Queensland Workers and a Sustainable Economy Without Coal
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Working people in Queensland have copped a lot of abuse, denigration and blame in some press reports on the federal election wash up. Most of this is about their supposed dependence on coal and by implication unwillingness or inability to move away from coal production.
However, this is wrong on several fronts.
Firstly, unemployment levels in Queensland are more to do with the anarchy of a capitalist market economy than whether there is coal mining or no coal mining.
Secondly, the Queensland working class has over many years developed a very diverse economy which demonstrates their capacity to embrace renewable energy projects and new environmentally sustainable industries to make coal mining irrelevant to a sustainable future for their families.
Thirdly, it is the poor leadership of successive governments of both Liberal/National Coalition and Labor that have clung to coal mining and provided no alternatives to coal mining communities.
To see what could have already been implemented in Queensland to decrease dependency of whole communities on coal production, it is worth reading the article in the link below from NZ Coal Action Network. It explains a lot about coal’s role in steel making and what is possible and realistic in the short to medium term regarding alternatives to coal production for steel making.
The article says that in 2011, world steel production required 12% of the world’s coal that was mined. So even if the use of coking coal to make steel in Australia continued for a considerable time, the end of production of thermal coal by the closure of coal fired power stations in Australia and the banning of export of thermal coal from Australia would be a huge step forward and possible.
The employment lost from thermal coal mining in Australia (mainly Qld and northern NSW) could be countered by increased employment in the four growth industries in Australia expected in the next decade. These are according to federal government research: health care & social assistance; construction; education and training; and professional, scientific and technical services.
Also, as the Coal Action Network paper in the link below explains, there are already alternative ways of making steel without the use of coking coal which will reduce the pollution levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and create alternative employment. According to government statistics, there were 37,800 people employed in coal mining in 2014 and I suspect the figure is declining due to technology changes such as driverless vehicles and fewer coal mines.
98% of metallurgical coal (coking coal) is exported from Australia. Only 2% used for steel making in Australia!
45% of Queensland’s coal reserves are metallurgical coal. In 2017, 172.2 million tonnes of coking coal was exported, valued at $24.7 billion. (The Morning Bulletin 6/4/18).
In Queensland, where coal mining is a big export earner for governments, there are many alternative industries.
In mining alone, Queensland is a big producer of other minerals such as bauxite, copper, zinc, lead, silver and gold. Mining overall in Queensland though, in 2017-18, is capital intensive and directly employed just 2.5% (61,000 people) of the state’s total workforce of 2,496,133 people.
Agriculture in Queensland is diverse with vegetable, crops, fruit, nuts as well as the more widely known beef and sugar. It employs 63,000 people.
Tourism and education directly employ 137,500 people and provide a holiday destination to many Australians as well as overseas visitors.
Education and training contribute 5.2% to the economy of the state.
Health care and social assistance is the state’s largest employer with 350,000 people and increasing.
Construction employs 239,000 in engineering construction, non-residential and residential and contains the skills to build renewable energy projects to replace the coal industry.
Retail, Financial Services and Professional Services contribute nearly 500, 000 jobs.
Manufacturing, especially food and beverages, is diverse and employs 132,295 people, many of whom have transferrable skills for new renewable energy based and sustainable manufacturing such as public transport vehicles and renewable energy components such as solar panels and wind farms.
In the immediate future, Queensland workers involved in coking coal production for steel for use in Australia should continue working while their demands for alternative employment opportunities in the industries mentioned above, and in alternatives to coal for production of steel, are developed. They should be actively supported to promote their demands for support while alternatives to coal are developed.
This will of necessity mean struggling against the vested interests of imperialist finance capital.
Only in an independent Australia with the state in control of decisive industries can decisions be made in the interests of the majority of people in the whole country.
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