Singleton mayor Sue Moore says her region sends $340 million a year in royalties to the state’s coffers, with about half the economy reliant on the 17 active coal mines there.
“It’s not so much about replacing coal, it’s about diversification,” Cr Moore said, noting some mines are getting approval for 20 years more or longer. “The mining industry’s not going to shut down tomorrow.”
Farming, from mushrooms to medicinal cannabis, will underpin the transition, said Cr Moore, who runs Angus cattle on her nearby farm. Education and clean energy will also drive new jobs.
One obstacle, though, will be curbs imposed on the Port of Newcastle’s ability to develop its container operations to a level that would rival Port Kembla and Port Botany, following their $5 billion privitisation in 2013.
“There’s no use talking about diversification and opportunities for the Hunter to have access to the rest of the world without having those channels to get those products – whatever they may be – out,” she said. “Compensation’s good, compensation’s where things need to start, to get things to happen.”
A NSW government spokeswoman said it would not be appropriate to comment because of the ongoing legal proceedings.
Muswellbrook mayor Martin Rush, whose region draws more than a third of its economy from coal, said the Coal Statement “will not improve certainty for the coal industry or other export industries competing with coal for land in the Upper Hunter”.
“The excluded areas were already ruled out as a result of stand-alone planning decisions and the new areas appear to have been selected purely by reference to economic considerations but not to other considerations – such as levels of community support, land-use conflict or environmental considerations,” he says.
For the latter, Cr Rush singled out Giants Creek/Sandy Hollow, an area of “enormous strategic ecological importance”, linking as it does the Great Eastern Ranges and the Wollemi National Park.
“Over the last 10 years, the state government has produced numerous plans for diversification but funded none of the actions,” he said.
The federal policy director of The Wilderness Society, Tim Beshara, said it was “complete lunacy” to plot new mines in some of the areas earmarked in the Hunter region.
“Coal’s last folly in Australia shouldn’t be butting up next to or underneath the Wollemi wilderness area,” Mr Beshara said. “It’s just nonsense that it’s being considered.”
Cory Wright, a state organiser for the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, said feedback from members revealed “there was a lack of trust with all sides of politics” about the prospects for a transition off coal.
A motion from his union last week demanded governments address the “climate emergency” and help the region “diversify our industries to a low-carbon future with local and sustainable jobs”.
Mr Wright said his union advocates tapping the region’s abundant renewable energy prospects and the existing power infrastructure to keep the current resource-intensive industries like the Tomago aluminium plant in the region.
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Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.