Labor fence-sitting on coal?

The Labor Government is still assessing alternative brown coal project proposals made through the former Coalition’s controversial coal allocation plan, to determine whether to continue or scrap the program.

Energy and Resources Minister Lily D’Ambrosio told The Express her department was yet to form a concrete position on the viability of an inherited coal allocation process, almost five months after winning power at the state election.

Ms D’Ambrosio said her department had placed a ‘watching brief’ on a number of proposals made through the program, which is seeking to open up 13 billion tonnes’ worth of unallocated brown coal reserves in the Latrobe Valley to supply new coal projects.

However, she declined to share further details about the nature of the proposals under consideration.

“We are not going to drip feed various pieces of information, we need to assess internally within government (these proposals) and separate what was real from unreal,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“What’s important is we don’t prejudge these things… in terms of where we might go.

“We are not going to be rushing hastily into decisions into a significant natural resource which will continue to play an important role in Victoria’s future.

The reluctance to publicly commit to the coal allocation plan comes almost 20 weeks after the minister said Labor would form a position after more information came to light “as the next few weeks go by” in a December interview with The Express.

“We are stepping through that carefully and we are not about to throw anything out the door. We have to consider those things seriously, even if it takes a long time,” she said.

The coal allocation plan first emerged in 2011 in an attempt to promote projects seeking to develop alternative uses for brown coal, however, the plan underwent successive delays, giving rise to speculation the program was failing to attract viable proposals.

While the Coalition remained tight lipped about “strong” domestic and international interest through the plan, a related proposal by Toyota to convert coal to hydrogen was mentioned publicly by former Regional Development Minister Peter Ryan.

“The previous government certainly talked big about global interest in our resource, but I believe the reality will not be anything like that big talk,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“That’s not to say there isn’t any interest in it, but we need to be very clear in the scope of the viability of the interest.

“It’s important that we are not in business of saying we are interested in pie and sky proposals. The community has had enough of that.”