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Monday, June 27, 2022

Greens unveil $19bn plan to subsidise coal workers to transition away from fossil fuel jobs | Australian Greens

The Greens have proposed a $19bn plan to diversify fossil fuel-reliant towns and subsidise the wages of coal workers who transition into new jobs, saying employees can stay in mining but should seek employment in critical minerals or green metals.

Workers would get a decade or more support under the plan, with the Greens’ idea seeing the government pay half the wage of their new job in “non-polluting industries” outside the coal, oil and gas sectors. The focus on transitioning mining towns into new industries comes as the Greens stress their belief that “coal workers haven’t caused the climate crisis”, three years after former party leader Bob Brown’s anti-Adani convoy through Queensland was partly blamed by some for a cratering of the progressive vote in that state.

“Australia is sleepwalking into the closure of the coal industry, but every single worker is being told by the Liberal and Labor parties that they have nothing to worry about,” the Greens leader, Adam Bandt, said.

“We owe coal workers a debt of thanks for powering our country. We don’t need to choose between taking urgent climate action and supporting coal communities. We can do both.”

Bandt will travel to the Hunter coal region on Friday to announce the ‘looking after coal workers’ policy. He claimed resource communities were “being lied to” by the major parties, noting the Australian Energy Market Operator (Aemo) had forecast the closure of more than half the nation’s coal generation capacity by 2030, and virtually all capacity by the early 2040s.

Bandt said the Greens’ policy would support that rapid transition away from coal by underwriting half the wage of affected workers for a decade, under a “job for job guarantee” planned to encourage employees to seek new positions – particularly in related fields such as energy and rare metals.

“In many places around the country the best job for a coal worker is another mining job,” he said.

“There are enormous opportunities in developing critical minerals and green metal processing. Australia doesn’t need to shut down the mining industry, we’ve just got to get out of coal.”

A $2.8bn fund to diversify coal communities would give out grants to towns to encourage new start-ups, clean industry or upgrade infrastructure to aid in transitioning from fossil fuel reliance. The Greens also propose setting up new local authorities in resource-heavy regions including the Hunter Valley, Collie, Bowen Basin and Gladstone, plus expanding an existing authority in the LaTrobe Valley, to help develop such transition or revitalisation plans.

The party’s policy documents set out the plan in a conciliatory tone, claiming that “coal workers haven’t caused the climate crisis”.

“Workers are doing what they can to support themselves and their family. The Greens want to preserve the contributions they have made into their communities over decades,” the document continues.

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Bandt said: “We can’t have a devastating repeat of the collapse of our car manufacturing industry.

“Instead of leaving their fate in the hands of overseas boardrooms of big corporations, the Greens plan gives local communities control over their future.”

The latest tranche of Greens election policy comes as the party looks to differentiate itself at the coming election against the Climate 200 independents campaigning on environmental and accountability policies. Any substantial vote swing to Labor and against the Coalition government could also see some Greens votes sucked away, in the possibility of a consolidation of support behind the major centre-left party.

The Greens are targeting 10 seats in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales, and Bandt claims they are “very close or have our noses in front” in five – the Labor-held Griffith, Macnamara and Richmond, plus the Coalition seats of Ryan and Brisbane.

Bandt denied the Climate 200 independents had taken oxygen from the Greens, saying his party would continue to campaign strongly on environmental issues, but that there would be a stronger push on issues of social democracy – headlined by a renewed push to force the very wealthy and big corporations to “pay their fair share of tax”.

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Bandt claimed the tax push, plus calls to end subsidies to fossil fuel companies, would raise nearly $100bn over the next decade, which he said was enough to fund other core Greens calls such as extending Medicare to cover dental and mental health.

Bandt said the Greens wanted to see a change of government to Labor. His most optimistic campaign outcome would see them win an extra three Senate seats – in NSW, South Australia and Queensland – to take their upper-house representation to 12. This could give the party the sole balance of power, a position Bandt said he would use to “push” a Labor government to adopt more progressive positions on climate and social issues.

“As well as kicking the Liberals out, we need Greens in balance of power to keep Labor honest,” he said.

“We will push the next government to go further and faster on coal and gas, and inequality.”

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