Coal comfort: Liberal Party’s identity crisis is digging holes in our biggest industry

There is a disbelief in the coal sector that things could have come to this. The industry has been abandoned by Labor for sure, but what’s happened to the Liberals?

Apr 05, 2023, updated Apr 05, 2023
Treasurer Scott Morrison with a lump of coal during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Treasurer Scott Morrison with a lump of coal during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

It’s clear that the identity crisis affecting the Liberals is having a telling impact on the Queensland economy.

How do they attack the frailties of the Government and rally behind a coal and gas sector in the regions without losing support in south east Queensland?

Coal and gas should be a political gift for the LNP, yet look what has happened in the past 12 months: the Safeguard Mechanism which will affect 64 projects, mostly coal and gas, in Queensland was introduced without the Liberals baring their teeth. In fact, they walked away from the debate and left it to the Greens.

Coal royalties in Queensland were massively hiked by the Palaszczuk Government; barely a peep from the LNP.

When the royalties amendments passed through Parliament, Treasurer Cameron Dick made it well-known that “there were no votes cast against the royalty tiers from members representing the Liberal National Party, Katters Australian Party, One Nation, nor the Greens political party’’.

“This can be contrasted to the 2019 budget revenue bill, when the LNP voted against higher gas royalties,” he said.


Japan’s ambassador admonished the State Government over royalties which caused a bit of tut-tutting but was dropped as an issue by the LNP.

BHP went on an investment strike. Imagine that, Australia’s biggest company will no longer invest in Queensland’s coal sector because of Government policy. This is in one of the world’s best coal fields.

What a series of gifts for a political opposition.

Let’s clear the air on one thing. Coal and gas have to go eventually, but Treasury has yet to find a replacement for the billions of dollars the sector pours into the economy each year, particularly in the regions.

Hydrogen is years away from moving the needle and don’t expect renewables to make the impact that fossil fuels currently do.

Senior executives of major mining companies are asking: what did we do wrong? After all, metallurgical coal is still necessary for all the products we need to transition energy to renewables.

This is a crisis for the industry which is, like it or not, a foundation stone of the Queensland economy.

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Labor carries some heavy scars from its dalliance with coal. Adani left it battered, suspicious and New Hope and Clive Palmer only added to its fears, but the sector has always been able to rely on the conservatives. That was repaid when central Queensland swung wildly in support of the sector back in the 2019 election that re-elected Scott Morrison as PM.

Remember when members of the Coalition front bench, including Scott Morrison, actually held up a lump of coal in Parliament? Better than that, remember when Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk went to Mumbai to convince Gautum Adani to build the Carmichael mine?

In Queensland, the LNP has made a feast on issues like crime and health but hasn’t rallied in any way near that level of enthusiasm for the mining sector.

Setting aside the raucous support from the likes of Nationals’ Barnaby Joyce and Senator Matt Canavan, there is barely a voice to be heard in the LNP ranks in support of coal and gas during what has been a disastrous 12 months. But they are both Nationals and don’t carry the same baggage as their Liberal colleagues.

Not surprisingly, given the events of the past two years or so, 60 per cent of resources company executives were less confident about the sector’s future, compared with 10 per cent last year, according to a recent QRC poll.  

This is a crisis for the industry and one that is running in tandem with a crisis in the Liberal Party.

There is a sizeable part of the population who would welcome the demise of coal, and fair enough, it is at best a problematic commodity, but the state is heavily dependent on it.

Say what you like about coal, and there are plenty who will, but there has to be political mileage in arguing its value to the economy.


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