Australia is about to undertake an economic and industrial transition - the largest in our lifetime. As our energy needs change and industries adapt to meet our net zero target, our industries and jobs will be significantly impacted. The transition is currently being shaped to protect private investments and profits, but little effort is being made to protect jobs, communities and our standard of living. We cannot leave a transition of this size to private capital.
I grew up and did my trade as a fitter machinist in the Hunter Valley.
I’ve worked with, and represented as an AMWU Organiser, workers across all areas of the supply chains of our coal and electricity industry. The Hunter, along with energy regions all around the country, will be earliest and hardest hit by decisions already made in overseas boardrooms, and that change is coming faster than we had expected.
We are a movement of organisations that care deeply about this issue. It doesn’t belong to any one of us, but to all of us. Whether we come to this issue as environmental, indigenous or community activists, as academics or thought leaders, or as school strikers or trade unionists, we have a collective role to shape not just the framing of this debate, but what justice actually looks like.
Importantly, a discussion about what justice for workers looks like is a missing piece of the puzzle in our energy regions. These are workers and communities that have powered our economy and our homes for generations. They have looked after us, and now is our turn to look after them.
Right now, there’s no trust in mining bosses or politicians to make sure that workers and their communities are going to be looked after. Of course, there is always opportunity in change. The impacts of COVID on our international supply chains has uncovered the high level of public support for making things in Australia, and a high level of support for public investment and ownership. We need to work together, as early as possible, if we are to make the most of the opportunity presented to us.
Whether it is to add value to our natural resources and our agricultural products, to build our renewable energy infrastructure and shift to public ownership, or to become a green manufacturing superpower and secure our local supply chains, there are hundreds of thousands of potential jobs to be created. We are however, in a global race. Hesitation or poor planning will see Australia miss out – and our potential new jobs, traded away.
We also need to invest in workers. We need to value their ideas and their labour. We need to give them the skills and training necessary to be able to change jobs. We need to support them into secure, unionised jobs with good pay and conditions.
Precious time has been wasted in the climate culture wars. Climate change is real. Action is needed to limit global heating. The transition is here, and it is happening to us, not with us.
This is why we need a decision making table and a seat at it. We need an independent, fully resourced National Energy Transition Authority to build a plan. A statutory body, that will manage this transition – because encouragement and voluntary participation of private capital will not get us there.
Labor has been the party from and for the working class. There will be resistance politically to have an authority with teeth to drive this change in our collective interests. Together we can deliver justice for workers in this transition. We can have climate action and job creation.
Steve Murphy is the National Secretary of the AMWU.