Two major unions, the CFMEU and ACTU, have lobbied since 2016 for Australia’s 8000 coal power plant workers to be covered by a “just transition” policy like Germany rolled out for its 20,000 brown coal workers – which included salaried retirement for those aged over 55, and job placement and retraining options for all workers.
Ms Swanson acknowledged the need for a policy to support regional jobs growth, and the challenges facing coal-fired power plants specifically, but would not commit to developing targeted plans.
“Those workers are going to be facing changes in the future, I absolutely believe that,” she said.
“Is my task force charged with that [just transition]? Not specifically.”
ACTU President Michele O’Neil wants a just transition policy to help replace high-paying energy sector jobs in the power stations.
“A coherent plan for emission reduction is essential so that we can maximise the opportunities for job creation and economic growth that are presented by the transition to a low-carbon economy and ensure no worker or community is left behind,” Ms O’Neil said.
The CFMEU forecasts that all of Australia’s 23 coal-fired power plants are currently set to close by 2050, with most expected to shut down 2035, and no industry plans to build new ones.
CFMEU national president Tony Maher also called for just transition policy, including “substantial investment in regional economic diversification and a compulsory job transfer scheme for affected power stations”.
“Australia has a long history of blue-collar workers being thrown on the scrapheap when their industries experience structural change. The changes in our energy industry are an opportunity to rewrite this history and develop a model that puts workers and communities first,” Mr Maher said.
Ms Swanson said her taskforce was looking at jobs creation inside and outside of the resources sector, including upskilling miners, revitalisation of regional manufacturing and ways to help local businesses grow.
“From everything I’ve looked at, from the people I’ve spoken to in terms of thermal coal and metallurgical coal, the growth projection into Asia is still big. So we are still going to be providing a lot of coal in terms of export. So the jobs will be there. What will happen, though, is the jobs will change,” she said.
Queensland’s state Labor government, which has a target to achieve 50 per cent renewables by 2030, is currently holding public meetings to develop a just transition policy to “drive economic diversification and encourage new investment”.
Mike is the climate and energy correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.