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Labor's Richard Marles won't rule out supporting new coal developments | Australia news

Labor’s deputy leader has not ruled out the party supporting new coal developments, saying it would be a decision for the markets despite previously declaring it would be a “good thing” if the thermal coal market collapsed.

In a somewhat difficult and at times awkward interview with David Speers on the ABC’s Insiders program, Richard Marles struggled to articulate the difference between Labor’s coal policy and the Coalition’s, stating “coal will continue to play a part within our economy for decades to come”, while demanding the government do more on climate policy.

Marles maintained public funds should not be used to subsidise coal and the market should be allowed to make its own decisions, but if a private company decided to push forward with a mine and gained the necessary approvals Marles said Labor would not stand in its way.

“This is a matter for the market,” Marles said on the question of whether Labor proposed new coal projects. “… And the normal environmental approvals should apply.

“… The normal process should play out … a Labor government is not going to put a cent into subsidising coal-fired power. And that is the practical question as to whether or not it happens.”

Although he has maintained no taxpayer funds should be used to prop up the industry, a year ago Marles was more strident about the future of coal.

“The global market for thermal coal has collapsed, and at one level that’s a good thing because what that implies is the world is acting in relation to climate change,” he told Sky News in February 2019.

The Morrison government is attempting to balance competing forces within its party room by examining a proposal for a new coal-fired power station in north Queensland – a politically turbulent region for both major parties – while maintaining it is serious about reducing emissions.

The government announced on Saturday a $4m feasibility study with Shine Energy into the proposed Collinsville coal-fired power plant.

In an interview with Sky News, Dan Tehan attempted to suggest the study wasn’t about the government looking to support a new coal-fired plant, but about “providing cleaner, more efficient, lower emissions technology to provide base load funding into northern Queensland”.

The move has raised eyebrows given the private sector’s hesitancy to move forward on coal-fired plants, despite pressure from conservative MPs.

The recent Nationals leadership wobbles, which led to the Queensland senator and resources champion Matt Canavan’s return to the backbench, has seen those same MPs begin to agitate within the joint party room for the government to do more to support the coal industry, claiming climate change was not an issue in their electorates.

Insiders ABC

“Coal will continue to play a part within our economy for decades to come,” @RichardMarlesMP tells @David_Speers on #Insiders #auspol pic.twitter.com/qnTyKCEdNA

February 8, 2020

Following the May election loss, and the party’s backwards slide in Queensland, Labor has attempted to walk a fine line between its support for coal regions, led by the Hunter Valley MP Joel Fitzgibbon, and its push to do more on climate policy.

Joel Fitzgibbon

Yes Adam, come to our regions and explain to our coal miners why you believe that, despite growing demand for their relatively efficient & modernising product in Asia, we can’t have both a cleaner Oz economy & a strong coal export industry @InsidersABC @GuardianAus #jobs pic.twitter.com/wcvPCKJx2F

February 6, 2020

Asked to differentiate between Labor’s policy and what the government was doing on Sunday morning, Marles struggled to draw a distinction, instead returning to what he said were the government’s failures.

Asked what the government could be doing and wasn’t, Marles said “you could start by having a proper energy policy”, but pressed on what that should include Marles said it was “a matter for them – they’ve been in power for seven years”.

Marles settled on the need for a joint parliamentary approach to climate policy, and said the Labor party would once again look at supporting the national energy guarantee, a proposal that ultimately led to Malcolm Turnbull’s downfall as Liberal party leader.

“We have been seeking bipartisanship for a long time in relation to this,” Marles said.

“But to get bipartisanship, we actually need to have a side that we can talk to. Right now, we’re watching a whole lot of people having a war with each other inside their party room.”

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