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Learning the lessons of good and bad transitions

Nicholas McCallum

Why we must plan for the post-coal future in WA's Collie River Valley. 

There were politicians galore at the rally where much of the community had turned out to get involved with the conversation about what life will be like for them after coal.

ETU WA Secretary Peter Carter was also in the town of Collie, about 200km south of Perth in the Collie River Valley. 

“I haven’t been surrounded by so many politicians since the last time we occupied parliament house,” the WA Secretary said. 

“There must be an election coming up!” 

Collie has long been home to two coal mines that have helped fuel three power stations, but with the energy market moving into renewables the town of 7000 people is looking to the future.

And many politicians are seeing the writing on the wall for coal in Collie and want to do something about it. 

“Seriously, we appreciate all contributions – race, colour, creed, and political hew – and I have no doubt we can have a multi-partisan approach to this,” Carter said.

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He was in Collie for the fifth time in recent months to discuss the future of energy production in the town and the state as the move away from coal-fired power accelerates and workers transition into new industries.

Carter said to ensure things are done right and “learn the lessons from around the world, where we’ve had good transition and bad transition”.

ETU WA Secretary Peter Carter addresses a rally outside the state Parliament.

The bad we’ve already seen on the other side of the country, in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley where Hazelwood shut without much warning and little assistance for workers.

“A couple of thousand dollars and Bunnings voucher – that’s not a good transition,” Carter said.

Communities in the Appalachian area in the US, in the hills and mountains of Kentucky and West Virginia, have also felt the devastation of poorly managed transitions from coal power.

“Short-termism and fragmented approaches have led to no just transition and intrenched poverty and social disfunction, we do not want that,” he said.

The ETU and other unions would be doing whatever it took to get the WA Labor Government to commit to helping town like Collie adjust, building on 21st-century industries and opportunities and decent redundancy packages for coal workers.

With WA’s lithium industry taking off and renewable manufacturing and shipbreaking set to boom, there are plenty of options for somewhere like Collie in the post-coal life, Carter said. Part of the transition meant the public’s assets must come back into the public’s hands.

“There are plenty of options after coal – like forest recovery, recycling facilities, atmospheric cleansing, energy infrastructure production for gas and electricity facilities,” he said.

Each opportunity could lead to hundreds of jobs for local towns like Collie. “And they will be government owned if we lobby enough,” Carter said.

The WA Branch Secretary said the fight for the future of coal towns started with locals and unions working together, lobbying state government to commit to state-owned projects “before they get private enterprise down here”.

“Keep it up,” he said. “Because that’s the only thing that’s gonna change people’s minds.”


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