A Just Transition for La Trobe power industry workers

March 21, 2019








SUBJECTS: ALP’S Just Transition policy and Renewable Energy Targets


PAT CONROY: Well I'm Pat Conroy, Labor's Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure, Climate Change and Energy and I am joined by Jessica O' Donnelly, Labor's Candidate for Monash and Antoinette Holm Labor's candidate for Gippsland and we're here talking about Labor's Energy Policy and our focus on renewable energy and just transitions for communities in the La Trobe Valley. We've got an exciting commitment to 50% renewable energy that will lower power prices for households and businesses that will deliver up to 71,000 jobs for Australians and accompanying that is a very strong commitment to just transitions to make sure that no community is left behind. We can't repeat what occurred in earlier closures of coal-fired power stations. These power stations are ageing. They will close down eventually and Labor is committed to looking after the workers and communities that depend on it through Just Transitions policy. We will establish a Just Transitions authority to drive economic diversification of the region and, really importantly, our pooled redundancy model means that any worker who wants to stay in the power industry will get a job and that is a really important commitment to areas like the La Trobe Valley and my Hunter Region as well. Our commitment is when these power stations close, and they will close due to their age, we will look after the workforce and the communities, unlike other political parties who are happy to put slogans into campaign but won't actually look after their communities. So we need Jessica and Antoinette to join us in Parliament to get our 50% renewable energy policies through while looking after communities through our Just Transitions program?

JOURNALIST: Tell us a bit about the origins of the Just Transitions program and, across the board, how it has been going?

CONROY: Well its, model on overseas examples that have worked really well. Particularly the German coal mining example, and it's really important to say when a power station closes, unlike what normally happens in Australia where those workers lose their jobs, what we will do is work with the power stations around them that are staying open they will offer voluntary redundancies and then workers who want to stay in the industry from the closing power station can transfer across. That is really important because regions like La Trobe should not bear the burden of transitioning to a clean energy economy that's Labor commitment on fairness and equity.

JOURNALIST: Okay so obviously the La Trobe Valley is very power dominated area coal power mining stations here. Tell us a bit about how you would help the region in terms of a Just Transition program?

CONROY: Well besides looking after the workforce directly employed at the power stations, we are genuinely committed to economic diversification and working with the region to take advantage of its strengths. So you'll see commitments around funding and planning and a real commitment to looking for other opportunities. We announced a $1.1 billion hydrogen plan and obviously this is a brown coal hydrogen project starting right now, so that is an exciting opportunity for La Trobe, obviously we have strong strengths in agriculture and food manufacturing that we can build on and other sorts of energy. This area has great skills, the workforce is highly skilled in energy production. It doesn't have to be purely dependent on brown coal. We can look at transitioning into renewable energy, there is an offshore wind proposal that's being developed right now and as I said our Labor policy around a 50% renewable energy policy will drive up 71,000 good paying jobs for Australians and there's no reason La Trobe Valley can't be the heart of that transition.

JOURNALIST: So are you expecting an early retirement of coal-fired power stations in the La Trobe Valley?

CONROY: Well it's really up to the owners to make those decisions our strong policy includes a three-year notice period required so we won't repeat what the federal government allowed to happen around Hazelwood, where Hazelwood was allowed to close down with only 5 months notice, leaving this community and workforce high a dry. Our policy includes a mandatory three-year notice period so that companies have to give good notice to the workforce and the community and the Government so we can start the planning. We are not in the business of early closure, these stations will make their own decisions, but they are ageing and for better or worse renewable energy is not only cheaper than new coal-fired power, Origin Energy has said its cheaper than running some of the coal-fired power stations that currently exist. So more closures will occur because of the market not because of any government policy but Labor is the only party committed to looking after the communities requiring a three-year notice period, genuinely committed to economic diversification and ensuring that through pool redundancies workers don't lose jobs who want to stay in the industry.

JOURNALIST: And what does a Just Transition mean to Federal Labor?

