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Resources – Thermal Coal Exploration

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 26 November 2020

Tags: Coal, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, this relates to mineral resources and thermal coal which, as we know, until very recently your Government was supporting thermal coal exploration in the agricultural lands of the Midlands. There are currently four separate tenement areas listed as potential exploration release areas for coal on the MRT website. Are you still pursuing thermal coal opportunities or can you assure Tasmanians, and particularly younger people who are highly distressed about the state of the climate, that you won't pursue thermal coal in Tasmania? Further, will you rule out issuing any new exploration licences for coal?

Mr BARNETT - There is currently only one company producing coal in Tasmania. There are no coal seam gas operations or current exploration licences for coal seam gas in the state. All coal mined in Tasmania is used domestically, with most used in the manufacture of cement at Cement Australia's Railton facility. The quality of Tasmanian coal is generally not sufficient for modern clean power generation and it is considered highly unlikely that coal seam gas occur in the state in economic quantities.

Ms O'CONNOR - That's your brief on fracking. We're not talking about that.

Mr BARNETT - Further, the Government does not support mining developments on productive agricultural land, which was part of your question, which I am now trying to address without your interjection. I will repeat, the Government does not support mining developments on productive agricultural land where it is not in the state's best interests, a position agreed to by the House during debate last year. It is also important to note that Tasmania has robust and rigorous legislation for the environmental assessment of any possible development.

Ms O'CONNOR - In response to the question we asked, given the impact of thermal coal and coal-fired power on the climate and the advice of scientists that we need to stop burning fossil fuels for energy, which means we need to stop digging it up out of the ground, are you prepared to advocate for no new thermal coal licences in Tasmania and no thermal coalmines in Tasmania?

Mr BARNETT - I note that you might disagree with your former founder but Bob Brown famously called -

Ms O'CONNOR - For Christ's sake, Chair, this is appalling. Bob Brown said something in 1972 and he's chortling away like it's a joke.

CHAIR - We've only got a couple more minutes. Minister, I ask that you address Ms O'Connor's question.

Mr BARNETT - Bob Brown called for coal-fired thermal power stations some decades ago.

Ms O'CONNOR - This is not a game.

Mr BARNETT - Cornwall Coal is undertaking very important work in the Fingal Valley. It operates four mining leases, three in the Fingal Valley and one just north of Hamilton in the Derwent Valley, which I recently visited. We are very supportive of Cornwall Coal and the work they're doing and the jobs they provide, particularly in Fingal.

Ms O'CONNOR - More coal mines.

Mr BARNETT - You asked about other entities. I will provide an update for you.

Ms O'CONNOR - I didn't.

Mr BARNETT - Midland Energy and associated companies have held two explorational licences for category 2 minerals, as in coal, in the Tasmanian Midlands since they were granted by the previous Labor government in 2008. The review process with regard to an application for extension of the licences was finalised on 3 July 2020. The licences have expired. The Government has not granted, nor was asked to grant, any mining leases on any area of these licences. Midland was awarded a grant of up to $50 000 in round 2 of the exploration drilling grant initiative in March 2019. The company did not complete the drilling by the deadline of 8 May 2020 and the grant was not paid. Despite the Greens' recent attempt to claim credit for the operational expiry of the licences was true to form and yet another example of the propensity to draw a long bow.