In April, addressing coal workers in a shed in Mackay, resources minister Matt Canavan made the claim that Labor wanted to “wind up jobs in our coal mining regions”. He also had this to say about Bill Shorten’s plan to establish a Just Transition Authority should Labor win government at the May 18 election:
“The creation of the Orwellian named ‘Just Transition Authority’ has been referred to … in Labor’s uncosted economy-wide climate policy. By the sound of it, the ‘Just’ Transition Authority will be as much about justice as the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea is about democracy.”
The Authority, briefly sketched out in a November 2018 press release
, would be an $8.5 million body to “help plan for and coordinate the response to the eventual closure of coal-fired power stations in the future”.
But we’ll come back to that.
Canavan’s nonsense rhetoric was part of the Coalition’s laser-like campaign focus which prosecuted the narrative that radical Labor leftists were trying to wreck the country, and only the Coalition’s plucky neoliberals could stop them.
And while you could make the case that variants of this narrative play out at every federal election, there was something particularly egregious about it this time.
While the Coalition blithely ignored climate change and doubled down on coal, Labor proposed relatively mild climate action
, including reducing greenhouse emissions by 45% of 2005 levels by 2030 and committing to 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030.
The Coalition’s proposals ignored the consensus on warming and committed Australia to a path completely at odds with the rest of the world. They were, by definition, destructive.
And yet Labor, with its very modest intentions that nonetheless accepted environmental science and the need to remodel our economy accordingly, was cast as the party you couldn’t risk.
Labor would crush the mining industry. Labor would wreck the economy. Labor would kill jobs.
After the election loss, party elder and former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty said Labor’s position on climate change was right, but their lack of a clear plan for jobs in a renewable economy cost them.
What is a just transition?
The concept of a just transition away from a carbon-intensive economy to one based on low-emission renewables was not invented in a Canberra focus group last year.
The term was first used by US trade union leader and activist Tony Mazzocchi in 1993 as a way to capture the idea that “if workers’ jobs were threatened by policy changes
… those workers should be protected from, or compensated for, any negative consequences”.
In a 2018 policy brief
about the subject, the International Labour Organization said a just transition should not be an “add-on” to climate policy, but “an integral part of the sustainable development policy framework”. It continued:
“The outcome should be decent work for all in an inclusive society with the eradication of poverty. The process, how we get there, should be based on a managed transition with meaningful social dialogue at all levels to make sure that burden sharing is just and nobody is left behind.”
Australian unions haven’t been twiddling their thumbs on this either. More than a decade ago the AMWU developed Making our future: Just Transitions for climate change mitigation
. National president Andrew Dettmer said the document’s underlying principle
was that “action on climate change must occur without disadvantaging working families and the economy”.
Even the CFMEU, which represents black coal miners and fossil-fuel power station workers, endorsed the idea
at 2016’s ACTU Just Transition Conference, with general president Tony Maher saying it was about making sure that workers “are not saddled with costs and sacrifices far beyond what others are making”.
And here’s the punchline: there are jobs in the green economy. Lots of them. Smart people have done modelling
on it, and there is evidence that it’s already happening all over the country, especially in regional areas
. Victoria is said to be going through a green jobs “boom
In other words, not only is transition inevitable for the survival of the planet and the species, there is prosperity to be found in a refashioned, low-emissions economy.
The Greens had clear messaging
on this during the election, but Labor found themselves caught in no man’s land, unwilling to wholeheartedly commit to decarbonising the economy, and unable to articulate what Australian jobs might look like on the other side.
Retrospective prognostication is a game for mugs and highly paid Canberra media types but you wonder what the election result might have been if Labor’s just transition plan had been more than a few words in a press release announced months before the election was even called.
Wondering what a just transition actually looks like for Australia? This short but thorough piece
, published shortly after Shorten’s Just Transition Authority announcement, helps paint the picture.
Find out how Germany shuttered its coal industry without a single miner losing their job in this incredibly hopeful
story by Nick O’Malley.
And you can read the ACTU’s policy on climate, energy and just transition here