Independents' push on coal, climate action

7th March 2019

Source: The Australian | By: Andrew Clenell | Posted: March 7, 2019

NSW is headed towards the Left on renewable energy and policy around coal-fired power stations if a minority government is formed, after three independents who could be crucial to a hung parliament wrote to the Premier and Opposition Leader demanding action­ on climate change.

Independents Greg Piper, Alex Greenwich and Joe McGirr, who will hold the balance of power if Premier Gladys Berejiklian loses six seats on March 23, wrote to Ms Berejiklian and Opposition Leader Michael Daley last week asking them to act on transitioning from coalmining to clean energy.

Their move comes with the Greens party, which has three lower-house MPs, indicating it would not back Ms Berejiklian but would back Mr Daley if a hung parliament situation arose.

The letter appears to give Mr Daley an advantage after he announced last week that if elected, Labor would institute a renewable energy policy that would require the state to generate “at least” 50 per cent of its energy from renewa­ble sources by 2030 and “as close as possible to 100 per cent” renewable energy by 2050.

It also explains why Ms Berejiklian has been cautious in criticising Mr Daley’s policy so far.

The parliamentary crossbench currently has three independents, one Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party MP (with another likely to be elected) and the three Greens.

“Support for climate change will be critical,” Mr Greenwich said of the new parliament. “The independents have got together to try to take the ideology out of this debate and focus on … looking after communities.”

Mr Daley needs to win 13 seats for an absolute majority — a big ask with the polls showing the parties at 50-50, but the prospect of Ms Berejiklian losing at least six seats is much more likely.

The letter from the three independents says: “Research from the Australia Institute suggests that the renewable energy industry alone could create up to 60,000 new jobs and we want as many of these jobs in NSW as possible.

“Addressing climate change and transitioning jobs from the coal industry must be a package deal. We ask you to commit to a 10-year adjustment strategy for coalmining communities backed by financial resources to affected regions­.”

Mr Piper said Mr Greenwich, a long-time ally of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, had come up with the idea for the letter, arguing­ that there did not seem to be a plan for transitioning away from coal in electorates near his Lake Macquarie electorate.

“I have got three electorates near me with a lot of mines in it and a power station, and I don’t see much happening in that space,” Mr Piper said. “We have much exposur­e to the international market­ so if we know places like Singleton, Muswellbrook, what’s going to happen if there’s a GFC or a major depression?”

The letter states: “There is strong scientific consensus that climate change is a major threat to our future and across the globe governments are responding by transferring power generation to clean energy based on renewables.

“A transition away from coal is what the planet urgently needs but it requires planning to avoid social and economic impacts in mining regions.” It said a report by Western Sydney University commissioned by Lock the Gate predicted serious economic disruption in Hunter coal communities unless preparations started “now”.

“Could you please urgently develop­ a strong transition policy framework to support workers and diversify economies in coalmining regions?” it says.

Ms Berejiklian will respond to the independents but would not comment further.

Labor’s energy spokesman Adam Searle said: “A Daley Labor government will put in place measures to ensure regional communities heavily dependent on a single industry or employer are supported to become more econo­mically diverse and resilient.”

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