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Labor predicts next resource boom with $1 billion hydrogen pledge

Australia would become a major global player in clean hydrogen production and create up to 16,000 new jobs in a Labor plan aimed firmly at voters in crucial Queensland seats ahead of the election.

But the Morrison government claims the opposition has turned its back on the coal industry and says its emissions reduction targets will wipe out the economic benefits of the hydrogen plan.

Hydrogen has long been touted as a revolutionary new fuel source that could slash global carbon pollution and create a multi-billion dollar export industry for Australia, replacing polluting fossil fuels used in vehicles, homes and industry.

Partway through a pre-election blitz in Queensland, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Tuesday said a Labor government would spend $1.14 billion on a national hydrogen plan to ensure Australia is at the forefront of the burgeoning industry.

He made the announcement in Gladstone, a port city in the electorate of Flynn – one of about eight marginal Queensland seats key to Labor’s chances in this year’s election.

Labor says the hydrogen plan will boost exports and domestic fuel security and help address climate change by reducing emissions. Government-commissioned analysis has also shown a hydrogen industry could create 16,000 jobs by 2040 – most in regional areas.

“Our policy today is about jobs, jobs, jobs, secure jobs in Gladstone, Queensland and indeed across Australia,” Mr Shorten said.

“Hydrogen is an emerging and exciting source of energy across the world … I want Australia and Queensland to be at the front of the hydrogen revolution, not behind it.”

Labor has already pledged to double the $10 billion capital of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and its latest plan would direct $1 billion of that to clean hydrogen development.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency would be asked direct up to $90 million to support clean hydrogen technologies and allocate $10 million to establish hydrogen refuelling infrastructure across the country.

A $3 million hydrogen ‘innovation hub’ would also be established in Gladstone, presently a major port for gas exports. While most of Labor’s spending would be directed to hydrogen from renewable sources, it is understood the Gladstone hub may also support hydrogen produced from fossil fuels using carbon capture and storage.

Clean, or zero-emission, hydrogen is produced from water using renewable energy. Hydrogen can also be produced from coal or methane using technology that captures and stores carbon, however this method has been constrained by large capital costs and its viability at large scale is uncertain.

Australia is well placed to produce and export hydrogen at scale due to its abundance of wind, sun and fossil fuels and proximity to Asian markets which are soon expected to become major hydrogen importers. They include Japan, which by 2020 is aiming to power 40,000 electric vehicles with hydrogen fuel cells.

Australia’s bid to be a world leader in hydrogen production would be challenged by countries including Norway, Qatar and Saudi Arabia which are also racing to develop the technology.

Labor’s plan was backed on Tuesday by groups as diverse as the Minerals Council of Australia and Greenpeace.

However, Resources and Northern Australia Minister Matt Canavan dismissed the pledge as a “flimsy distraction” to divert attention from its failure to support the coal industry.

He said Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland was “only being stymied by Bill Shorten’s state Labor colleagues who are determined to kill it to secure support from the Greens”.

“Hydrogen is a long way from offering significant numbers of jobs for Australians … central Queensland desperately needs jobs today and there are thousands of jobs available if governments support coal jobs,” he said.

Senator Canavan also claimed that Labor’s 45 per cent emissions reduction target and 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 would “increase the cost of electricity and potentially cost thousands of local jobs”.

He said the Coalition was investing in hydrogen technologies and led the commissioning of a national hydrogen strategy being developed by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald