Albanese affirmed just how much he disagrees with cutting coal exports before embarking on a tour of regional Queensland. “If Australia stopped exporting today there would not be less demand for coal — the coal would come from a different place,” Albanese told the media on December 9.
The Labor Party’s inability to put forward a just transition away from coal exports will cause a deepening of the contradiction that led the climate denying Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party to receive its highest primary vote ever in the Hunter Valley seat of Hunter in NSW at the federal election on an anti-greenie, gung-ho “coal-or-die” platform.
Without a viable, properly-funded plan to transition away from coal exports, lots of mining workers and communities will be lured into clinging to fossil capital as the world burns. This is especially the case when the alternative is sub-poverty Centrelink payments.
The coal exporting Hunter Valley, Wollongong and Queensland coal basins already have high unemployment, as does the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, which does not export coal but is home to the state’s fleet of ageing brown coal-fired electricity generators.
One Nation and other right-wing parties will always be a more believable political voice than Labor for a project of clinging to coal exports because, unlike Labor, One Nation does not pretend to care about climate change.
There is no Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders in the Labor Party. The full burden of articulating and fighting to bring about a just transition in this part of the world falls upon climate activists — like the mighty school strikers marching in the streets — parties to the left of Labor and trade unions acting independently of the useless party that claims to be its parliamentary wing.
The Greens, however, should not claim the high moral ground, as the crumbs they have earmarked for a transition are nowhere near what is required. The Greens are fudging the real cost of a transition to make it seem easy, rather than being honest about it. This is not good politics.
The longer this political failure and vacuum festers, the more our hope of stopping catastrophic warming fades and the greater the risk becomes of far right organisations building a base (both parliamentary and extra-parliamentary) in coal mining towns.
Whether it’s a One Nation candidate from the mining union receiving more than 20% of the vote in the Hunter Valley, or the mining union representative appearing at a pro-Adani rally in the Queensland town of Clermont (alongside the climate denying anti-worker Pauline Hanson, George Christensen and Clive Palmer), nothing good can come from Labor’s lack of a just transition policy.
We cannot afford to kick the coal can down the road any longer.
Ignoring the need for a policy to transition away from coal encourages some very anti-worker, pro-corporate political forces to fill the policy vacuum.
This should be an extremely serious problem for those who are supposed to side with workers.
[Zane Alcorn is a CFMMEU construction division member, a member of Socialist Alliance and a climate activist.]