Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Newcastle's future is no longer with coal

Councillor John Tate is probably quite pleased with the stunt he kicked off yesterday in The Australian. For a moment he was on the national stage linking Newcastle's fortunes to the Queensland mining towns of Mount Isa and Gladstone. The mayors of these three towns were complaining that a carbon trading scheme would damage the industrial viability of their mining communities at a time it could least be afforded.

Why is John Tate misleading Australians about Newcastle's economic prospects, and clinging to a bygone era when Newcastle relied on the coal industry for jobs growth?

Our local economy has shifted away from coal since BHP closed down. Newcastle's economic growth is driven by new jobs in retail and service industries like education, health, tourism and the arts, not coal.

Across the Hunter employment in the mining industry fell from 4% in 1996 to 3% in 2006. At the same time the Hunter recorded sizeable job increases in the retail and service sectors.

Coal industry jobs are in a steady decline and are proving vulnerable to the economic downturn sweeping the world. As the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, John Tate is way off the mark to be evoking the tired old coal equals jobs mantra.

His bit part in this stunt with two Labor mayors who staunchly defend the future prospects of the coal industry shows that he is outdated and bereft of fresh ideas for growing Newcastle's economy.

The world is restructuring into a new low carbon economy. John Tate's retro thinking is out of step with what the Hunter requires.

Local businesses need fresh investment in Newcastle's growth markets such as education and training and tourism.

Newcastle Council should be lobbying the NSW Government for a just transition package to retrain coal industry workers to take up new green jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency, jobs that are secure, well paid and environmentally friendly.

These new green manufacturing jobs will be a reality for some lucky country, but not here in Australia if politicians like John Tate get their way.

For example, we have world leaders in wind power right here in our own backyard. A highly successful research project run by Newcastle University's Faculty of Engineering has led to the development of world-class wind turbine technologies.

A team of engineers are working to commercialise their innovations, forging business links with China to manufacture these new renewable energy products. The project has received extensive research grants in past years and is widely acclaimed.

Newcastle Council should be leading the push to create new manufacturing industries here in the Hunter to produce renewable energy products such as these new wind turbines, exploiting our local expertise and creating new opportunities for employment and training right here in Newcastle.

The potential for Hunter based jobs in renewable energy and public transport is massive, and jobs created would last for many decades, unlike coal mining jobs.

Newcastle City Council needs a Mayor with vision for the future, not the clapped out mining and jobs rhetoric that John Tate has dished up.

Newcastle's future lies in the growth of services, culture and new technology, not coal.

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