Timing of minister's controversial 'celebration' sparks uproar

Minister Madeleine King celebrated the achievements of the fossil fuel sector on the same day as a major Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching announcement.

Madeleine King, the Prime Minister, and a business man standing in front of water at Gladstone (left). Bleached coral in the Great Barrier Reef (right)
Madeleine King posted a picture to X of herself and Anthony Albanese celebrating the achievements of the gas industry on the day it was announced the Great Barrier Reef was experiencing record bleaching. Source: X/AAP/WWF-Australia

UPDATED: Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his resources minister have found themselves in hot water after publicly “celebrating” the achievements of the fossil fuel industry on the same day the Great Barrier Reef was declared to be experiencing record coral bleaching.

At the centre of the controversy is a tweet posted on Wednesday which highlighted energy company Australia Pacific LNG's (APLNG) mammoth gas exports in Queensland. The Greens later revealed the company had been fined over $18,000 for breaching Australia's national environment laws.

What did Minister King's tweet say?

As experts warned climate change was behind the bleaching, and it risked destroying the reef and the 64,000 jobs it supports, Minister Madeleine King uploaded a picture of herself next to the PM at Gladstone on X. She congratulated coal seam gas exporter APLNG which is a joint venture between Chinese oil and gas enterprise Sinopec, Origin and ConocoPhillips. “It’s great to be in Gladstone with Prime Minister… to celebrate [APLNG’s] 1000th cargo,” she wrote.

Scientists and conservationists responded in anger to her tweet, with Deakin University ecologist Dr Euan Ritchie branding it "unbelievable". “This could easily be seen as trolling. Temperature records are broken with monotony, The Great Barrier is suffering a horrendous bleaching event. So our political leaders post *this*,” he wrote.

Related: Anger as 'great browning' spreads along 1,000km of Australian coast

Coral expert Professor Terry Hughes reposted King’s tweet, accompanied with a simple statement, “Celebrating exports of methane across the remaining Great Barrier Reef”. While Dr Yung En Chee from Melbourne University noted it also coincided with a Senate hearing into Australia's extinction crisis. Australia was the first country to have an animal driven to extinction by climate change.

Since taking the resources portfolio, King has been a staunch supporter of the gas industry, controversially backing Santos’s plan to drill across Narrabri, despite opposition from the Gomeroi people who have lived across the region for tens of thousands of years.

LNG exporter says fossil fuel plays an 'important role'

On Thursday, APLNG issued a statement to Yahoo News defending its gas exploration.

“Gas has an important role to play in the energy transition as both a partner fuel for growing renewables, and in many countries as a substitute for higher emitting fuels," the company said.

King and Albanese have also been contacted for comment.

Tweet posted minutes after details of LNG exporter's $18,000 fine revealed

On Friday, the Greens criticised King for tweeting her picture just minutes after it was revealed during a Senate inquiry that APLNG had been fined $18,780 for beaching the Commonwealth's own environment protection laws.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said companies that break the law should be "punished" rather than "congratulated" by the PM for their achievements in exporting fossil fuels.

“What’s the point of fining these big companies that break environmental laws if they can still get the endorsement of the Government’s PR machine?," she said. "PR stunts and selfies with polluters and environmental law breakers shows that Labor can't be trusted to protect nature or the climate."

Accusing Labor of "talking out both sides of its mouth" when it comes to the environment, she called on the government to introduce tougher laws that would instead "protect nature and stop fossil fuel expansion".

Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young (left) has called on the government to implement stronger environmental protections. Source: AAP
Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young (left) has called on the government to implement stronger environmental protections. Source: AAP

Climate Council calls for acceleration of renewable energy

Dr Simon Bradshaw, Research Director at the Climate Council called coral bleaching a "disaster on our doorstep".

"Marine heatwaves, fuelled by climate pollution, have dealt blow after blow to the Great Barrier Reef. We’re likely now witnessing the most widespread and severe mass bleaching event ever recorded," he said.

"This is a disaster at our doorstep: a direct result of collective failure to cut climate pollution fast enough. Australia can accelerate the build out of renewable energy and clean industry, and move swiftly beyond fossil fuels so that we protect the places we all love and depend on before it’s too late."

PM announces $485 million investment to support critical minerals

While the controversial tweet was seized upon to attack the government's record on reducing emissions, the primary purpose of the PM's visit to Queensland was to announce new investments in critical minerals to support the green energy transition.

During the Gladstone visit, Albanese announced $400 million in new loans to NSW-based Alpha HPA to help it build a high-purity alumina processing facility in Queensland. The decision is expected to create 490 jobs and help with the renewable energy transition as the metal is critical to LED lighting, semi-conductors, and lithium-ion batteries.

“Australia’s critical minerals and rare earths are key to building renewable technologies such solar panels, batteries and wind farms, as well as defence and medical technologies,” King said on Wednesday.

“The investments announced today help create a new industry in Australia, supporting local jobs and economic development, and building the bedrock of a future made in Australia. The road to net zero runs through Australia’s resources sector.”

The government also announced it had conditionally approved $185 million in loans to Renascor Resources to help it fast-track a new Siviour Graphite Project in South Australia. Its production would support the creation of lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles and create over 200 jobs.

The PM linked the investment to his Australian made agenda, which will support investment in local manufacturing and the clean energy transition. “We're building a future made here in Australia, powered by Queenslanders, starting right here in Gladstone,” he said.

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