Transition body for coal workers proposed

·3-min read

A body to help transition fossil-fuel workers into clean-energy jobs would be critical for the country's renewables transition, the Jobs and Skills Summit in Canberra was told.

Along with calls to increase the number of jobs in the renewables sector as demand grows, the summit heard a national energy transition authority would help communities where mining and fossil-fuel industries are common.

The authority was backed in by union representatives, as well as Greens leader Adam Bandt.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union national secretary Steve Murphy said a government authority would help create certainty for workers

"We call on the federal government to establish an independent and properly funded statutory national energy transition authority," he told the summit.

"Encouragement and voluntary contribution is not going to get us there."

Mr Bandt called for a wage guarantee over 10 years for workers transitioning away from fossil-fuel sectors, along with a 50 per cent subsidy for businesses that hire the employees.

"It would provide a lot of security for those workers and enable the transition to happen much more smoothly," he said.

"It would incentivise business to come into regions where coal and gas are getting out, knowing that they're going to get government support to establish there."

Smart Energy Council chief executive John Grimes said an acceleration of the transition to clean energy would be widespread.

"This transition ... is actually going to be as big and as significant as the Industrial Revolution, but it's going to happen 10 times quicker ... over the next decade," he said.

"There is no part of the economy that's not touched by this fundamental shift to a low-carbon future."

Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton told the summit the boost to clean energy would be significant.

He said the rapid scale-up of the industry would require large levels of investment and employment to be achieved.

"Over the past five years, we've doubled the amount of renewable energy in Australia from 15 per cent, now to 30 per cent,'' he said.

"This created a strong industry and workforce of over 30,000 people employed directly in the clean-energy sector.

"It also exposed immediate gaps in the workforce, from electricians and trade assistants, to battery design specialists, wind turbine technicians, electrical engineers."

The summit was told Australia could create hundreds of thousands of jobs in clean-energy sectors to make the country a superpower in the industry.

Australian Energy Council chief executive Sarah McNamara said workers in fossil-fuel industries were in a unique position due to the time frame for coal and gas plants coming to an end being known.

"We have a fair idea when these plants are going to close, and some workers in other sectors of the economy aren't afforded the opportunity," she said.

"Others may be able to actually work on-site as well in a repurposed way, either through a remediation process, or perhaps there's a clean-energy project that's going to be planned for that site."

Labor MP and former coalminer Dan Repacholi said areas such as the Hunter Valley, which had been reliant on mining, would experience a surge in work.

"We're about to have so much work in the Hunter that you would not believe," he told AAP.

"We're going to go through a boom that we haven't had for decades and we just need the workers to be able to do it."