Nationals Senators Push for Australia to Embrace Coal and Nuclear Power

February 18, 2021 Updated: February 19, 2021

All five Nationals senators are pushing their Coalition colleagues in the Morrison government to invest in nuclear generators, coal-fired power stations, as well as carbon capture and storage.

Led by Senators Bridget McKenzie and Matt Canavan, the Nationals proposed an amendment on Thursday that would allow Australia’s green bank, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), to invest in gas and loss-making energy projects.

If successful, the bill would mark the end of Australia’s ban on nuclear energy generation, which has been maintained for over 22 years.

The ban has made Australia the only G20 country without a nuclear power station, despite being the world’s third-largest uranium producer and owning 33 percent of the world’s uranium deposits.

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Barnaby Joyce speaks in the House of Representatives in Canberra, Australia on Feb. 11, 2016. (Stefan Postles/Getty Images)

Senator McKenzie told reporters on Thursday that, because of the ban, Australia competes “against the world with one hand behind our back, while other nations avail themselves of cutting edge, low emissions technologies.”

The move follows former Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce’s call for the green bank to fund green energy technologies that would invest in “high-intensity low-emission new coal-fired power.”

“I’m not saying you’ve got to build a coal-fired power station,” he told The Guardian. “But I genuinely believe the greatest effect we could have on carbon emissions is to invest in the technology to use the product we sell.”

The ABC reported that Joyce acknowledged the amendment would offend some of his colleagues in the Coalition government, but defended the move saying fossil fuels were the nation’s biggest export. He also warned that the Parliament was falling victim to the “quasi religion” of not being allowed to talk about coal.

“If the market decides they don’t want to build one … That’s their choice,” he told the Parliament. “But they’ve got to have that opportunity.”

Lower House Support

A survey conducted by News Corp’s The Australian revealed that a majority of Coalition backbenchers in the House of Representatives (48 out of 71) support the amendment.

One of them is Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly, who has been calling for a stop to the “transfer wealth out of this nation” to “the Communist Party of China.”

“We want to ship our own Australian coal off to China, for the Chinese to use to create wealth and prosperity and jobs in that country,” Kelly said. “Yet we have so many members of Parliament here who are prepared to sell our nation out, to sell our nation’s sovereignty out, and say, ‘We can’t use that same coal.’”

“That is a betrayal of our nation,” he said.

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A general view of the steelworks and coal loading facility in Port Kembla in Wollongong, Australia on Feb. 1, 2021. (Brook Mitchell/Getty Images)

Nationals MP George Christensen echoed Joyce’s pro-coal arguments and criticised Labor for pushing back on building a new power station.

“We can apparently dig it up, we can ship it overseas, it can be burned in coal-fired power stations that are being built at a rapid rate … in places like India, China, even in Germany,” he said. “But guess what? We can’t do it ourselves because apparently if Australia does it, Australia is bad.”

The drive for coal and nuclear energy is believed to be adding pressure on Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who attempted to mend the division by supporting the backbenchers’ proposal.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack during proceedings in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia on March 23, 2020. (Sam Mooy/Getty Images)

McCormack’s spokesperson said it is important to consider the amendments that have been put forward, emphasising that a “diverse energy mix” is needed to make sure the lowest possible power prices are available for Australian families and businesses.

Split Criticism

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said that he is “not a supporter of nuclear energy in Australia,” and criticised the Coalition for causing “chaos” in energy policy. He also suggested that there are “no serious propositions” that were in favour of nuclear power.

Meanwhile, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) said there’s nothing clean about nuclear, coal, or gas, adding they are a “dead end” when it comes to climate action.

“Nuclear is not a credible climate response and has been repeatedly rejected by the market and the community,” ACF spokesman Dave Sweeney said.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is one Liberal Party member who has not directly endorsed Joyce’s amendment.

“It’s a pretty complex area, as I know,” he told reporters in Canberra. “If I took off my jacket I could show you the scars from being the energy minister.”

AAP contributed to this article