Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Phase out coal – Invest in renewables!

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Protect both jobs and the environment

Greg Combet, the newly appointed Labor Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency has been quoted recently saying he wants to bring “common sense” to the debate on climate change. At the same time he has stated that the polluting coal industry “absolutely” has a future in Australia’s energy production.

By Ger Hughes, Socialist Party

This seemingly contradictory position highlights the dilemma that the Labor Party finds itself in. While they want to be seen as defenders of the environment, the party regularly accepts donations from big mining and power companies. Because the party acts as a representative of the profit driven coal industry, they are unable to take any real action on climate change. It seems that there is actually very little “common sense” coming from Combet on this issue.

The burning of coal is clearly a major contributor to climate change. The worst example is the Hazelwood power station in Victoria’s La Trobe valley which produces 17 million tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution per year. The Australian coal industry also has the dubious distinction of not only causing damage at home, but due to the fact that coal is one of Australia’s biggest exports, the damage done extends internationally.

This devastation to the environment is compounded by the fact that in recent years large parts of the power industry have been sold off to private operators whose main motive is profits. These companies have no interest in addressing global warming as it would only undermine their ability to make money. If we really want to address climate change the burning of fossil fuels needs to be phased out and massive investment needs to be made in renewable technology.

These renewable sources could include solar and wind along with tidal and geothermal heat power. All of these sources have been proven to be viable on both large and small scale operations. That there is a need for investment to develop these sources is not in question. The real question is how to manage the transition from coal to sustainable energy production.

This transition is too important to be left in the hands of big business. It is not only the environment but jobs and local communities are at stake. The only viable way to move quickly towards renewable energy is on the basis of public ownership. If the power industry was in public hands a democratic plan could be put in place to phase out coal and to transfer energy production, along with the jobs, to renewable technology.

Greg Combet’s federal electorate of Charlton is located in the New South Wales Hunter Valley coalfields. He has dishonestly put forward the idea that working people have an interest in defending the coal industry. First and foremost workers want security in their lives. This means jobs, homes and services, a sustainable economy and environment.

Workers get none of this from the coal industry. While the multi-national companies produce staggering annual profits none of this money benefits ordinary people in any significant measure. Since privatisation thousands of jobs have been lost and communities like those in the Hunter and Latrobe Valley have been devastated.

The transformation of the energy industry needs to go hand in hand with the transformation of society. Workers should strive to build a world for the benefit of people and the environment not for the benefit of big business profiteers. The best way to protect jobs, communities and the environment is on the basis of democratic socialism – a system based on public ownership, planning and democratic control.


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