Thursday, March 29, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Where Canavan is right
A “just transition” for coal communities must be more than a platitude


Pro-coal resources minister Matt Canavan was dead right yesterday when he talked about the terrible potential impact that a transition away from coal would have on communities in Queensland and New South Wales. After speaking for an hour at the National Press Club on Wednesday, Canavan was responding to a penetrating question from The Guardian’s Katharine Murphy about whether he felt a responsibility to plan for a just transition for people in regional communities, to prepare them for decarbonisation in the wake of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, and a phase-out of coal. Canavan was immediately on the attack:

“I find it highly objectionable to talk about people’s loss of jobs and livelihood as a transition. Let’s be frank, that’s a euphemistic term. That’s a term to try and hide what will be the real impacts of that happening. For many thousands of businesses and people in central Queensland and north Queensland and in the Hunter Valley, it won’t be a transition, it’ll be utter heartache for them and their families, and if you want to see that, go to a former country town that used to be in the forestry industry. Go to Danglemah [in northern NSW], or go down to the north coast of Tasmania, and see real poverty. See what it’s like when you’re promised a transition. It doesn’t happen. House prices halve. People get locked in to an environment they can’t get out of, and their lives are destroyed. So I don’t like the term transition, let’s be frank, if you want to shut down the coal industry and cost people jobs, say it. Say it. Have the guts to say it. That’s what’s going to happen.”

There are a million objections to Canavan himself, the rest of his speech, and the government’s climate and energy policies generally. But his central point in this response would ring true to many people in coalmining communities in Queensland and NSW, and, for that matter, Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, where Hazelwood has closed and the remaining brown coal-fired power stations have a limited lifespan.

Labor’s Ged Kearney said much the same thing at a Darebin Climate Action Network function during the Batman campaign, acknowledging that her Greens rival Alex Bhathal was also talking about a just transition for coal-dependent communities. Before one of the most climate-aware audiences you’ll find in this country, Kearney herself spoke with feeling, and without notes. Kearney said everybody knew there was a climate emergency, and the real question was how to deal with it

“… in a way that doesn’t leave anyone behind, that doesn’t pit worker against worker, or community against community, or anybody in this room against each other. It’s about responsible policy that is all-encompassing, that gathers everybody up and takes everybody along with it, because if we don’t take everybody along with it, we will find ourselves again in a situation where we have a party or a government or someone saying ‘No! This is wrong!’ … which is exactly what’s happened with climate policy in the past. We have seen it.”

Hear, hear. Kearney’s case in point was the “despicable” way Tony Abbott went about destroying Labor’s carbon price. She went on to win Batman, of course, and is now in parliament. The question is whether Labor, if it wins the next election, will deliver. It would want to do better than the Andrews Labor government did with the Hazelwood closure, which saw workers given just five months’ notice before the plant closed a year ago.

Nobody wants such outcomes. For their part, the Greens have done hard yards on a just transition that does not treat workers as an afterthought. In the Latrobe Valley they were calling for a transition authority years ago, but were ignored. The Greens’ climate spokesperson Adam Bandt has been slowly touring coal communities from Western Australia to Victoria to NSW – Queensland is next – and he says “people understand the transition is underway and are looking to governments to have an honest conversation with them about what it will mean … we’ve been far too neoliberal about all of this. We treat ‘plan’ as just another four-letter word.”

Canavan yesterday went on to paint a bright future for the coal industry, notwithstanding the emissions reduction goals set in Paris. Which is where Canavan is wrong: by refusing to put a transition plan in place, by pinning his hopes on a clean coal chimera, the minister ensures his dark prophecy will be self-fulfilling.

since this morning

Wholesale electricity prices have shot up in Victoria since the closure of the coal-fired Hazelwood power station, which has also caused the state to rely on power from other states for the first time in almost a decade, according to the ABC.

NBN speeds have improved significantly, according to the first results [$] of the ACCC’s broadband monitoring program, with Optus, Telstra, TPG and its subsidiary iiNet now delivering just over 90 per cent of the maximum plan speeds in busy evening hours.

in case you missed it

Figures obtained by the ABC show that the pesticides regulator that former agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce moved from Canberra to Armidale, in his New England electorate, has lost more than half of its workforce in under two years.

In an exclusive, Fairfax Media reports that the Turnbull government is considering cutting $400 million a year from the overseas aid budget, sending Australia’s overall contribution to an all-time low.

Labor has seized on the censure of the former Liberal minister Bruce Billson to put pressure on the Turnbull government to join a bipartisan effort to establish a national integrity commission.

An analysis for The Guardian shows that over the last 20 years, since the first Tasmanian regional forest agreement was signed in 1997, Forestry Tasmania’s total operating cash losses were $454 million.

The Australian reports [$] that former NXT senator Tim Storer, who has torpedoed Malcolm Turnbull’s signature $35.6 billion plan to cut company taxes for big business, was a Labor Party member, and that he resigned his membership rom the Adelaide sub-branch of the SA Labor Party in 2015.

Ecuador has cut Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s communications with the outside world at its London embassy, after he breached “a written commitment made to the government at the end of 2017 not to issue messages that might interfere with other states”.

Defence minister Marise Payne has told the ABC that an Australian air force bombing raid on an Islamic State target in Mosul, Iraq, which killed [$] two civilian adults and injured two children, was thoroughly evaluated.

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Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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