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News News WA workers will benefit from a price on carbon

From The West Australian, opinion piece by Gary Wood - Secretary of the WA District of the CFMEU Mining & Energy Division

As someone who has spent a large part of my life working on coal mines and who now represents workers in the coal industry, people may be surprised that I support putting a price on carbon pollution as an important and positive development for WA workers.

These people will understand my views when the emotion and scaremongering abates.  A carbon price, properly phased in, is vital for the future of mine workers and the rest of the WA workforce.

Big reform is always a tricky process and climate change is a particularly frightening issue – “a diabolical problem” as Ross Garnaut says. But we’re not going to get anywhere by burying our heads in the sand, crossing our fingers and hoping that Lord Monckton and Howard Sattler have somehow got the jump on every reputable scientific institution on the planet including our own CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology.

I’m a coal miner by trade not a scientist and the science around this is complicated. Which means we have to put our faith in scientists as expert in their field. With 97% of the world’s scientists agreeing that the climate is changing and that human activity is largely responsible for this change – that’s convincing enough for me and it should be enough for all of us to start acting.

Now is the time to positively discuss solutions. Ignoring the problem, or delaying acting, will be disastrous for our economy and the quality of life of us and our children.

The reality is that Australian workers, particularly those in emissions intensive industries, need concrete action on climate change and we need it now. Unfortunately most employer groups in Australia – including those of the coal companies – believe everybody should take action except them.

How else do you explain their constant refrain that business is ‘not ready’ for a carbon price? Carbon pricing has been debated for over a decade both in Australia and overseas. That business groups still haven’t prepared their members for a carbon price is pretty extraordinary.

By contrast, our union has been in constant conversation with the Federal Government and coal workers about the future of our industry. The CFMEU has found that most professional people in carbon intensive industries understand that low emission technologies cannot be commercialised while polluting the atmosphere remains free. The obvious example is carbon capture and storage (CCS) – it only makes sense if there is a carbon price.

Innovation unleashed by carbon pricing will produce new and novel ways of reducing emissions. This will reduce costs and create new jobs.

Good employment and good job prospects depend on a healthy economy. A healthy economy depends on a healthy environment – if we don’t get on top of this now there’s going to be a very rude shock to the system a few years down the track when we suddenly have to implement very steep emissions cuts very quickly. That’s when there will be job losses.

By acting now, we have an opportunity to plan ahead to improve energy efficiency and to invest in cleaner technologies that will help us clean up our industries.

Those of us who are involved in highly polluting industries such as the coal sector have a choice. We can stand outside the door and refuse to engage on what is an inevitable and necessary shift to lower emissions or we can sit at the table and be included in planning that change and transforming our industry to ensure its longevity.

The coal companies should be working with unions and the government on the introduction of modern technologies into our operations.  Coal mining has a strong future if coal mining and use become low emission industries. Instead the big coal miners and the industry groups have been far too busy pursuing a major scare campaign and painting a picture of job losses, a flagging economy and financial ruin.

This is absolute rubbish. These same industry leaders and CEOs are painting a very different picture when they’re talking to their shareholders. To them they’re explaining the industry is expected to double in size by 2050 with very healthy profit margins. The announcement recently of Australia's biggest-ever bid for a coal mining company - $4.7billion for Macarthur coal - demonstrates how ridiculous this scare campaign is.

There’s currently $380billion worth of investment in the pipeline for resources in Australia – that will create an awful lot of jobs including mining jobs. Carbon price or no carbon price, the resource sector remains in good shape.

By taking decisive action now to price carbon, Australians are putting ourselves in a solid position to take advantage of the employment opportunities created by the development of new green industries.

Research commissioned by the ACTU and the Australian Conservation Foundation found that with the right policy drivers, strong action on climate change could create an additional 770,000 jobs across the Australian economy by 2030.

If we’re smart about this and we seize the opportunities of a carbon price, we can have a vibrant low emissions economy with cleaner, more efficient industries and a burgeoning renewable energy sector. WA workers will reap the benefits.

Gary Wood is the Secretary of the WA District of the CFMEU Mining & Energy Division.


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