After dedicating 2020 to passing a dramatic Electricity Infrastructure Bill to open regional NSW to massive renewable energy zones under the leadership of Energy Minister Matt Kean, the LNP is now busily painting itself coal-friendly in the lead-up to the Upper Hunter by-election next month. Posing literally right next to a passing freight train, Deputy Leader John Barilaro was last Wednesday “saluting” coal and its contribution to “jobs.”
The shamelessness didn’t end there, however. The next day, Barilaro proceeded to announce the Nationals candidate for the by-election, David Layzell, at an event hosted by the Swiss-owned multinational Glencore at its Ravensworth coal mine. Glencore has, by the way, been accused of shirking its site rehabilitation commitments at Ravensworth.
The week before, Malcolm Turbull had been appointed to the state’s net zero emissions advisory board. Turnbull called for a moratorium on new coal mines, after an Australia Institute report found proposed mines in NSW were equivalent in potential output to 15 Adani-sized mines.
Turnbull was summarily removed last Tuesday, two days after Barilaro attended a Newcastle Knights NRL game as a guest of the Minerals Council. “Hunter coal miners don’t need another rich guy from Sydney telling them what’s good for them,” said Chief Executive of the NSW Minerals Council, Stephen Galilee, who I’m sure drinks at the local pub in Singleton and then drives home in a Datsun to his fibro house down the road.
Can the Nationals Win the Upper Hunter By-Election?
The worst part of all of this sad desperation is its futility. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has acknowledged that “it would take more than a miracle for us to keep that seat.”
The Coalition currently holds the seat on a 2.6% margin. The challenge is that its long-term candidate is accused of raping a sex worker, as well as sexting during question time and propositioning a sex worker to have sex inside the NSW parliament building on Sydney’s Macquarie Street.
Just over 15% of the Upper Hunter electorate work in mining, the highest proportion in the state, according to Antony Green. However, the Nationals have recently lost a string of regional NSW seats to independents as well as the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (SFF) Party. The SFF added “farmers” to its name in 2016 and began heavily contesting the Nationals on their support for coal and coal seam gas.
A loss would force Berejiklian into a minority government, having already lost MPs John Sidoti and Daryl Maguire to corruption inquiries into dodgy deals with property developers.
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