By Liam McLoughlin 04/06/2016
While other developed economies prepare for the demise of fossil fuels, Australia languishes. Corporate tax cuts are not a plan.
Many faiths believe mantras have special psychological and supernatural powers. Derived from the root meaning “that which protects the mind”, mantras are often meaningless. First composed by Hindus 3,000 years ago, they are also used by Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, and now by neoliberal ideologues.
Apologies for tarnishing the wisdom of these ancient religions by associating them with Matthias Cormann, but by my last count government ministers have used the phrase “Jobs and Growth” more times than “Om” has been uttered in all of human history.
And what is “Jobs and Growth” if not a meaningless magical phrase repeated ad nauseam to protect the minds of Liberal leaders and their acolytes from the economic realities of the 21st century?
A $50 billion dollar corporate tax cut is not a plan for jobs and growth. It’s highway robbery.
Pressuring the UN to scrub references to the plight of the Great Barrier Reef is not a formula for protecting the tourism industry. It’s environmental vandalism on an epic and tragic scale.
Opening up new mega-mines and exporting our coal to the world is not an economic vision for Australia. It’s a planetary death wish.
But this is not the place for dissecting the myth of good Coalition economic management, already so effectively debunked by Costa A, Tim Dunlop and Richard Denniss. Nor is it the place to again expose the voodoo economics of those selfish, deluded and cruel enough to tank the planet in the name of corporate profits and political power. Read Naomi Klein, George Monbiot and Mike Seccombe for that.
This is the place to talk about the sane alternative to the status quo path of economic, social and environmental ruin: a just transition.
Like Duncan Storrar before her, Kristy Harling used the Q & A platform on Monday night to thrust a crucial justice issue into the stultifying conformity of mainstream political debate.
“I have lived in central Queensland, which encompasses towns such as Emerald, Blackwater and Moranbah, for a number of years working in the mining industry. Today we see the aftermath of the mining boom after 21,000 jobs have been lost in the region. It breaks my heart to see local families struggling to put food on the table and to see hundreds of houses empty because of foreclosure with no-one to fill them. The people of central Queensland need help now and are suffering due to a lack of transition planning for the region. With all of this talk of jobs and growth, what are your plans for the next industry in central Queensland to ensure it is not littered with ghost towns?”
While Trade Minister Steven Ciobo responded by fingering his Reaganomic prayer beads and Labor MP Terri Butler congratulated the Greens for their “absolutely fantastic” policy for a just transition, Richard Di Natale actually explained what this policy looks like.
“We’ve got a plan called Renew Australia. Tens of thousands of jobs, solar farms, solar thermal wind farms, cutting edge renewable technology. In Germany, 400,000 jobs because of the decisions made, with the Greens government at the time, to stimulate this economy…what tremendous natural advantages we have in Australia with our sun, our wind, our space, our knowledge, our expertise, to be able to fuel a jobs boom in regional communities.”
The concept of the just transition emerged in the trade union movement in the late 90s as an attempt to reconcile the need for good jobs with the need for environmental protection. It’s about balancing the demands of social and environmental justice as we move into a sustainable economy.
It’s these principles guiding the Greens climate policy. The Renew Australia plan includes 90 per cent renewable energy generation and doubled energy efficiency by 2030, $5 billion for construction in new energy generation over the next four years, a $1 billion Clean Energy Transition Fund to help coal workers and communities, and the staged closure of coal-fired power stations. This is in addition to other pledges for investment in battery storage, no new coal and gas, a carbon price, a coal export levy, an end to fossil fuel subsidies and donations as well as billions to save the Reef.
The Greens policy is by far the closest to the available scientific and economic evidence.
If “Jobs and Growth” were anything more than a delusional chant, tailor-made to swindle the Australian public, renewable energy would be at the heart of the Coalition’s economic plan.
In 2014, the Australia Institute reported that despite the government’s raids on the renewable sector, the solar industry employed 13,300 people across the country. This number was “far larger” than the total employed in Australia’s coal fired power stations. You’ll often hear Turnbull talk about the recklessness of undertaking climate action ahead of the rest of the world. We know the true recklessness has been on the part of the Abbott/Turnbull government in making Australia a climate laggard.
Labor performs somewhat better but is still trapped by the same forces as the Coalition. So long as Shorten continues his support for fossil fuel donations and subsidies, new coal mines, partial emissions trading schemes and inadequate renewable energy targets, Labor’s long term environmental and economic management is also questionable.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s only one party leader actually committed to sensible economic management, and he doesn’t even feature in the leaders’ debates.
The question is not whether our economy will transition – the writing is on the wall for fossil fuels. The relevant questions are whether we will make the transition quickly enough to avoid climate cataclysm and how fair we can make this power shift for workers.
There are impressive international efforts afoot which give us hope for positive answers to those questions.
Around the world green energy employment grew five per cent to 8.1 million in 2015 while the fall in oil prices cost 350,000 jobs. It’s good news for our climate as well as gender equality, with the renewable energy sector employing more women than oil, gas and coal (though there’s still plenty of room for improvement).
In 2015 there were more jobs in solar in the US than for any fossil fuel and in China there are more jobs in renewables than in oil and gas.
In addition, there are coalitions across the globe campaigning for a just transition.
The US BlueGreen Alliance brings together America’s largest labour unions and most significant environmental organisations to advocate for a clean economy with economic justice. The influence of this organisation partially explains the massive turnout in New York at last year’s People’s Climate March.
In South Africa, the One Million Climate Jobs Campaign allies labour, social movements and other civil society organisations in the climate fight. They argue “by placing the interests of workers and the poor at the forefront of strategies to combat climate change we can simultaneously halt climate change and address our jobs bloodbath”. Their platform combines scaling up renewables and energy efficiency, expanding public transport, shifting to small scale agro-ecology, protecting biodiversity and zero waste.
Canada’s Leap Manifesto is an even more comprehensive plan combining social and environmental justice goals, backed by a range of blue, green and other groups. It includes rights for Indigenous peoples, community control of a 100 per cent clean economy, resources for workers in carbon-intensive jobs, an end to damaging trade deals and welcoming refugees and migrants.
This election, let’s follow the lead of these international models.
Let’s scorn the delusions of the “Jobs and Growth” mantra.
Let’s demand more from the Labor Party, still trapped by the tentacles of the fossil fuel industry.
Most importantly, let’s embrace those candidates with the courage to lead a just transition.