Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest labels Coalition push for nuclear energy ‘bulldust’ and a ‘new lie’

The mining billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest has labelled the Coalition’s push for nuclear energy “bulldust” and a “new lie” that would delay the clean energy transition and harm regional Australia.

The executive chair and founder of mining company Fortescue and the renewable energy investor Tattarang on Monday urged the opposition to stop advocating expensive and unfeasible alternatives to renewables.

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The Coalition is yet to produce a costed energy policy, despite arguing to lift Australia’s ban on nuclear energy and recent comments from the Nationals leader, David Littleproud, that expanded rooftop solar could be rolled out instead of large-scale renewables.

The Liberals and Nationals have complained that large-scale renewables and transmission projects will ruin agricultural land, despite experts debunking the extent of this claimed impact.

Forrest told the National Press Club that “even the fossil fuel industry has taken responsibility” for global heating, and that “doing nothing” is not an option, with Australia to face tariffs from the European Union if it doesn’t reduce emissions.

Forrest told politicians who “claim to represent the bush” – a reference to the Nationals – to “stop dividing us with the false hope that we can cling to fossil fuels for ever … We can’t. So, please stop betraying the bush.”

“If we swallow this new lie that we should stop the rollout of green energy and that nuclear energy will be our fairy godmother, we will be worse off again,” he said.

Forrest said it was “hopeless” that politicians are asking Australians “to wait for new technology in 20 years’ time that may never happen”.

“It’s just an excuse for doing nothing. This is the straight admission that fossil fuels have to go, but their solutions risk leaving us destitute.”

According to energy department estimates for the Albanese government, replacing Australia’s coal power plants with nuclear would cost $387bn.

Forrest said he had “done the numbers” and nuclear will cost four to five times more than renewables, which can reduce emissions within a few years.

“A leader will remind the farming community offline that global warming is real and that all their customers are taking it very seriously,” he said.

“Instead of knocking a slow-moving, gracious wind turbine, try a nuclear power plant or a belching coal plant next door.

“The fact that we can feel climate change already despite the ocean soaking up most of out heat-generated emissions means Australia has finally run out of time.

“We get the next few years wrong and Australia’s economy and the rest of us cook. We get it right, and Australia enjoys decades of economic growth, full employment and reinvigoration of its natural environment.”

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Forrest backed the proposal for a carbon solutions levy to raise $100bn, advanced by Ross Garnaut, a leading economist during the Hawke government, and Rod Sims, a former head of the competition watchdog.

Forrest also called for a green hydrogen tax credit to grow the industry, on top of the $2bn hydrogen head start fund, and a climate trigger to block approval of major projects if they contribute to global heating.

Forrest announced that Squadron, his renewable energy venture, will create an industry fund for decommissioning wind turbines so landowners can have “peace of mind” that the landscape will not be harmed if turbines are not renewed and extended.

Sarah Hanson-Young, the Greens environment spokesperson, said that “business leaders like Forrest can see that, for the sake of our environment and economy, we need to stop expanding fossil fuels”.

“Forrest backed the growing call for a climate trigger in environment law and I hope that Labor were listening.”

Earlier on Monday the shadow energy and climate change minister, Ted O’Brien, told reporters in Canberra there was “no doubt that the experts are advising us that one of the best places to locate zero-emissions nuclear reactors would be where coal plants are retired”.

O’Brien accused Labor of “steamrolling regional communities” to build renewables, but could not say what the Coalition would do if communities around existing coal power stations objected to nuclear power.

O’Brien was unable to say how much nuclear power would cost, responding that “a lot of questions that can only be answered once we release our policy”.

“We have been formulating an all-of-the-above [technologies], balanced policy for Australia’s future energy mix.”