At the Coalface: Work, Community and Climate Change

December 13, 2019

This report is an analysis of the industrial profiles of Mackay, Central Queensland and the Hunter Valley, by economist Shirley Jackson. It reveals that forcing workers in the coal mining sector out of their jobs, without ensuring alternative employment with similar wages and benefits, would have devastating consequences for those local economies.

If coal mining were shut down now without managing industrial change effectively, over $66million in weekly wages would be taken out of three communities in regional Australia. This equates to an economic loss of almost $3.45billion annually.

There is no doubt that the era of fossil fuel dependence is coming to an end, and the imperative for Australia to invest in renewable energy technology is urgent.

Yet, too often, important conversations about the need for a responsible approach to industrial change are misrepresented as pro-coal sentiment.

The industrial change from fossil fuel to renewable energy that is needed to address climate change will be felt intensely and personally by people in regional coal mining communities. While there are some who would use their plight for political point scoring, these are real people who deserve better.

To pretend to workers in regional coal communities that their jobs will survive this industrial revolution, or that a national government acting in isolation can hold back the tide of change, is both irresponsible and cruel.

Yet to insist that the industrial activity that has provided work for generations in these regional centres must cease tomorrow, regardless of the consequences, is equally cruel, and arrogant.

The government must act to create new, reliable, well-paid jobs for regional workers. We need appropriate industry policies to guide economic development, skills and training opportunities for workers of all ages, and support for emerging industries to underpin the future economies of regional Australia.