Stopping T4 will solve and avoid creating many problems

Jonathon Deans’ article ‘Stopping T4 will just start more problems’ makes a series of flawed and misleading statements to support his claim that a fourth coal loader should be built in Newcastle. We would like to respond to some of Deans’ misleading claims.

Deans argues that, “Newcastle competes tooth and nail against other exporting countries including Indonesia, Russia, South Africa and the United States. Any reduction in exports from one region is soon offset by an increase in exports from another.”

This statement is not supported by evidence. Analysis such as that conducted by the United States Energy Information Agency shows the unique and dominant place of Australia in the global seaborne coal trade.

Indonesia is marginally increasing exports and attempting to divert some of its coal to domestic use; Russia's mines are mostly located vast distances away from ports, which creates a significant barrier to coal export expansion; South Africa and Colombia also have serious political and infrastructure hurdles to overcome. The USA currently exports about 30 million tonnes of steam coal per year, which is less than a quarter of the port of Newcastle's output. For these reasons, if Australia were to reduce its coal exports, other countries would be unable to swiftly fill the gap in global coal demand.

Jonathon claims that “the jobs generated by T4 are well-paying, secure jobs, for tradespeople in the small towns of the Hunter Valley and professionals in engineering, logistics, accounting and HR in Newcastle.”

T4 itself will not generate any new jobs other than in the construction phase. The Environmental Assessment (EA) of T4 states that: “when completed, the T4 project will be largely operated by the existing KI workforce” (Executive Summary, p. E5).

What is not considered in the EA is the negative impacts that T4 would have on jobs in other industries, such as the thoroughbred industry, viticulture, agriculture and tourism. The EA also fails to acknowledge the indirect loss of jobs in trade-exposed industries, such as manufacturing and tertiary education, due to the high Australia dollar - a direct result of the rapid expansion of coal exports over recent years.

Deans further argues that: “Australian production operations are some of the least carbon-intensive in the world, so it is possible that per-tonne emissions will rise when production is displaced to foreign mines.”

This is like saying its better to light someone’s house on fire with newspapers rather than petrol, because the firefighters will have a slightly better chance of extinguishing the blaze. We have just had the ‘angry summer' and the Northern hemisphere's cooling system - the arctic ice cap - is getting ever closer to complete collapse. We need to stop expanding coal usage. As the world’s largest coal port, Newcastle has a unique role to play by not flooding the market with more coal and thus keeping coal prices artificially low.

Deans claims that: "to spur development in [poorer] countries, we should be finding ways to help them access energy, cheaply and reliably, rather than kicking away the ladder that has enabled countries like Australia to become prosperous.”

The claim that coal is a friend of the poor is laughable. Besides the fact that the majority of Australia’s thermal coal exports go to Japan, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan (not the countries mentioned by Deans), it is well established that least developed countries will be most affected by the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels and increased extreme weather events. The climate impacts of coal will drive food prices through the roof and it will be the world’s poorest who bear the brunt of this.

Renewable energy is becoming cheaper by the day; wind energy is on par with coal as the equal cheapest new source of power generation. It is entirely conceivable, and certainly preferable, that disadvantaged countries leapfrog coal entirely and go straight to cheap modern renewables for their energy needs. It is Australia’s responsibility, as well as the responsibility of other OECD countries, to contribute finance and technology to enable least developed countries to not only adapt to the locked-in impacts of climate change, but also to develop in a sustainable fashion.

This is in everyone’s best interest.

Expanding coal exports from Newcastle to more than double current levels is not necessary. The local, regional and global economy will be fine if we don't do it, and the Hunter region will avoid major negative externalities, including the health costs associated with increased dust pollution.
Importantly, we will retain jobs in farming and equine industries that would otherwise have been destroyed. Coal dependence is not inevitable, nor sensible. We see a brighter future for the Hunter, and for the State of NSW.


Annika Dean is the president of the Hunter Community Environment Centre and spokesperson for the Coal Terminal Action Group.

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