Appropriation Bills (3 and 4) 2011-2012

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (19:30): Can I open by thanking the member for Wright for his goodwill in taking my question. He did not answer it, but I will let that pass. I definitely remember terms like, 'Well, that was a core or non-core promise.' I remember terms like, 'Do not believe anything unless I have written it down.' So it is interesting that he placed so much emphasis in his speech on the reliability of people's words before and after elections. A bit of history would not go astray there. Certainly I think the member raised his genuine concern about debt and the ongoing issue of debt in the economy, so I would seriously encourage him to have a good chat with his leader and his shadow Treasurer, because they are running it up much faster than we are. So he might want to take those concerns to them as well.

I rise to support Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2011-2012 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2011-2012. Appropriation Bill (No. 3) seeks to appropriate $2,828 million to a particular range of projects from the budget and the MYEFO, and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) appropriates $341 million, again to go towards a number of projects. I want to briefly cover the programs that those appropriations are covering, but I will use most of the time to talk about a particular one of them and the importance of it to my local area.

These measures are to fund a range of initiatives, particularly around the clean energy initiatives of the government. We will be using part of the funding for the energy security fund. This is transitional assistance to highly emissions-intensive coal-fired power stations. That is the cash assistance allocated through free permits. The government will provide loans to these emissions-intensive coal-fired power stations to provide additional working capital for the future vintage carbon permits at advance auctions.

Some of it is also going towards the Clean Energy Regulator. This is funding over four years to establish a Clean Energy Regulator, with the task of administering the carbon pricing mechanism. The regulatory functions will be under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting System, the renewable energy target and the Carbon Farming Initiative, which are all to be brought under that particular regulator.

The third Clean Energy Future component that these appropriation bills will cover is the one that I want to come back to. It is to do with supporting jobs in the coalmining industry, an issue of particular importance to my own region. I will deal with that in a little more detail. The fourth initiative is the Biodiversity Fund, which is creating opportunities on the land under a clean energy future. This is funding over six years to establish the Biodiversity Fund. It will support the establishment, restoration, protection and management of biodiverse carbon stores and is an important part of the overall Clean Energy Future package.

There is also funding under these appropriation bills for extractive industry activities. In particular, there is funding for five years to support the management of extractive industry activities, particularly—as will be of interest to people in the current circumstance—coal seam gas and major coalmining developments. I note today that there are some pleasing announcements about progress on a national position on coal seam gas, made by our minister. This measure will aim to build scientific evidence and understanding of the impacts on water resources from coal seam gas extraction and large coalmines, an issue of particular interest to communities at this time.

There is also funding for official development assistance, through Australia's contribution to the Horn of Africa drought and famine. I know many members of this House on both sides have spoken on the importance of our contribution to addressing the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. This is additional assistance for the 2011-12 year to that particular effort by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Program. It is predominantly in the form of food rations and shelter.

There is a further contribution under official development assistance for the Mining for Development initiative of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. This is appropriation for four years to establish an international Mining for Development centre. It will provide scholarships through the Australian Mining Prospect Awards program and build regulatory and administrative capacity in Africa. It is a new example of a long and excellent tradition of developed nations using scholarships to provide a form of interrelationship between developing and developed nations—a very good initiative.

Under the 'helping households' component of the Clean Energy Future initiative the government will provide, through these bills, assistance to households to meet the additional costs associated with the carbon price. This is in the form of payments to families with children, to aged and other pensioners and to people with a disability. Also of current significance to many people, as many of us have seen in emails from our electorates, there will be business assistance under the live animal exports component. The government intends to support eligible businesses affected by the temporary suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia and to improve animal welfare outcomes. The assistance package provides a range of incentives to provide support and assistance to businesses in that particular situation.

It is important to note that the government will also provide assistance over four years to improve animal welfare outcomes in the official development-assistance-eligible countries. So there are some important initiatives in that area as well. I also want to acknowledge that there are a range of other initiatives. I do not want to go into detail on them all. One initiative relates to the Tasmanian forestry industry, although I would acknowledge that it is not something I am particularly familiar with. That industry is of significance to people from Tasmania and to the nation more broadly. There will also be some emergency assistance for Norfolk Island.

The reason I particularly wanted to support these bills is that these appropriations cover the initiatives under the Coal Sector Jobs Package. The Coal Sector Jobs Package is part of the government's Clean Energy Future plan. The package provides assistance to existing coal mines that had fugitive emissions intensity above 0.1 tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent per tonne of saleable coal in 2008-09. Members who are familiar with the industry would appreciate that in the Illawarra this covers a vast number of coal mines. They are all underground mines and all affected by fugitive emissions. Assistance will be based on the levels of an emissions intensity of production. Payments will be subject to a cap and based on production levels, the higher of 2007-08 and 2008-09 levels. A Coal Mining Abatement Technology Support Package is also being introduced to support research and development and the deployment of abatement technologies in the coal industry. The package is expected to assist coalmines in Queensland, the Hunter and the Illawarra and will be funded over six years.

The Illawarra coal industry, according to the New South Wales Minerals Council's key industry statistics for 2011, employs 5,638 people across our local region. That represents an increase of nearly 1,000 miners compared with the 2010 figures and nearly 2,000 additional jobs in the industry compared with the 2009 figures. The Illawarra region operates eight coalmines, most of which operate in my electorate and that of my colleague the member for Throsby and employ people from across our region. Most of the coal produced in the Illawarra is used at BlueScope Steel at Port Kembla, which is also located in my electorate, and the rest is exported through the port of Port Kembla. Illawarra Coal, the biggest coal producer in the Illawarra, have recruited 160 graduates and apprentices over the last six years who have been offered training and development through those programs. More than 300 Illawarra businesses supply products and services to Illawarra Coal. They generate up to $350 million in local household income. It should be acknowledged that last year the company played an important role in helping retrenched employees following the BlueScope Steel decision to restructure its operations. Illawarra Coal, like all the other coal producers in my region, have very strong community links, and I am pleased to say that they are making those even stronger.

According to figures compiled by the Illawarra Regional Information Service, IRIS, in its December 2011 quarterly profile of the Illawarra, production in coalmines increased from 12.9 million tonnes to 14.8 million tonnes—that is, a 15.3 per cent increase. IRIS has also predicted that as part of the regional investment pipeline, worth nearly $3 billion, mining investment was worth $500 million of that. The feasibility study into the completion of the Maldon-Dombarton rail link, in which this government has invested $25.5 million, is in its engineering stage. It relies on the production of coal to help make the project viable.

There are many in the clean energy debate who wish to dismiss coal as not being part of the future. We do not see that to be the case. Coal has a part in the future because it will remain a chief source of energy supply, particularly in the developing world. More importantly, technology and innovation should be deployed to ensure that coal is used more efficiently. That is what the Coal Sector Jobs Package is about, and that is why it is important to a region like mine.

It should also be acknowledged that the coal industry in the Illawarra is of significant importance in the production of steel and that it retains an important role into the future for our region. It is a significant and important employer, a significant and important part of our history and, I believe, part of our future. This appropriation bill seeks to provide that assistance through the Coal Sector Jobs Package. It is an important part of our Clean Energy Future package. Moreover, it is an important part of that package for our region. For that reason, as well as the many other important initiatives I outlined under the appropriation bills, I would encourage members of the House to support the passage of both of these bills.