CONROY: Well it's a quintessentially Labor thing; it means workers and communities in carbon-intensive regions will not bear a disproportionate share of the burden of the transitions. So whether it's La Trobe or my region of the Hunter, workers and communities should not bear the burden of the transition that we need to make for the whole country, when in fact the whole planet. And that is a really important commitment that Labor is making because that's about fairness and equality and looking after every community and worker so that no one is left behind. I can give you a guarantee that Labor's policy when in acted will ensure that no community is left behind.

JOURNALIST: And how are the workers being supported in say, they lose their jobs from coal?

CONROY: So our policy around good redundancies means people don't have to leave the industry unless they want to and if they want to transition to renewable energy or other industries there will be money available for retraining. But, say a local power station closes down they have to give three years notice and then they will have to establish amongst their workforce who wants to stay in the industry through a survey, then we will compel neighbouring power stations to offer voluntary redundancies to their workforce and, given the age profile of these power stations, people will take those voluntary redundancies and we can transfer across the younger workers who want to stay in the industry and can keep working in the power stations that are staying open. So my commitment through this policy is that no worker has to leave the power industry unless they want to and we are the only political party that can make that commitment.

JOURNALIST: And do you see the La Trobe valley as becoming playing a part in the renewable energy that this region?

CONROY: Absolutely! As I was saying early there are great opportunities around, for example, the offshore wind that is being developed, around bioenergy so using the waste from agriculture to produce power. There is a waste to energy proposals that are floating around as well. So you've got great transmission connections so you have great infrastructure and most importantly you have a very highly skilled workforce that's passionate about powering this state and nation and we'd be crazy not to take advantage of that. So as I said, our policy is 50% renewable energy, we will clean up the country we'll reduce power prices and we'll also drive up 71,000 jobs and there is no reason the La Trobe valley can't take advantage of that.

JOURNALIST: So Jessica tell us a bit about today.

O’DONNELL, LABOUR CANDIDATE FOR MONASH: Well this is a really fantastic opportunity for La Trobe Valley and the area of Moe and people who are working in the coal fired power industry. To have a conversation and to hear from Pat Conroy about what Labor is proposing with the Just Transitions program and what our targets are for renewable energy and how that will benefit the La Trobe Valley as a region. 

JOURNALIST: So what could this mean for the region essentially can we be transitioning to complete renewables sort of the forefront of type industry or tell me a bit about what you think?

O’DONNELL: There are so many opportunities at the moment especially for La Trobe Valley we do have inland infrastructure, we do have very highly skilled workforce and amazing workers here in La Trobe valley so to look at how we can utilise that as we transition into the renewable energy market and into a renewable energy future. I think that the opportunities are endless for people who live in La Trobe Valley and people who work in La Trobe Valley. 

JOURNALIST: What has the community said about this at all?

O’DONNELL: I think that as we went through the process of the Hazelwood power station and how quickly that happened it was a such a shock to the system and people were really quite nervous, they were quite scared, people were losing their jobs so the fact that there is a policy or a planned policy in place that we have to have a waiting period of three years before any coal-fired power station closes down, I think is very very welcomed to the workers who are working in the industry that they have that job security and they know what is going to happen and there is a planned approach.

JOURNALIST: What are your other concerns have you heard from talking to people in the community about going ahead with Just Transition?

O’DONNELL: Job security as the foremost priority. When it comes to moving into transition and how that is going to work and by having that planned policy and that job security of a planned three years and seeing those things follow through. I think is really important for them, for their security, and also for their day-to-day living and what happens to their income and their household income and knowing they have something to plan for. They can plan for education, they can plan for transition; it’s no longer going to ripped off like a band aid and be a shock to the system like Hazelwood was.

JOURNALIST: And in terms of economic diversification in the La Trobe valley, what sort of other industries do we expect to see here?

O’DONNELL: Well there are bounties of opportunities that are available for La Trobe Valley. As I said there is already infrastructure there. We have seen an amazing proposal to use waste for energy proposals so I think that the more diversification and the more technology, renewable technology that also innovates, so innovation can come to the market and the opportunities can continue for the La Trobe Valley and workers in those communities.