Parliament calls for an energy transition authority

After debate on a motion introduced by Abigail, the Upper House has congratulated the ongoing work of the Hunter Jobs Alliance and called for the creation of a NSW Energy Transition Authority.

 


Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (16:18): I move:

  1. That this House notes that:
    1. it is necessary to reduce the use of coal for energy production in order to meet emissions reduction targets set at State, Federal and international levels;
    2. Australia is one of the top five coal-producing countries in the world, and is the world's biggest exporter of metallurgical coal and second biggest for thermal coal;
    3. thermal coal mined in New South Wales contributes the vast majority of all thermal coal exported from Australia; and
    4. thermal coal still currently contributes around two-thirds of all energy generation in New South Wales.
  2. That this House notes that:
    1. the necessarily urgent reduction in coal production and use will result in industrial restructuring and a reallocation of labour, workforces and investment; and
    2. the geographic clustering of the coal industry means these economic and industrial shifts will be experienced most acutely in certain regions (notably, the Hunter Valley) more than others.
  3. That this House extends our profound thanks and appreciation to coal workers and their families, communities and unions for their invaluable contribution to the economic prosperity of this State by providing the energy we all use every day, and commits to repaying this debt of gratitude by having an honest conversation about the future of coal in New South Wales and working collaboratively with them to chart an optimistic path through this transition and to empower workers and communities to seize the exciting economic and social opportunities of a decarbonising economy.
  4. That this House notes and congratulates the ongoing work of the Hunter Jobs Alliance, who have been leading advocates for a structural change authority for the Hunter region and coal-reliant communities, and recognises the suggested design principles laid out in the alliance's 2021 report Building for the Future: A 'Hunter Valley Authority' to Secure Our Region's Prosperity, which sets out the following principles for delivering an effective structural change coordinating body for the Hunter, namely that it be:
    1. mission focused (on structural change);
    2. independent;
    3. representative;
    4. durable;
    5. transparent;
    6. sufficient coordination and delivery capacity for key activities;
    7. a defined geographic scope; and
    8. sustainable and inclusive economic outcomes.
  5. That this House notes the commitment from the Federal Government to develop a federal national net zero authority.
  6. That this House commits to establishing a New South Wales energy transition authority that is:
    1. independent;
    2. fully funded;
    3. statutorily constituted;
    4. designed to interface and coordinate with its Federal counterpart, and enables the construction of regional structural change authorities underneath it;
    5. collaborative with and responsive to affected workers, their unions and communities; and
    6. designed to foreground and advocate for the interests of affected workers as its first priority.

Less than two week ago, the final turbine of the Liddell Power Station stopped turning, marking the end of a 52‑year history of generating power for the people of New South Wales. The closure of Liddell is the first of what will soon become many coal-fired generator closures over the coming years. It is an exciting time in the history of our energy system, with new renewable generation coming online every day. The pace of coal closures is accelerating. The market is finally groaning into much-delayed action and billions of dollars of private investment are beginning to be funnelled into new renewable energy generation. It is undeniably good for the planet if we are to have any chance of avoiding the very worst effects of climate change. But left to the whims and profit motives of the market, the future does not necessarily look so bright for the workers.

In New South Wales our workers are particularly vulnerable, thanks to the shockingly ideological, bankrupt decision to privatise our energy network. We are now left with a situation where workers wake up each day in fear of an overnight announcement on the stock exchange that their workplace could close down years earlier than expected, or that their workplace is now owned by some faceless multinational billionaire type who could slash their pay or destroy their conditions. Because of the former Government's ideological obsession with privatisation, workers are left in the lurch with a government divorced from the levers of power. In Queensland, where power generators remain in public hands, the Government has been able to set clear dates and time lines for each station and has already begun putting in place plans for transitioning the workforce. Wouldn't that be nice?

This motion is calling for the New South Wales Government to finally face this issue head-on, to assume the responsibility of its role and manage this exciting decarbonisation in a fair and equitable way. Honesty, transparency and accountability are key values for The Greens and should be the foundational principles of any responsible government or political party. Unfortunately, for decades workers and communities in coal‑reliant communities have been sold a myth that the good times are going to keep on rolling and that the coal boom will last forever. Working towards a just transition is so exciting. My Greens colleagues and I are passionate about it because in this arena we can demonstrate a better way for our politics and economy to operate. We can build a politics where a government works directly, enthusiastically and responsibly with workers, through their union representatives, to direct and plan our economy in a socially and environmentally just direction. We need a transition authority that is fully funded, fully independent and constituted with the interests of workers at its core.

Federally, the new Labor Government has finally announced what it is calling its transition authority. While better than nothing, we have some concerns with some of the principles and objectives that the Minister has been describing in the media. There is a lot of talk about attracting investors and industries while providing advice for workers on how to find a new job. That is too hands-off in our opinion, and that is why this motion makes it clear what our expectations of the New South Wales authority would be. It should be hands-on in advocating for the interests of workers and funded in a way that can really make a difference. It should not just function as a source of cheap loans and tax breaks for billionaire investors, with a frequently-asked-questions page—the industry I worked in has closed down, so what do I do now?—tacked onto its site.

For better or for worse, the fossil fuel industries of the past have shaped and sculpted our society, with entire towns and regions intrinsically linked to their rise and fall. As a society, we owe the workers who have powered our lives a debt of gratitude. They deserve to be supported and assisted in the transition out of their industry either into retirement, if that is appropriate for them, or into new and reliable high-quality employment if they so desire. It might be an unfamiliar concept to some members in this House, but we must work with unions and workers to ensure that no-one is left behind by delivering a job-for-job transition, early retirement and compensation options, and free and relevant reskilling and retraining for those who seek it.

The communities in which those workers live must be empowered to remain vibrant and desirable places to live, with ongoing funding for education, health, public transport and other vital and leisure facilities. We must end coal and gas by 2030 if we are to have any hope of avoiding the worst outcomes from a rapidly changing climate. We must embrace reality and commit to working hand in hand with communities to acknowledge the change and seize the opportunity it presents to deliver a brighter, diversified future for regions like the Hunter Valley. We do not have to choose between taking urgent climate action and supporting coal communities; we can do both. I commend the motion to the House.

Abigail's motion received a majority vote and the motion was successfully passed!

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