November 15, 2021

PAUL TURTON, PRESENTER: The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow is over and now the work begins of course for various campaigners around the world, and governments of course, to implement plans. There's plenty of discussions to be had about how the target of net zero emissions by 2050 will impact the economy and various industries. It's been a hot topic in our region, of course.

Now Victoria University has actually done some research on this and it's found that the Hunter is one of the few regions where there would be more jobs if we just carried on as we are, business as usual. Philip Adams is a Professor of Economics at the University and is the report's author. He explained his findings earlier today with Dan and Jenny.

GRAB OF PHILIP ADAMS: Newcastle has very good growth prospects without and with zero emissions as the target in 2050. The region outside of Newcastle, the [inaudible] applies. Now the key here is that with zero emissions, there's no getting around the fact that coal mining will suffer a decline in both output and employment. It won't be decimated, but it will suffer a decline. It won't be decimated because Australian demand for coal is likely to stop, but world demand for coal certainly consistent with the Glasgow COP communique will continue, particularly from China and India for electricity. The key areas of expansion as opposed to perhaps contraction will be in areas such as forestry and wood products, tourism. Another key area is in the renewable forms of energy generation - wind power, solar power etc.

But I must emphasise that what we're talking about here is marginal changes. In this region that we're talking about, currently there's about 140,000 jobs. With zero emissions, we see that expanding by 2050 to around about 175,000 jobs. So there's still significant increases in that economy that can be used to create, with zero emissions, significant increases in retail industries and so forth.

TURTON: Shortland MP Pat Conroy is Labor’s spokesperson for climate change and was actually in Glasgow for the summit and joins me now. Pat Conroy, good afternoon.


TURTON: Yeah excellent thanks. So should the Newcastle region take one for the team? We're hearing from that research that's been done - the first, I think, qualitative research that looks at the prospects of doing what we're doing now or embracing net zero emissions, and suggesting that the whole region will go backwards in jobs terms.

CONROY: Well I think if we take a step back, there's plenty of modelling for both Australia and including down to the regional level that shows that taking action on climate change and achieving net zero emissions is good for the economy. It grows the economy and it grows jobs. And I think this modelling is a useful contribution, but it makes a couple of assumptions that I think cause some questions about whether it will be accurate. And they are - for example, it measures against what's called a base case. All modelling does this, but this measures against the base case and it assumes that in the base case, the rest of the world continues to buy our coal and that there are no carbon tariffs applied to Australia. So it paints an artificially rosy picture of what would happen if Australia doesn't take action on climate change, and that then makes it look like we are losing jobs if we do take action on climate change.

So I think there's a bit of an issue with the modelling on that front, and the modelling also admits that it hasn't really looked at the jobs opportunities from what's called green metals. So making steel and aluminium using clean energy and hydrogen which is an area where the Hunter, if done right, will potentially create thousands of jobs. So I'm less pessimistic than what this model is, in fact I'm optimistic.

TURTON: The outgoing Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon, this is exactly what he's been saying to Labor hierarchy for the last couple of years though isn’t it?

CONROY: Well what this modelling says is that in 2050 there's going to be reduced demand for our coal exports around the world, and that's true. Even the Government admits that, and their own modelling predicts that there will be a halving of demand for our coal exports as the rest of the world is taking action. So I think we have to be frank about that, but that is there even if Australia doesn't take action and doesn't commit to net zero emissions.

The decisions about the future of our coal mines will be determined by countries and the boardrooms of Japan, South Korea, China, and India, and that's what's driving that eventual reduction in demand for coal. So the really important thing is that we have an active government that's growing new industries now so that those coal mining industries are there for as long as possible, but then people have good paying, secure manufacturing jobs to go to. And that's I think the key lesson out of the climate debate.

TURTON: Pat Conroy, as I mentioned you were in Glasgow. Was it a waste of time?

CONROY: Absolutely not. There's been really significant breakthroughs out of the Glasgow climate conference of huge significance to Australia and our region. So for example, the commitments, the increased emissions reduction commitments made by most countries - I think 140 countries increased their targets, sadly, Australia was not one of them – mean that if they’re implemented, and that's always a big if, but if they're implemented global warming will be kept to only 1.8 degrees Celsius. Now we need to restrict it to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but that is a massive shift.

