Despite Australia’s status as the biggest exporter of fossil fuels in the world, there are relatively few Australian jobs in fossil fuel extraction. The “mining” sector – which covers coal and mineral ore mining, as well as oil and gas extraction – makes up only 1.9% (~250,000) of Australia’s labour force. But mining (and especially coal) plays such an oversized role in Australia’s political and media discourse that perceptions are skewed: in a recent survey the Australian public estimated the coal industry employed nine times as many people as in reality! Mining companies also have a demonstrated history of providing inflated jobs estimate figures when seeking approval for projects. All of this is extremely unfortunate, as it leaves little oxygen to discuss the opportunities green jobs and transition to a low or zero emission economy represent.
“Green jobs” are hard to define in an Australian context, but The Australia Institute argues for a broad definition: transformational, low-impact, remediation, natural-appreciation and environmental-education jobs should all be included. There are many current examples:
- The Great Barrier Reef alone supports 64,000 jobs across the state of Queensland, more than the entire Australian coal industry.
- The Australian renewable energy industry employs around 25,000 Australians.
- Tens of thousands of environmental scientists, planners and educators.
- And the energy efficiency industry, which currently employs around 60,000 people.
But the opportunities are almost boundless:
- As the Australian mining boom winds down, there are approximately 60,000 abandoned mines around the country with the potential to be rehabilitated and reused.
- With small policy adjustments the Australian renewable energy industry could and should employ 45,000 people by 2025.
- By implementing a basic energy efficiency standards program for Australian homes and businesses an extra 120,000 people would be employed by that industry.
- An upgrade blitz on energy efficiency in social housing (and housing for low-income renters), as well as building zero running-cost social housing – the latter could create 63,000 jobs in the state of Western Australia alone.
- A transition to a “green steel” industry that could help re-deploy the 55,000 carbon-intensive workers in regional coal mining areas.
- And Beyond Zero Emissions’ comprehensive “Million Jobs Plan”, which lays out one million job opportunities as Australia works to become a renewable energy superpower (150,000 in expanding renewable energy and upgrading transmission infrastructure; 400,000 in retrofitting and building zero-carbon buildings and 300,000 in modernizing and greening Australian manufacturing).
Activity Rating: * Falling Behind
The current Coalition government has demonstrated again and again that they do not value green jobs or the opportunities that greener industries represent. Jobs in mining and carbon-intensive sectors are consistently championed ahead of tourism, clean energy, green steel and clean manufacturing job opportunities. Additionally, the Australian mining sector is openly moving towards more automation and very little of the gargantuan profits that mining companies accrue actually stays in Australia. As plans for an economic recovery from COVID take shape, the only job sector to have so far benefited is construction (and specifically residential house building). Investor confidence in Australian renewable energy projects is at an all time low, and now the government is pushing for millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to be directed to loss-making gas projects with very short projected lifetimes.
Dear Mrs. Cash,
Emerging from the pandemic everything will be about jobs, jobs, jobs. The government needs to be seen to be stimulating viable, long-term projects and industries with well-paid, meaningful employment opportunities. The coal mining and oil and gas extraction industries have traditionally filled these roles, but no longer.
Thermal coal is in terminal decline worldwide, and just this week the first hydrogen-fueled steel mill began pilot operations in Sweden, signaling the beginning of the end for coking coal. As for gas: every energy expert has rejected the idea that the key to securing gas supply and reducing gas prices is extra gas extraction and pipeline infrastructure on Australia’s east coast. These carbon-intensive jobs are concentrated in regional areas that need certainty for what comes next. Avoiding the inevitable will result in another car-industry debacle for Australia – and that also happened on the Coalition’s watch.
We urge you to see the opportunities and sheer job numbers that green industry represents. Energy efficiency, accelerated roll-out of renewable energy projects (especially solar PV in your home state), construction of zero-emissions social housing (also tackling inequality), mine and landscape remediation, a green steel industry that could re-deploy carbon-intensive workers in coal heartlands across the country, and Beyond Zero Emissions’ ambitious “Million Jobs Plan”. The blueprints and strategies are coming thick and fast, so the question is whether Australia will take the opportunity provided, or double down on contracting industries. Be the Employment Minister who seizes this precious chance.
Send your Action Alert message to:
Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash
Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Australia Country Manager Julian Atchison