OPINION: Backing Miners Won't Black Climate Action

11 August 2020


Phillip O'Neill wrote in the opinion pages of Monday's Newcastle Herald that our region is in an unfortunate position of being referred to as a "coal region" and that this should alarm us and makes us somewhat lesser ('The politics of coal', Opinion 17/2).
He says this "tag" paints the Hunter as suspicious of city elites and climate change, and that being a coal region puts us at a disadvantage.
Reading between the lines, it appears Mr O'Neill assumes that you cannot be both supportive of mining and pro-action on climate change. This rhetoric is at the core of many of the problems we face around climate change policy in the country. This divisive and binary language is a barrier to embracing our economic ecosystem and encouraging workable solutions.
We are a coal region. That fact is written into our history, and it will undoubtedly shape our future. Coal and its benefits stretch far and wide, and so do its challenges. It's how we address these challenges and limitations and embrace the benefits and opportunities that will define our region's future. This is the ongoing battle of our political parties and whom they seek to represent.
We can't divorce our history from our future, nor should we want to. Our region has grown to become more diverse, and I would argue this is because of our industrial and mining heritage - not in spite of it. We in the Hunter are often described as having mining and manufacturing in our DNA. This reputation is a nod to our past.
Despite what critics say, we don't need to move away from our history to reshape our future. Instead, we should embrace the depth and breadth of knowledge in heavy industry - think mining, steel production and manufacturing - and give it credit for playing a role in the region's ability to grow into the future.
The workforce that has created our history has the skills that will help us adapt to the jobs of the future. Think about the defence industry. The arrival of the joint strike fighter planes to RAAF Base Williamtown is a catalyst for jobs and specialised skills. Our technically savvy workforce is a drawcard for technology like these jets, and industry experts say that.
Mr O'Neill is right that mining employs fewer people than retail, health and other sectors. He stops short of giving the mining industry credit for its flow-on effect to these sectors.
Tomago's Ampcontrol is a prime example. This is a locally-owned company in my electorate whose history lies in servicing the mining industry with electrical technology. Because of the opportunities mining provided, this company has become a leader in its field across a range of products such as the development of remote solar-driven water filtration systems for communities on bore water.
I'm fortunate that my job put me in the same room as brilliant minds from various industries. These encounters help me understand and explore the opportunities for our region and its people. The opportunities lie in how we can build on the foundations mining creates rather than abandoning our roots.
As an elected representative in the Hunter region, and as a lawmaker in the Australian Parliament, I understand how urgently we need to face the environmental challenges that lie ahead. A crucial part of that conversation is the skills our young people will need for the jobs of the future. As it has done so for the past generations, the Hunter region and its primary industries are diversifying.
Mr O'Neill is correct in saying Labor MPs in the Hunter are central to the current sets of crises' besetting our nation and region. We will continue to push for innovative policy that recognises these pressing issues while identifying our opportunities, preserving our history, and nurturing our bright future.
Fortunately, the Labor Party can walk and chew gum at the same time. In other words, we can look after workers while turning our eyes to the future.
This opinion piece was first published in Newcastle Herald on Wednesday, 19 February 2020.