THE Hunter is the centre of national and international political attention over coal, renewables and climate change after Joel Fitzgibbon's explosive exit a week ago from the federal Labor opposition front bench.
A number of Coalition heavyweights are either in the region or planning to visit, while Labor opposition leader Anthony Albanese will tour Tomago Aluminium today, promoting his party's Rewiring the Nation policy - a $20billion promise to rebuild and modernise the grid".
The Morrison government's Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, Keith Pitt, began a two-day visit yesterday with a tours of Glencore's Bulga open-cut in the morning, and it's Liddell open-cut - looking at mine rehabilitation - in the afternoon.
Mr Pitt, Liberal MP for the Bundaberg region seat of Hinkler, was accompanied by National Party NSW Senator Perin Davey.
Mr Pitt said today's schedule included a visit to the Port Waratah Coal Services coal loader at Kooragang Island and a tour of University of Newcastle facilities including the Newcastle Institute for Energy Research (NIER).
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said he would be in the Hunter "soon".
He described Mr Fitzgibbon as "a voice crying in the wilderness" and said voters in his electorate should vote National as "the only party where all of its MPs are united on coal".
He said a lot of the opposition to coal - from protesters, big banks and politicians alike - was "virtue signalling".
The attention can only be a good thing for the HunterJoel Fitzgibbon
Mr Fitzgibbon said Mr McCormack was wrong, but said: "I welcome their interest. The attention can only be good for the Hunter."
Although NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet will deliver his fourth state budget at Macquarie Street today, debate is scheduled to resume on the Electricity Infrastructure Investment Bill, with a number of MPs still wanting to speak as state parliament enters the second week of its final, three-week session for 2020.
As well, a combination of faltering demand - some of it attributed to COVID-19 - and the continuing impact of the politically inspired Chinese restrictions on coal imports from Australia are continuing to hit the industry.
Although official dialogue between Australia and China appears to be minimal, the coal industry believes the "ban" can be seen in the shape of some 20 bulk carriers, all of them reportedly carrying coking coal from Queensland, sitting at anchor off the major Chinese port of Jingtang in northern China, some of them having waited since June.
Former trade minister Mark Vaile, now chairman of the major Newcastle exporter Whitehaven Coal, has been quoted as saying the restrictions hurt the Chinese as well as Australia, and that the Chinese had to accept that a policy of "mutual respect" needed to work both ways.
When Whitehaven unveiled its annual results last month it confirmed that low coal prices had hurt it financially to the point where it needed to negotiate with its lenders to avoid breaches of its borrowing covenants.
With big banks increasingly unwilling to lend substantial amounts to coal companies, and with major institutional investors walking away, the pressure on coal companies is far more than political.
Asked about this yesterday, Mr Fitzgibbon said: "There was no deal, only an understanding about my intention to serve for 18 months only. It in no way involved [the electorate of] Hunter. Deals are only necessary if you are in a position of weakness. I was never so".
One Nation coalminer Stuart Bonds - who intends to stand again in Hunter - said Mr Fitzgibbon had robbed the region of its voice by standing down from shadow cabinet.
Mr Bonds said the Labor MP "should challenge Anthony Albanese once and for all, or quit altogether".