Changing colours: Coal mining seats tell Libs they want to go green

A self-described ‘centre-right think-tank’ with deep ties to the Liberal Party has polled three coal and gas mining electorates in Queensland, extracting views that indicate a strong liking for clean energy industries.

Oct 25, 2021, updated Oct 25, 2021
BHP's Hay Point coal terminal

BHP's Hay Point coal terminal

The Queensland federal electorates of Flynn, Maranoa and Capricornia were included in the poll of nine seats across regional Australia, touted as the first polling project of its kind in regions heavily reliant on coal and gas for employment.

Seventy-two per cent of those polled support redirecting coal and gas subsidies to large renewable energy projects and 80 per cent support investing in clean industries like green hydrogen.

In Flynn, based around the city of Gladstone, 66 percent of all respondents supported redirecting subsidies and only 23 percent opposed. Eighty per cent support green hydrogen investment and only nine percent oppose.

The polling was conducted by Blueprint Institute, an organisation established last year by a consortium of government lobbyists with direct connections to so-called moderate factions within the Liberal Party.

Even the survey spawned its own controversy, with two lead researchers in the organisation resigning in August opposed to the project for prioritising politics over policy, as reported in this article by the Australian Financial Review.

Blueprint Institute board members include former State Liberal and Nationals MPs, including former LNP Member for Queensland’s Pumicestone electorate, Lisa France, who served for one term in the short-lived Newman Government and now heads corporate affairs globally for Energy Developments in Brisbane.

Strategic advisors to the Blueprint Institute include former federal Liberal ministers Robert Hill, who was environment minister in the Howard Government and the more recently retired Christopher Pyne.

Blueprint’s findings have been released at a curious time, with the federal Coalition government still riven with internal tensions to arrive a carbon-cutting plan for the economy, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison due to fly to Glasgow for world climate talks as part of the UN COP26 summit, where Australia’s efforts at reducing emissions will be under intense scrutiny.

The survey also comes as Katter’s Australia Party leader Robbie Katter, calls the rush towards green hydrogen as “hot air” in the absence of a plan to invest in electricity generation and network capacity.

Katter said if current political trends were to eventuate, a massive increase in energy demand from hydrogen production could see energy skyrocket and local families and businesses suffer in the same way they have from the tripling of gas prices by the LNG export industry.

“There is a huge risk this will happen again with hydrogen and we will further squander Queensland’s competitive advantage and tens of thousands of jobs in mining, minerals processing, manufacturing and other energy intensive industries,” he said.

The Blueprint Institute polling asked voters specifically about the policies and approaches they preferred around energy generation, coal, gas, clean hydrogen, renewables, and assistance to energy workers.

On the question of support for net-zero targets by 2030 or 2050, the three Queensland electorates recorded the lowest numbers of those in favour. The full report can be seen here.

Other key findings include:

  • Of those from households employed by coal, 63 percent supported redirecting the subsidies and 78 percent supported clean hydrogen projects. .
  • 56 percent of coal households in Flynn believe coal and gas subsidies should be redirected to renewables and 71 percent support clean hydrogen investment.
  • 53 per cent of those who do not believe that human activity is the main contributor to climate change are still convinced by the economic case that building more renewable energy facilities will create local jobs.
  • 68 percent of Coalition voters across the regions surveyed support redirecting coal and gas subsidies into large renewable energy projects and 81 percent support investing in clean industries like green hydrogen.

Blueprint’s Queensland based researcher, Kate Green, said the data was showing a different side to the commonly perceived attitudes of people living in the nation’s coal-belts.

“It was noteworthy that 63 percent of coal workers and 72 percent of regional Australians support redirecting government subsidies for coal and gas into investment for renewables projects,” she said.

“The fact 68 percent of Coalition voters support this same prioritisation of renewable investment over fossil fuel subsidies was also striking.

“It’s clear regional people now believe the jobs created by renewables projects and clean hydrogen are real.”

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