Labor, Greens Upper Hunter candidates take aim at New England MP Barnaby Joyce and local rival Michael Johnsen over mining industry, power station stance

NATIONALS’ duo Barnaby Joyce and Michael Johnsen’s backing of the coal industry and power stations this week has come under fire from all sides of politics.

The New England MP and his Upper Hunter counterpart, who is on the campaign trail leading into the March 23 NSW Election, told people they would “stand up and fight” for miners during a visit to Singleton on Tuesday.

Mr Joyce, the former Deputy Prime Minister, admitted his commitment to that sector meant he’d take some hits from those opposed to coal mining, including those within the Coalition.

“I’m prepared to stand up and fight for the residents of Singleton and Muswellbrook because they need jobs and incomes,” he said.

“And, the coal industry does just that and will continue to provide jobs and good incomes.

“I simply can’t understand why we export cheap power to consumers in Asia by way of thermal coal exports but, at the same time, we are not allowed to use our coal to produce cheap power in Australia.

“If we want zero emissions base load energy then we should use nuclear power.”

Mr Johnsen echoed his neighbouring federal member's sentiments, saying coal supplied the cheapest and most reliable power and kept local people in jobs.

"If you visit South Australia, as I have, all the winds farms are turning a rural landscape into an industrial one and still not supplying reliable power," he said.

However, Country Labor candidate Melanie Dagg and Greens’ contender Tony Lonergan, both contesting the seat of Upper Hunter, scoffed at their comments.

“Michael [Johnsen], Barnaby [Joyce] and the Nationals have no credibility when it comes to power prices, the coal industry and jobs in the region,” Mrs Dagg said.

“It is clear they only care about their own jobs, not those of miners and other workers in the Hunter.

“Less than two weeks out from the election, in a desperate attempt to hold on to his seat in Parliament, Mr Johnsen is backing a phantom power station project that is little more than a thought bubble, instead of addressing the real concerns miners have about their jobs and conditions.

“The Liberals and Nationals, including Mr Johnsen, voted to sell or give away coal-fired power stations.

“Then they tried to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money to buy them back.

“The Liberals and Nationals claimed their privatisation of electricity assets would bring down prices.

“But, on their watch, power prices have risen 60 per cent, to be the highest in the developed world.

“If Mr Johnsen really cared about jobs in the region, he would address the creeping casualisation in the mining industry, as well as the downward slide of working conditions.

“I come from a coal mining family – and I know the stress other families are under at the moment.

“Job security is being threatened and working conditions are being undermined every day.”

Mr Lonergan actually sided with NSW Nationals Leader John Barilaro, who claimed “coal power did not stack up economically and governments should not be in the business of propping up technologies the market had rejected”.

“Michael should be listening to his state party leader, who is spot on in regards to the future of coal-fired power,” he explained.

“But, Mr Johnsen and Mr Joyce appear to be captured by the big multinational coal companies who take most of their profits off-shore and are cutting wages and conditions for their Upper Hunter workforce.

“Mr Johnsen is not only paddling against the tide of history, he’s paddling against his own party leadership.

“It is now time for political leaders to be working with the community in the Upper Hunter to plan for a smooth transition away from the coal industry.

“Mr Johnsen recently remarked the coal industry made up 30 per cent of the regional economy.

“The Upper Hunter must embrace opportunities for change in a world that is shifting to renewable energy and climate change mitigation measures.”