Where are the jobs? NSW coal towns cling to the past until a better future emerges
Sue Moore, the mayor of Singleton, was eating lunch at a conference last year when an inner Sydney councillor sat down next to her and asked: “What do we have to do to get the people of Singleton off coal?”
“You’ve got to tell them where their jobs are going to be,” Moore replied. “It’s got nothing to do with opposing climate action.”
Moore and other local leaders in the Hunter region – the heartland of New South Wales’ coalmining industry – have been grappling with “the coal question” for years. But sensitivities around the region’s future escalated this week when the federal MP Joel Fitzgibbon resigned as Labor’s resources spokesman after a very public row over the party’s stance on climate action.
As Fitzgibbon argues the case for coal to win back votes in his formerly safe seat, others in the Hunter – mayors, unions and businesses among them – have begun planning for the long-term decline of the industry that directly and indirectly employs up to 61,000 people in the region.
Hydrogen, solar, wind and renewable energy parks linked to batteries have been suggested as future job creators as well as green steel produced with pumped hydrogen. Other proposals include the expansion of the agriculture and defence industries, the creation of an F-35 fighter jet maintenance hub, and the introduction of containers into Newcastle’s port so it can ship more goods and services rather than its current 90% reliance on coal.