That commitment that Australia didn't do, but most of the rest of the world did, was a big step forward. There were also big steps forward on climate finance and big announcements around things like methane and deforestation, and again the Australian Government chose not to be part of, but lots of other nations have taken action on. So the Glasgow conference is the most significant climate conference since the 2015 Paris conference.

TURTON: How did you feel as an Australian being there?

CONROY: I felt excited by the opportunities. There was lots of Australian companies there, clean tech companies talking about what they're doing. One of them is a homegrown company called MCI which is developed out of the University of Newcastle that captures carbon emissions from cement making and other industrial processes and sequesters it, buries it in stone that’s then used for masonry and plasterboard. There was a hydrogen battery that uses inputs from R&R Murphy and Ampcontrol, two local companies.

These are companies that can employ thousands of Australians and thousands of people from the Hunter if we get our policy settings right. But what they were saying to me is that they could go offshore tomorrow and they’d have much bigger markets because countries around the world are taking action on climate and trying to grow these industries and sadly the Federal Government is sitting on its hands. So I felt excited, but I also felt ashamed by our government's actions.

TURTON: The Prime Minister says that he's giving Australians choice. Are you in favour of regulation? Will you as the Prime Minister suggests, would a Labor Government tax Australians to make them embrace the ideology of the Labor Party?

CONROY: Well let’s be frank, Mr Morrison has no credibility on climate policy. He’s just trying to run another scare campaign after his ridiculous 2019 scare campaign where he claimed that electric vehicles were going to end the weekend. This guy is a joke on climate change. He's just running a scare campaign to try and win the next election.

And this taxes or technology sort of choice is just rubbish. Mr Morrison is spending $20 billion to promote his technologies over the next 10 years. That is the equivalent of $1,000 of taxes per adult in our country. So he's using taxes to pay for his technologies. So it just puts a lie to his line.

And the truth is, for example, electric vehicles where the Government made a very small announcement about some more charging stations, that's not giving people choice to buy electric vehicles because there are still only five electric vehicles in Australia under $65,000. The way you give them choice is by making them affordable, and that's why Labor's electric vehicle policy that we announced some time ago will cut the cost of a new electric vehicle by up to $9,000. That's how you give people choice, is by making environmentally sustainable options more affordable.

So Mr Morrison - I'm sorry to sound angry. I'm very angry because we don't have to have a climate debate like we are having now except for the fact that this government is intent on politicising it, scaring people, and avoiding taking the action that's necessary to combat climate change and grow hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

TURTON: Pat Conroy, are you comfortable taking an anti-fossil fuel argument into the next election given of course that your electorate of Shortland butts up against Hunter and gets very, very close to traditional coal mining areas?

CONROY: Well I'm not taking an anti-fossil fuel argument to the next election. What I'm saying to people is I'm proud to represent a coal mining region in this country. I have a thousand coal miners who live in my electorate right now. I acknowledge their sacrifice. They’ve brought enormous wealth to our region and the nation, and they risk their lives every day to provide that wealth and provide that income to their families. But the rest of the world is moving away from coal. Everyone, even Mr Morrison, seems to agree on that.

So what I'm saying to those coal miners is I'm going to protect their jobs as long as possible. Unlike the Liberals, I'm going to fight the scourge of casualisation and the labour hire rorts that are ruining good paying jobs in coal mines. I'm going to protect their jobs as long as possible, and at the same time Labor is going to build new industries that will employ Australians in good paying, secure manufacturing jobs in whether it's green steel, hydrogen production, green ammonia, lithium mining, battery manufacturing. Those are the jobs that will be there for people when the world eventually moves away from coal.

So I'm very comfortable running what is a complex argument, but it's the truth. The easiest thing a politician can do is lie and say that nothing has to change, and you can just keep doing what we've been doing for the last 150 years. But it's wrong. It's disrespectful and dishonest, and I think that Australians deserve more than that.

TURTON: Pat Conroy, I appreciate you being available. Thanks for coming on.

CONROY: My pleasure, have a great afternoon.