Recently, the national conversation surrounding climate change, and in particular the relationship between environmental policy, thermal coal and the workers who extract it, is bordering on a culture war. The public discourse is being exasperated by media coverage that increasingly quotes politicians and other commentators out of context. Too often, contextually nuanced discussions about the need for a responsible approach to industrial change are being misrepresented as nothing more than politically opportunistic pro-coal sentiment.
The structural changes in our energy sector will have ramifications not only for our economy and the health of the planet in coming decades; they will be felt intensely and personally by people in regional coal mining communities like Mackay, Central Queensland and the Hunter Valley. While there are some who would use their plight for political point scoring, these are real people who deserve better.
Whether due to automation, offshoring or obsolescence, regional workers have been at the coal face of the globalised economy since the 18th Century. The current debate about climate change is apparently a line in the sand for coal mining communities: they are saying they refuse to bear the brunt of industrial upheaval again, or to see their jobs sacrificed, however important the goal.
We must understand what these regional communities value, what they fear and what they need before decisions are made that affect the lives of thousands of working families.
We estimate that, without managing industrial change effectively, over $66 million in weekly wages will be taken out of three coal communities in regional Australia, with devastating consequences for local economies. This equates to a total economic loss across just three regions of almost $3.45 billion annually.
As Australia moves towards a post-carbon economy, we must enact industrial policies that will ensure that there are secure, reliable, well paid jobs for those workers who too often bear the brunt of industrial change and economic progress.