Timber towns, Jobs and the Just Transition

I have lived in and worked in small timber towns – Ensay and Swifts Creek – for most of my working life. In the late 70s and early 80s I worked for the Department of Name Change as a fire spotter and seed picker/fire fighter (commonly known as the summer crew) on a seasonal basis – employment closely associated with the timber industry. When I built my house in the late 70s I used locally milled timbers. ‘Earning a quid’ was predominantly a matter of taking what you could get. Aside from occasional itinerant farm work there was little else available. In the absence of other economic opportunities and especially during rural downturns and adverse weather conditions such as droughts the timber mills supported the towns. Decisions were made from afar with little thought of the workers or the towns they lived in. Where well over a hundred workers were once employed in the old Omeo shire thirty years ago now there are less than 20. My sympathies obviously lie with the workers.

By the mid1980s I became aware of the threat of climate change. (One friend stated in 1986 that the ‘debate’ in the scientific community was over – global warming was happening and it was man-made.) In the 1990s I penned a few brief articles on the subject and it was brought into the political arena by vested interests and foolishly adopted by the conservative political parties. My preoccupation outside of work – I was now self-employed – was war in general and the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq in particular. But the Arctic summer minimum of 2007 changed all that. Global warming, like nuclear war, threatened and threatens the existence of life as we know it on earth.

Now we have a lot of ‘crap’ emanating from the Valley. Not the CO2 from brown coal generators but the hot and noxious air being spouted in some quarters by local and aspiring pollies. Their ignorance of climate change, or perhaps just their selfish political ambition, is appalling. Are their calls for a ‘just transition’ turning the phrase into meaningless jargon? Keeping Hazelwood pumping CO2 into the air is not a fair go for anyone and it is not in any way a transition. Nor is the mirage of the much vaunted ‘carbon capture and storage’ and ‘clean coal’. Where was their voice four or five years ago when the future closure of Hazelwood was clearly anticipated? However some of their calls are valid – anything that improves employment other than at the mine and power station.

Because of the ‘climate emergency’ I have been calling for a planned and orderly ‘just transition’ for more than 8 years. A just transition means not only a fair go for the workers employed at Hazelwood and Heyfield and their communities but also a fair go for everyone. Once the global warming problem is recognised it becomes clear that all the mines and power stations and all the timber mills will have to close in the foreseeable future – the next 10 to 20 years or so. A ‘just transition’ for everyone means carbon dioxide stored in both the timber in native forests and the coal in Gippsland must be preserved and protected. It also means that employment in the communities affected by these disruptions should be strongly supported by the State.