Forum looks at how to achieve a just transition for fossil fuel workers, communities

November 27, 2023
Launch of the Rising Tide flotilla blockade of Newcastle's coal port. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

How to sustainably move away from coal, when it’s been the livelihood for generations and governments have shirked their responsibilities for putting good plans in place already, generated a lively discussion at the opening night of the Newcastle coal port blockade on November 24.

The Rising Tide (RT) and Green Left co-hosted Climate Solidarity and a Just Transition forum was chaired by Zane Alcorn, activist with RT and Socialist Alliance.

Tim Lang, NSW coordinator of Labor Environment Action Network (LEAN), said “life after coal” is often a difficult topic in the Hunter Region as it is often presented as “jobs versus the environment”.

“Building a renewables industry is now urgent if we are to effectively tackle climate change,” Lang said. “The biggest threat to a new renewables program is from the far right and their environment culture war.

“An offshore wind industry off the coast, near here, is critical as the wind blows hard and often. There is an anti-offshore wind disinformation campaign underway, with national anti-renewables rallies planned for Canberra next year.”

He said unions are planning to mobilise against it. “The way we can win is for workers and environmentalists to work together for strong climate action.”

Li Mei Brusey, representing Friends of the Earth (FOE)/CoPower, said offshore wind projects are running in the Gippsland region and there are opportunities for women to work in the renewables industry — “an improvement”.

Wadi Wadi man Matt Jeffrey, a land rights activist and committed unionist, drew upon lessons learned in the Pilliga anti-fracking campaign. He stressed the need to build an alliance of community organisations and trade unions to confront the power of fossil fuel corporations and the state.

Maddy Yerbury, from the Tomorrow Movement, talked about the climate jobs guarantee and said the housing and cost-of-living crises needed public investment, as did alternative jobs in coal regions.

Yerbury said RT wanted a 75% tax on fossil fuel export profits to help fund the transition. “Everybody deserves to live in dignity. Workers have not created the climate crisis — capitalism has!”

Grant Howard, a coal worker with more than 40 years’ experience and who currently works in the Bowen Basin in Queensland said a just transition for coal mine workers was “urgent”.

“This means looking after the interests of coal miners and their families. We need alternative jobs, as shown recently in Mackay, where more than 500 workers have been employed in the rehabilitation of a coal mine site, with the land being properly restored. This is the kind of future we must be advocating.”

The need for secure and well-paid jobs in the renewables industry and for public ownership of a new green energy industry were also discussed.


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