Transforming Victoria: Creating jobs while cutting emissions

A 'green new deal' proposal for a Fair and Just Transition, from Friends of the Earth Melbourne.

There is an urgent climate imperative to transform our economy. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (2018) argued that, by 2030, global emissions must drop by 45% from their 2010 levels if we are to avoid exposing hundreds of millions of people to serious climate-related hazards. A growing body of mainstream climate science says that we need to achieve deeper targets earlier if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.

We are already in the middle of a largely unplanned transition of our economy, partly due to the forces of economic globalisation and partly through technological changes to the energy system. Because it is unplanned, it is unjust. At the national level, there is already wage stagnation and an industrial relations system which works against the interests of workers. Many ageing coal-fired power stations are nearing the end of their lives and the native forests sector is clearly unsustainable and on the verge of collapse. The economy is undergoing a market-driven transformation and many of these changes are bad for blue collar workers, as was shown by the closure of the Australian car industry.

Without a fair and just transition plan, the inevitable impact of future changes will disproportionately fall on workers and communities who are currently reliant on the stationary energy sector, fossil fuel extraction, forestry products, and associated downstream industries.

Both state and federal governments have allowed, or encouraged, previous destructive transitions. Privatisation, as happened in the Latrobe Valley, and 'economic reform' and the neoliberal programs of the Hawke, Keating and Howard eras hurt the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. As noted by the ACTU, previous industrial transitions have increased inequality.

Tony Maher of the miners' union says "workers in Australia have spent decades being restructured … generally without justice or fair burden sharing".

As noted by organisers in the Electric Trades Union, in most previous transitions, "we privatise the profit and socialise the risk". An example is the privatisation of Victoria's State Electricity Commission in 1994 by the Kennett government, which delivered $22 billion in asset sales to the government. This benefitted the state budget, while the people of the Latrobe Valley paid the financial and social costs of privatisation. There was no state government plan for transition and 7,500 direct jobs were lost.

We must ensure that the impending next transformations do not re-create the pain of previous changes.

The Australian and Victorian governments should create a Just Transition Authority to plan, oversee and manage the required ‒ and inevitable – transition to a low carbon economy.

Friends of the Earth has released the first version of its plan for a 'Green New Deal' style approach which would start the transformation the Victorian economy. In its initial version, it focuses largely on the energy sector and urban form and transport. Later versions will cover relationships with traditional owners, broader economic transformation and other sectors including agriculture.

The Transforming Victoria: creating jobs while cutting emissions report aims to provide a pathway outlining how the state could place itself on a sustainable footing, while ensuring affected communities are not left behind in the transition to a low carbon future.

Key aspects of the report call for:

  • Creating a Just Transition Authority and appointing a Minister for Transition
  • Ensuring good, secure union jobs are created in the transition away from oil, coal, gas and native forest logging
  • Ensuring sustained investment in the Latrobe Valley, including support for economic diversification, renewable energy and storage, and high-tech manufacturing
  • Ensuring better energy efficiency standards for new homes and buildings and continued retrofitting of existing housing stock
  • Helping householders and businesses shift from relying on gas to 100% renewable energy
  • Shifting funding away from mega road projects like the North East Link and into major public transport infrastructure like the Metro 2 tunnel
  • Greatly expanding the public transport network
  • Continuing to build trams, buses and trains locally
  • Supporting a rapid transition away from coal to 100% renewable energy
  • Committing to deep emission reduction targets
  • Supporting public ownership of energy production and the electricity grid
  • Supporting a not for profit, community owned electricity retailer
  • Supporting game-changing renewable energy projects like the Star of the South offshore wind farm proposed for South Gippsland
  • Ruling out further development of fossil fuel reserves
  • Protecting native forests and redeploying affected workers

There is no doubt that further change is coming to the coal and forest industries. The government needs to publicly accept this, and plan accordingly. Ignoring the transition until closures are announced is no longer an option.

You can find a link to the full report at www.tinyurl.com/transformingvic

You can sign on to support the vision of the report as an individual, union or other organisation using the same web-link.

-----

Published in Chain Reaction #136, August 2019. National magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia. www.foe.org.au/chain_reaction


Whilst you are here, please make a tax deductible donation. Friends of the Earth relies on donations from people like you to keep running campaigns for social and environmental justice.