MONDAY, 6 DECEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: Labor’s energy policy; coal-fired power; coal exports; jobs in renewable energy.
You can watch the interview here
TOM CONNELL, HOST: Labor’s emission reduction jobs pledge is under some criticism, people warning that a carbon price, so-called price on high emitters, could threaten the livelihoods of people, some in regional communities. Joining me live now is Labor MP Meryl Swanson and she represents the marginal Hunter coalmining seat of Paterson. Meryl, thanks for your time. I note you’re quoted as saying you support this policy, but you want some protections. What exactly does that mean, some protections?
MERYL SWANSON, MEMBER FOR PATERSON: It’s good to be with you Tom. This is a really sensible policy, and those protections are built in already. So, there is going to be no change to people currently working in the coal industry and that’s very important for me. These protections are things like protecting existing jobs, that is very important. Protecting also power bills and making sure they come down. Cutting power bills, not only for households, but also for businesses. And the main plank of this is cutting emissions. And the other protection is providing certainty for investment, that’s a critical part of this. Unlike the present government who’ve had many policies, there is one policy and that’s going to provide overarching protection, Tom, because it gives certainty for business and investors to create more jobs.
CONNELL: So, we’ve got the modelling on power prices, for example. I’m just interested in what you say is a protection for existing workers. The modelling in this document and keeping in mind at the moment coal provides about 70% of Australia’s energy, it says that by 2030 82% will be provided by renewable energies. That’s a massive transition. Clearly, there will be workers changing jobs, that will be leaving the coalmining industry between now and then. Isn’t that pretty obvious?
SWANSON: No, it’s not. What we have been very clear to say is that while ever our coal is in demand across the world then we are going to export it. We’ve said that, absolutely outright. So that is, in itself, a protection. And we’ve also said the burning of that coal in the place that it’s sold to, those countries will account for that in their emissions as they should.
CONNELL: So, there’s no Labor policy to reduce exporting, it’s up to other countries as to what happens and those scope emissions you talk to. But there’s no specific protection in Australia, is there, to guarantee coal-powered plants keep going? If they want to stop, if they stop early, for whatever reason, if they can’t find a market for what they’re doing they’ll stop. Right, there’s not protection.
SWANSON: But you’re talking about different things here. On one hand you’re talking about export coal which is a completely different thing to talking about coal-fired power plants here in Australia. And we’re not making any changes to those either. There are no date changes. We’re not making changes, we’re just not.
CONNELL: I know you’re not making changes but it’s about what will happen under your modelling. So, again, 70% of the power at the moment, roughly speaking, comes from coal, in 2030 82% will come from renewables. Doesn’t that imply there is going to be serious displacement between now and then?
SWANSON: No, I really honestly don’t think it does. Because we’re not changing those coal-fired power stations. I know what you’re getting at. What we’re going to be doing is seeing a huge investment in renewables – it’s already happening, Tom. We know that businesses, coalmines themselves, are investing in renewables, and they’re also trying to decarbonise their operations. So, what we’re going to see is that investment happening, we’re going to see renewables pick up and increase, but it’s not just about coal versus renewables. It’s actually about the competitive advantage of having cheaper energy and what we can do with that cheaper energy. So, we’re going to see increased manufacturing, Tom. We’re going to see people investing in businesses that will make things here in Australia because power prices will be cheaper. That’s the key.
CONNELL: But I’m just wanting to talk about what’s going to change between now and then, about being up front I suppose.
SWANSON: And I’m being completely upfront with you.
CONNELL: Labor’s policy says 64,000 jobs are going to be created but some jobs will go.
SWANSON: 605,000 jobs.
CONNELL: I’m going to stick with direct jobs. 64,000 jobs.
SWANSON: OK, yes.
CONNELL: But what jobs are going? So that’s a net figure that’s going to be added. But when big change happens – and we’re talking about big change here – the electricity grid, the changes I was talking about, jobs will go. Have you asked what jobs they are going to be under this modelling? Where people are going to be told ‘you’re going to have to find a new job’ by 2030.
SWANSON: I think that what we’re going to see is an explosion of new jobs. I think the jobs that are currently in existence are going to stay there.
CONNELL: All of them? Every single coalmine worker in Australia right now including at a power plant will still be in that job in 2030? We’ve got closures slated between now and then.
SWANSON: Tom, you know that some of those plants are slated to close anyway. Those changes are going to happen and that’s completely outside of our control. That’s in the control of those companies that own those power stations. They are slated to close. And we’re not bringing them forward, we’re not making changes to that, OK. We’re still going to export coal. We’re seeing the world coal market in flux at the moment, we’re getting good prices for coal, but coalminers and every person involved in heavy manufacturing in Australia wants to know what the future holds. What we’re going to do is give certainty to that by saying ‘we want to get to this point, and we want to help you get there’.
CONNELL: Just on this figure again, Labor’s saying 64,000 will be created. People in a job right now within the energy industry and within coal, some of those people won’t be in a job in 2030. That seems obvious. Have you clarified how many and where those people will be, where the displacement will occur?
SWANSON: What I did do is ask what the new jobs are going to be. So, I’ve certainly asked about that.
CONNELL: But what about the old jobs?
SWANSON: I think the old jobs are largely going to be there, Tom. This is the problem when you want to try to run a scare campaign. We’re not upending the coal industry in Australia; we’re just not doing it.
CONNELL: But when you talk about that energy mix, from 70% provided at the moment to I’m not sure what the percentage is in 2030 – the most it could ever be is 18 and even lower because 82% will be renewable by then. That is upending an industry. I’m not talking about exports. I’m talking about the local jobs here.
SWANSON: That’s good because they are very different. But, within the context of Liddell power station, which is slated to close soon, those people have been offered either redundancy or they’ve been offered another job at Bayswater. So, the company, AGL, have factored in what’s going to happen to those people. What you forget though is we are going to provide training – apprenticeships is different to what you are talking about, and I understand that. But there’s going to be the opportunities for good well-paid jobs. It’s not just a direct ‘if you’ve worked in coal-fired power then you’ll work in renewables’ – that may not be the case – there’ll be jobs in manufacturing. We want to make things in Australia. Now, the skill set that you have if you’re working in a coal-fired power station can be directly transferred to a manufacturing job – we’ve got that in the Hunter. In answer to your question about the impacted jobs, there will be other jobs for those people to go to. We’re going to provide investment certainty so that there will be more jobs directly for those people who may be impacted – just by that very narrow industry – as in coal-fired power stations that you’ve picked as an example.
CONNELL: We do have to leave it there. Thankyou.