support for a coal-fired power station.

"Markets make those decisions, not governments," he said during an interview with 2GB radio host Alan Jones.

"And the truth is that no one that I'm aware of in terms of any investor, in spite of the government's rhetoric over the last two terms, no investor has come forward saying I want to put my money into investing in a coal-fired power station."

But the government has chosen 12 electricity generation projects to support to add capacity to the national grid and one of them is a study into a new coal-fired power station in Collinsville, near Townsville.

Senator Canavan said this had support from industrial customers in Townsville and from potential investors, which meant it was the leading option for greater support if the study proved the need for the project.

"There's a strong case for a new coal-fired power station in North Queensland," Senator Canavan said.

"Any particular investment has to go through a rigorous assessment from all angles.

"There's obviously environmental approvals for it to jump, and in the case where it's seeking a level of government involvement, there's also an economic case that needs to be assessed.

"I don't want to get ahead of myself. Every particular investment will turn on the details of that particular investment, and there's still more work to do on the proposed Collinsville power station.

"But it's been abundantly clear to me for some time that there's a need for investment in baseload power in north Queensland and coal-fired power is a very attractive proposition."