23 february 2017

Manufacturing union calls for land and tax deals for industry to help transition from coal

Union tells Senate inquiry there must be plans in place to attract jobs before mines or power stations close

Gabrielle Chan, The Guardian, Thursday 23 February 2017

The manufacturing union has called for governments to hand over land and tax concessions to industry to provide the support to save the sector in the transition from coal.

Steve McCartney, the state secretary of the Australian Manufacturers Workers Union in Western Australia, called on the Senate environment and communications references committee to ensure governments have a plan for alternative industries.

The union also wants a finance corporation modelled on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to expand Australian manufacturing in regions hit hardest by the transition from coal, including the Latrobe valley, Collie in south-west Western Australia and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.

The Senate committee, which is inquiring into the retirement of coal-fired power stations, heard a manufacturing finance corporation could provide loan guarantees to establish or expand small and medium businesses within hard-hit regions.

The Turnbull government is considering changing the mandate for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to allow it to fund “clean coal” projects, while the opposition leader, Bill Shorten, has reconfirmed Labor’s “goal” of sourcing 50% of electricity from renewables.

The AMWU called on the federal government to allow businesses in affected regions to delay the payment of GST, PAYG and payroll tax to relieve cash flow problems arriving from the closures.

McCartney said government investment was required to support industry to save workers. “We have to give them land,” he said. “We have to give them tax concessions to make it happen. More importantly we have to have a buy-local campaign to make us buy our own goods.”

He said coal towns were not equivalent of the Wittenoom, the asbestos mining town that had to be abandoned as unsafe.

“Any discussion on shutting down coal has to be preempted with a discussion on what are we going to do with the town,” McCartney said.

He said in urging for a transition plan, he was not denying climate change. The promise of 100,000 jobs in renewables happened but the jobs went to China and Malaysia, not Western Australia, he said.

“If you think five people driving around in a ute checking windmills will fix it, it’s not going to either,” McCartney said.

“So we have to have a realistic approach as a government or a country or a state. Before you talk about shutting down the power station in this place, what actual industry are you going to start in that place before it closes.”

The AMWU called for industry hubs supported by government in suffering regions and praised the establishment of the shipbuilding hub in Henderson, Western Australia.

“I’ve got to say, if it wasn’t for the National party a long time ago, we probably wouldn’t have had that hub,” McCartney said. “People thought it was going to be a white elephant. It has proven itself now. Not only has it created an industry, it has created up- and downstream companies around there.”

He said the coalmining town of Collie was an example of the restructuring going on in the industry. Last year, a ruling by the Fair Work Commission saw maintenance workers at the Griffin coalmine face a pay cut of 43%, worth around $50,000 a year.
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The mine owners, Lanco, argued that exorbitant labour costs had made the mine unsustainable and told the FWC it had suffered $300m in trading losses over the past five years.

Leonie Scoffern, whose husband works at the Collie mine, told the Senate committee the town had relied on coal for more than 100 years.

“For our town to lose these industries without careful planning is going to have a huge detrimental effect on our town and its future,” she said. “We cannot be another Hazelwood. We need investment in jobs, new industry and training and a certainty that equal employment can be sustained for our town at current levels.”

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