Time to make a transition away from coal

By Laura Mills
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Green Party list MP Kevin Hague says now is the time to make a transition away from coal, something he claims two West Coast mayors have privately admitted to him.
Mr Hague today re-released a speech he delivered a month ago during May Day celebrations at Blackball, this time prompted by the latest round of job cuts at the Stockton Mine.
He said he had been talking about the need to transition away from coal for the past decade.
“It turns out that we have even less time than I thought back in May to get started,” Mr Hague said.
Local and central government needed to engage in an honest conversation with communities.
Over the past several years “at least two” West Coast mayors had privately acknowledged to him that the Coast could not continue to rely so much on coalmining, he said.
One had suggested a transition fund and another had actually sent a senior council official to Australia to study how they were managing the transition there.
“But so far none of them has been prepared to talk openly with community for fear of the political risk they would face. Time to be brave. Time for leadership,” Mr Hague said.
Coalminers had been saying, “if we’re not going to do this, tell us what we are going to do”.
In response, environmentalists had tended to be pretty vague.
Mr Hague instead offered the Green Party’s blueprint for transition. Existing coalmines should stay open, but when they were exhausted, or became uneconomic, a publicly-funded insurance scheme would protect the income of those workers through the remainder of
their working lives, should it be needed.
“Our aim is that nobody has to leave their community because of financial consequences of the transition process.”
There needed to be an alliance of environmentalists, workers and social justice activists to create momentum for planned change.
“Change is coming, whether we like it or not — it’s just a question of how well managed that change can be.”
He said the Development West Coast trust deed should be changed so it was more of an economic development agency, rather than a “pokies trust or a bank”.
Possible alternatives included becoming experts on alternative power, pest control/conservation, and planting native forests rather than just pine.
Food could be grown on the Coast, and tourism activities created that added value by keeping people in the region longer.
There might also be environ-mentally sounder ways of using coal, including creating carbon fibre.
“Wouldn’t it have been great to have new industries available to absorb Spring Creek workers when it closed, rather than the pie in the sky offered by a vague promise of new jobs at Denniston or reopening some long-abandoned mine closer to us?” Mr Hague
said.