Hunter councils have told a federal/state taskforce it's time for governments to lead transition from coal

FEDERAL Energy Minister Angus Taylor's announcement of a federal/state taskforce to look at the implications of the Liddell coal-fired power station closure in April, 2023 was panned by critics as a guise for propping up coal.

It came only days after Liddell owner AGL announced a delay in its closure until 2023 to "help the national energy market cope with the critical summer months". After 50 years of operation it had reached the end of its technical life, AGL said.

Mr Taylor's announcement of a taskforce that would look at "all options" to deal with the closure, after he would not rule out spending government money to extend its life, was seen by critics as a way to continue pressuring AGL to keep Liddell open.

It's interesting, then, to hear what at least some Hunter councils told the taskforce members - three bureaucrats - at a meeting on Friday.

Singleton Mayor Sue Moore, who has represented her community in the middle of the Hunter coal fields since 1991, told the taskforce her council and the community were "largely comfortable" with AGL's Liddell closure plans and the actions it was taking to achieve them.

She told the taskforce the community would most likely see any extension of the ageing Liddell beyond April, 2023 as a negative because of emissions that had a significant health impact, and particularly on vulnerable groups like the young, the old and asthmatics.

What the Hunter needed was government leadership as it transitions away from coal after more than two centuries of it supporting and dominating the region's economy and development, Ms Moore said the taskforce was told.

That view was backed by Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes. Other councils and community leaders yet to meet with the taskforce are expected to support that view.

In the past week Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been on the world stage trying to defend Australia's record on climate change. He blamed the media for misrepresenting that record but was left in no doubt how the United Nations views his government on this issue.

It is hard for a government and a Prime Minister to lead on coal, climate change and the transition away from coal when it is so deeply divided internally on whether climate change is a real issue. And that's a significant problem for the Hunter.

 

Published in Newcastle Herald 28th September, 2019