For 50 years the Hazelwood power station has been the life blood of the Latrobe Valley. Generations of families have spent their working life at the site, many coming straight out of school into apprenticeships and then a life time of work. The community has flourished around the station, becoming a thriving regional economy.
I want to join the chorus of messages thanking the staff of Hazelwood and the entire community for their work.
There is no doubt that Hazelwood and its workers has served the entire country well. That’s why it was particularly disappointing when just days before the scheduled closure, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott called for the Turnbull Government to intervene and ‘bail out’ Hazelwood. This was an obvious act of political opportunism aimed at undermining Prime Minister Turnbull, not an act of leadership aimed at the workers of Hazelwood or the national interest. As I have repeatedly said and the National Secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, Allen Hicks has eloquently reiterated, Hazelwood isn’t the first or the last old coal power station to close and what workers and communities need from Government is a plan for transition, not false hope.
That’s why it was great to see the landmark Latrobe Valley Worker Transfer Scheme agreement concluded earlier this month. This agreement, between the Victorian Government, unions, and power companies provides for 150 relatively young Hazelwood workers to redeploy to AGL’s Loy Yang A and continue their careers in the Latrobe power sector. It also secures in principle support from Engie to allow workers to move to Loy Yang B.
This agreement sets a crucial precedent and it should be used as a template to be applied across those ageing parts of the power sector facing inevitable retirements in coming years. It is solid proof that Labor’s policy of a broader national plan to ensure a Just Transition for workers and communities isn’t empty rhetoric or a pipedream; it is a real policy that will help manage inevitable economic transitions in the interests of workers and communities.
But while worker transition schemes are important, they aren’t enough to ensure a prosperous future and a just transition for those affected by coal plant closures.
An obvious way to support communities like the Latrobe is to end the national energy policy vacuum that has caused an investment strike in new generation. If this were done, with a policy that was consistent with the inevitable clean energy transition, we should see renewable investment across regional communities. The type of transformation we are seeing in centres like Ballarat with their waste to energy project could be replicated across the state and the country.
But more than just renewable projects, we need to ensure we create the supply chains that support a clean energy economy and strong growth in clean energy jobs. From design and manufacture of renewable components, to the management and maintenance of projects, to energy efficiency assessment, installation and IT system design; a clean energy economy can and must also be a good jobs economy. But this won’t happen without government leadership, working hand in hand with communities, local businesses and workers.
We also need to direct infrastructure and other investment to these communities, to make sure they have the foundations that can support new businesses and new industries. For example, the Latrobe Valley is an extremely beautiful part of the country and with better transport links and other infrastructure, could become a tourist industry centre.
There also remains a massive coal resource in the Latrobe that could, with the right investment, know-how and vision, support new clean industries that use this resource in new and innovative ways. Brown coal can be used to produce hydrogen, methanol, advanced carbon fibres, carbon anodes, activated carbons, filter aids, pigments, graphite lubricants, conductors, phenolic resins and plastics, while syngas manufactured from coal can be used to produce ammonia, a key pre-curser to nitrogenous fertilisers which are currently made from oil and natural gas based feedstocks. This is particularly important given the current gas crisis and its impact on manufacturing that uses gas as feedstock.
The Latrobe Valley and other historic coal communities have a bright future in a low carbon pollution world. To make this vision a reality we need real leadership; a government with a real plan, not an empty promise and a slogan. So while the workers and community of the Latrobe are rightly sad at the closure of Hazelwood, I ask that they look at what is possible with a sense of optimism and vision. I want them to know that I and the Labor party will never give up on them and their community.