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Unions call on Labor to back coal, gas industries and jobs

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Powerful blue collar unions are urging Labor to show greater unity on energy policy by strongly supporting coal and gas.

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Mining and manufacturing officials have given a presentation to more than 30 Labor members and senators about the need to support the fossil fuels, arguing they will be required for years to come.

The officials warned Labor would continue to lose the support of blue collar workers unless some outspoken federal caucus members toned down their anti-coal and gas rhetoric.

Labor senator Penny Wong was not at the presentation but put a vastly different spin on the take-out message.

“What struck me about those reports is those unions also recognise the importance of, and the imperative of, moving to net zero emissions,” she told ABC radio on Thursday.

“The discussion was about how that transition occurs, and obviously gas particularly is part of that transition to a greater reliance on renewables.”

Wong said it was also a reminder unions were in lock step with some of Australia’s largest trading partners in pursuing net zero emissions.

“This really demonstrates the Morrison government is increasingly isolated when it comes to climate change,” she said.

“People around the world and leaders of unions recognise that net zero, which is a target that Labor Party caucus has all agreed to, is required.”

Labor is divided over fossil fuels and the party’s equivocation over the Adani coal mine cost it dearly at the last election.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor seized on the division while delivering a speech to parliament on “Australia’s energy future”.

“Coal – derided by many of those opposite – has provided generations of Australian workers with a good income and a comfortable home,” he said.

“To this day, it is the lifeblood of towns throughout rural and regional Australia. It has powered our industries, lifting millions of men, women and children out of absolute poverty.”

But Taylor was taken to task for straying into partisan politics during a ministerial statement.

It is standard practice when special leave is given for ministers to make such statements for them to specifically relate to government policy and not be used for political attacks.

Taylor used the speech to attack Labor over its climate and energy policies and singled out the opposition climate and energy spokesman Mark Butler and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese for criticism.

When he completed his speech, manager of opposition business Tony Burke asked Speaker Tony Smith to explain the “expectations for ministerial statements”.

Smith said he was “loathe to interrupt the minister” during the speech but needed to point out “how and why ministerial statements occur”.

“There is no flexibility, tolerance or capacity to talk about anything other than that,” he told parliament.

“You can’t talk about the opposition or anything else. It is a ministerial statement – it is not a political statement.

“It is outlined very clearly in practice, very concisely.”

Butler told parliament the statement confirmed “how utterly bare this government is on energy policy”.

“This minister is the worst energy minister in living memory,” he said, adding he had been able to work across the aisle with previous coalition ministers.

-with AAP

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