NSW Labor will not support a moratorium on new coal mines in the Upper Hunter, despite new polling ahead of a hotly-contested by-election indicating most voters in the area want one.
Opposition Leader Jodi McKay made the pledge while announcing the party’s candidate for regional seat, former coal miner and CFMEU mining and energy district vice president Jeff Drayton.
“We do not support a moratorium on coal mines, let’s get that out of the way straight up,” she told reporters on Tuesday.
The Australia Institute poll for the NSW seat of Upper Hunter found 57.4 per cent support for a moratorium on new coal mine approvals and a remediation plan for existing mines in the Hunter Valley, against 35.1 per cent who oppose the measures.
“This research shows that a moratorium on new coal mines in the Hunter Valley not only makes economic sense and environmental sense but is also backed by the electorate,” AI chief economist Richard Denniss said.
The moratorium call was recently made by ex-Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and preceded his dumping last week as the NSW coalition government’s new climate economy chief.
The AI poll of 686 residents was conducted on April 7 and 8.
Both Mr Drayton and Ms McKay dismissed the poll and unashamedly pumped up Labor’s commitment to coal.
“I must be talking to a different 600,” Mr Drayton said.
Ms McKay denied the proclamation damaged her party’s standing on climate change and environment issues.
“What frustrates me… is that if you’re in this corner, supposedly you can’t accept that corner,” she said.
“We need to be pursuing renewable energy, we all know that, but we also need to make sure that we’re protecting jobs in the coal industry.”
“We can’t demonise people who work in the coal industry, we actually should be thanking them.”
Mr Drayton, whose nomination was reportedly unopposed, was selected as the party’s candidate on Monday night, again framing the May 22 by-election battle firmly around coal.