The Indian multinational Adani announced their decision to go ahead with the Carmichael coal mine in North Queensland’s Galilee basin during June. If allowed to proceed the coal mine would be Australia’s biggest with environmentalists labelling it a “climate bomb”.
Already up to 115,000 people die each year in India from coal-based air pollution, where Adani intends to burn the coal. The further increase in greenhouse gas emissions would only accelerate climate change and increase air pollution even further.
Adani and their backers have tried to gloss over these environmental concerns and are trying to justify the project as a big boost to jobs in the struggling region.
There is no doubt that living conditions in Queensland are deteriorating. Household wealth, net assets, disposable income and average earnings are all lower than they were in 2009.
In Mackay, average household wealth has fallen 19%, while in Townsville it fell more than a quarter! Northern regions of Queensland have some of the worst unemployment in the country, particularly among the young. Underemployment is also a huge problem. The economic distress felt in these communities is a result of the boom-bust nature of capitalism that brought the end of the mining boom and manufacturing shut downs.
Adani’s backers, like Liberal National Party senator Matt Canavan, are exploiting the desperation of working class people. Canavan claims that the mine will produce anywhere between 10,000 and 16,000 jobs. But Adani’s own expert economist Dr Jerome Fahrer was forced to admit otherwise in court.
He said the mine would only produce approximately 1400 jobs per year Australia-wide by 2024. Neither Adani nor Canavan provided convincing justification of their inflated claims afterward. It’s clear they simply invented the numbers to win social support for this toxic mine and the fossil fuel industry.
Of the jobs that are created, we should ask, what kind of jobs will they be? We know the Coalition government is no friend of workers having already passed a raft of anti-union laws targeting construction workers. And Adani have already indicated that they will try to reduce jobs by using a fleet of automated remote-control trucks rather than paying truck drivers.
Tourism and agriculture employs tens of thousands of Queenslanders. The Great Barrier Reef underpins some 70,000 jobs. Burning coal from the Galilee basin will accelerate the death of the reef through global warming and increase the severity and frequency of extreme weather like cyclones, droughts and floods. Far from being a job creator, the Carmichael mine has the potential to be a job wrecker in Queensland.
Of course, while we need to protect existing jobs in areas like tourism, we also need to create new jobs in order to eliminate unemployment. But instead of jobs that ruin our environment we need to fight for clean, green sustainable jobs.
A report compiled by the Climate Council and Ernst and Young showed that boosting Australia’s renewable energy to 50% by 2030 would produce tens of thousands of jobs. Manufacturing, construction, operation and maintenance of large scale renewable energy sources would bring a booming new industry to life.
Investment in renewable technology would result in a net jobs gain across the entire country. The highest gains would be in New South Wales and Queensland, where the coal industry is currently a big employer. There is no doubt that renewable energy offers a much better future for workers.
But we can’t rely on big business and the major capitalist parties to manage this shift from fossil fuels to renewables. Prioritising both jobs and the wellbeing of our communities requires a proper democratic plan. On the basis of public ownership and community control, a democratic plan could ensure the transition takes place rapidly, with the benefits flowing to working class people, rather private profiteers.
It would also mean that profits could be reinvested into things like public housing and services to really develop Northern Australia. All this points to the need for a democratic socialist vision to be at the heart of the fight against the Adani con job and the entire fossil fuel industry.
By Kirk Leonard