Communities in coal mining regions have called for support from the NSW Government to diversify their economies, following the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry into the sustainability of the state’s energy industry and how communities can be better prepared for change.
The inquiry, established today by the Environment and Planning Committee in the NSW Legislative Assembly and chaired by Independent member for Sydney Alex Greenwich, will look into trends and forecasts for energy supply and exports in NSW and opportunities for sustainable economic development in regional communities likely to be affected by changing energy and resource markets.
It follows intervention prior to the NSW state election in March by Greenwich and the two other Independent MPs in NSW parliament Greg Piper and Joe McGirr on behalf of regional coal communities, seeking commitment from the Premier and Opposition Leader to a ten year adjustment strategy for coal mining communities backed by financial resources to affected regions.
A report released in February this year called Weathering the Storm found the Hunter region faces 5,000 job losses if coal use contracts globally as countries shift to cheaper renewable energy and if no action is taken to prepare and develop new opportunities.
Hunter Renewal Coordinator Danielle Coleman said, “This inquiry is a chance for people in regional coal communities to speak for ourselves about how we want to prepare for our future.
“Almost everyone in the Hunter agrees that we need a plan for a future that is less dependent on coal mining and that sets us up with new jobs and industries for the long-term.
“We’re grateful to Alex Greenwich for his generosity and leadership on this issue. It’s a source of optimism for people in the Hunter region that the member for Sydney understands the challenges we face in responding to changing energy markets.
“Experience from elsewhere in Australia and overseas tells us that we need to start preparing for change now, and that strong government support and targeted investment in our regions will be crucial to success - this Inquiry is a vital first step in boosting our region with new opportunities."
University student Sophie Nichols is part of a group in Singleton pressing for diversification and renewal of the Hunter’s economy.
Ms Nicols said, “There is considerable worry in Singleton about the future of coal exports - it’s clear they cannot be relied on and we need to prepare for change - and this inquiry is a chance to put the Hunter region on the road to renewal.
“It’s so important for people to have this chance to get involved in talking through and planning how the Hunter can diversify and generate new opportunities for jobs and prosperity - independent of other country’s uncertain coal demand.”
Retired Singleton electrician Rob McLaughlin welcomed the establishment of the inquiry, “A thorough public inquiry of this kind is just what the Hunter Valley needs to show the state government we want its support to diversify our economy before it’s too late.”
“This is a chance to tell the government about how we want to chart our course towards diversification and prosperity as other countries change their energy systems and use less coal.”
The Hunter Renewal Roadmap was launched in Singleton last month and is available here.