There would be no stronger supporter of the mining sector in the Parliament than me.
The coal mining industry directly employs more than 11,000 people in the Hunter Region and is crucial to 50,000 more.
In a speech in the House of Representatives last week I issued a very public invitation to my colleagues to visit our electorate where I told them the majority in the pub on Friday night are either working in the mines or in mine-related employment.
Come to my supermarkets on Saturday morning I said, where you will meet mining families in every aisle. Accompany me to an end-of-year presentation day and you will see fluoro, hi Vis clothing everywhere; worn by parents who have managed to steal some time off work to support the achievements of their children.
Drive with me up through the Upper Hunter I urged, and witness the 4WDs with the iconic elevated fluoro flag in the car parks or come and have lunch with me in the local cafes where miners are buying their sandwiches. Join me in a conversation with locals who are hoping their children can secure an apprenticeship or traineeship in the mining industry.
Come to my local sporting events I said, where the teams are typically sponsored by the coal mining industry. I could take Members I said, to many of the local facilities which are funded by the coal mining industry.
Those who want to accelerate the demise of the coal mining industry are misguided. Anti-coal activists everywhere are happy for Australia and the rest of the western-world to have grown rich on the back of fossil fuels but want to deny others as they strive to lift themselves out of poverty.
Australia’s coal is relatively clean and efficient; we should want the Chinese and the Indians burning our coal rather than dirtier alternatives. And we should be happy to take the export earnings – it’s a win-win.
Like here, over time these developing countries will become less dependent on fossil fuels just like we are here. But it will be a slow process over many decades and in the meantime, we should continue to provide them with our relatively clean fossil fuels.
Here in Australia, renewables will continue to grow at pace and coal’s share will decline but demand will steadily grow and domestic coal power generation will be strong for many decades yet. Indeed new technologies may extend its future.
Of course, my mind is not closed to the negative impacts of coal mining.
Last Sunday, as I do every year, I will attend the Annual Memorial Service at the offices of the United Mineworkers Union. There we will pray alongside the Jim Comerford Wall which contains the names of the more than 1,800 who gave their lives mining the coal of the Northern Coalfields.
Thankfully we’ve come a long way in recent decades – largely thanks to the work of the union – and we now have dramatically fewer tragic losses of life but sadly, they still occasionally occur.
The coal mining industry impacts on our air and water quality. It probably exacerbates local asthma and other health problems.
Our sustainable industries live with constant concern about the potential impact of the mining sector on their own industries. Many of these sustainable sectors are also very important to the Hunter’s economy; agriculture, viticulture and the thoroughbred breeding industries for example. These are crucial sectors for the Hunter’s economy and provide us with much needed diversity.
As the Member for Hunter, I’ve lived with land-use conflict all of my political life. I know it well. Managing it successfully results in jobs, wealth, economic diversity, and a healthy local environment.
Like workplace safety, community tolerance for less than optimal environmental outcomes is in decline. So our challenges are growing greater. But we have to keep trying to strike the right balance
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To contact the office, phone 1300 301 753, visit www.joelfitzgibbon.com or by post 3 Edward Street, (PO Box 526) Cessnock, 2325