Labor Senator Calls for Resource Sector Support Amid Climate Change Debate

Labor Senator Calls for Resource Sector Support Amid Climate Change Debate
A general view of the mining town of Mount Isa in the Australian outback in Queensland. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Labor Senator Murray Watt has told a conference focused on developing northern Australia that the Labor Party sees the resource sector—particularly coal, iron ore, gas, and critical minerals—as a critical component to the country's economic recovery from the CCP virus recession.

"The jobs in these industries are important—to families, to the north, and the nation—and they deserve our ongoing support," Watt told the Developing Northern Australian conference on Nov. 23. "To fully realise these industries’ potential, we need to take them to the next level, through diversification and value-adding."

Calling for an approach that continued to support the traditional resource sector, Watt said that "there are too many on the political left and right who argue the north can only have the old or the new."

“That we should stick to the industries that have served us well and ignore the opportunities emerging,” Watt said. “Or that we should kiss our traditional strengths goodbye, along with the jobs, tradition, and royalties that go with them, in sole pursuit of the new."

Instead, Watt argued the Labor Party will choose to walk a dual path that includes both traditional industries and new ones like renewables and hydrogen.

"Both have jobs to create. And we should take action now, to grow them both," Watt said.

Watt's speech comes after Joel Fitzgibbon, who was the shadow minister for agriculture and resources, resigned on Nov. 9 due to political disagreement over the Party's exclusion of the energy resource sector as part of the political platform.

According to Fitzgibbon, the Labor Party's approach to climate policy pushed out many of its traditional support base which was heavily represented by the mining and energy sector.

Speaking on Seven's Sunrise on Nov. 23, Fitzgibbon said the Labor Party had previously been a champion of the resources sector.

"The irony is that the Labor Party always supported the coal mining industry,” Fitzgibbon said. “It always supported the gas sector, the oil sector, et cetera. Our manufacturers. But for some reason, we haven’t been that keen to say that loudly and proudly."

Fitzgibbon has previously called into question the Labor Party's push for investment into renewable energy stating that it would make the power grid unstable.

"You need that baseload and synchronous power in the system, and of course fossil fuels will continue to play a role in that," Fitzgibbon told the ABC on Nov. 10.

Discussing his speech on SkyNews, Watt repeated that the Labor Party valued the north's traditional industries and that people were sick of the left and right political culture wars on traditional industries.

But National Party MP Barnaby Joyce doesn't believe Watt's comments reflect Labor's support for the resource sector. Joyce told Seven's Sunrise program that the Labor senator's comments did not mean that the Labor Party had changed its stance on traditional industries.

“Until [Labor Senator] Penny Wong gets out there and says it, until Albanese says it, until Mark Butler says it, until Dreyfus says it—they haven’t said it,” Joyce said.

“And if Murray Watt, God bless his cotton socks, goes to Rockhampton and says, ‘I like the industry that employs you all’, well, that’s hardly surprising, but it doesn’t carry much weight,” Joyce said.

Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.
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