Gippsland Trades and Labour Council secretary John Parker is standing as an independent candidate in the seat of MacMillan. Green Left Weekly’s Susan Price spoke to Parker about his campaign.
What prompted you to stand as a candidate?
Because of the transition happening in Gippsland to a low carbon economy, with the introduction of the carbon price. There is pressure on the coal industry to change, and as a result, a lot of companies are cutting back on maintenance, and a lot of highly skilled workers are losing their jobs, and are becoming “fly-in fly-out” workers in other areas as a result.
The Yallourn Power station has now permanently closed one of its boilers, and now operates on three instead of four. The station announced it would close one boiler because the price of electricity is too low. So to maintain the price they have closed the boiler, so there isn’t a surplus of demand [for electricity] in the grid. Because power pricing isn’t regulated, we could find ourselves in the same boat as California, where they wedged the prices and the system fell over, resulting in massive blackouts. We have no electricity plan for Victoria.
Gippsland will reach peak timber within 10 years, so we need a transition there too. This means opportunities but also risks. When there is not enough timber, people will want to cut down the last gum tree. Our forest management needs to change from clear felling to selective felling and plantation timber.
In our agriculture sector there are factory closures in the Murray-Goulburn because of the pathological behavior of [supermarket] retailers, and their price cutting, for example of milk prices. Producers have signed up to Coles and the price cutting has meant a loss of jobs in factories.
[My] campaign is both a pressure point on the major parties but is also about putting it on the media agenda. To make sure people start to think about these things and to drive the agenda over the next 12 months or so.
What are some of your key platform points?
Refugees is quite a strong issue. I am campaigning for them to be treated fairly, through a proper process. I would have to agree with [former PM Malcolm] Fraser on this occasion. If [the government] were genuine about stopping the drownings at sea, they would be helping refugees into a regional centre for processing in a safe manner and helping them to settle all over the world.
In the same way as we did [for people fleeing] Vietnam and Cambodia. We picked people up in boats in international waters and processed them immediately.
Protection of the aquifers: I am opposed to CSG [coal seam gas] but the aquifers in Gippsland are also under threat from open-cut mining. We need to take care of them in a more holistic way and to look at technology on how to recharge the aquifers. This could provide an underground storage of water and allow the rivers to run.
Jobs and training: 49% of apprentices and 51% of trainees drop out before they finish their training, usually because of bad training or limited training opportunities.
The multinational companies haven’t had apprentices in over 10 years, and just steal workers off the smaller companies with offers of big wages.
Our position on 457 visas is that many of these workers are being exploited, and the use of [the visas] needs to be regulated because there are times when they are needed. Many of these workers get contracts with overseas companies but never get the full amount of the contract. Companies like John Holland say they can’t get enough workers, so just search the world because they can.
What will it take politically to achieve a just transition for workers in Gippsland?
The population needs to rise up about it. The issue isn’t high enough on the agenda. Most people don’t read the Green Left Weekly, they read the Herald Sun.
Maybe when they stop reading the Herald Sun, we can move forward. It might have to take the major disasters we’re now seeing around the world. People are beginning to rise up in the streets. Hopefully someone will be thrown up – a Martin Luther King or a Gandhi. Right now, they are throwing up Hitlers.
There isn’t the grassroots level of workers organising. What usually happens is that there is a grassroots movement of disquiet and that grows and grows. Then along comes someone who inspires and leads it.
How are you preferencing other parties in your seat?
There are 13 candidates running. I will be preferencing the ALP, then the Greens, and then the Katter Party. The workers in Gippsland who are disengaged with the ALP wouldn’t go over to [support] the Greens.
[Parker also supports the legalisation of same-sex marriage, more investment in aged and disability care, more assistance for unpaid carers, and for ensuring that the benefits from the resources boom are shared equitably.
He also stands for revitalisation and retrofit of existing public housing stock for energy and water efficiency, mandatory apprenticeships and training on all government projects, better support for the region’s social enterprises and upgrades and improvements to passenger rail services to address overcrowding and delays.