Saturday, 1 April 2017

If we stop Adani, how do we create jobs in northern Qld?

The #StopAdani movement is picking up steam with fourteen environmental organisations joining forces to combat the proposed Carmichael mine. I'm a supporter of the campaign. We can't afford to dig the biggest coal mine in the southern hemisphere because:
1. dredging the Coral sea close to the Great Barrier Reef and then having fully laden coal ships pass nearby is a recipe for disaster
2. digging up that much coal is incompatible with Australia's commitment to stop dangerous climate change
3. with China and India pulling back from coal, there's a strong likelihood it will become a $24bn stranded asset

The StopAdani campaign is pushing those points hard. But those words aren't resonating with the constituency in far north Queensland where the mine would be built.

The sentiment on the various pro-Adani facebook groups seems to be this: "Adani mine represents jobs. Therefore if greenies want to stop the mine, they want us to suffer in DOLE queues. F*%#ing arseholes!"

You know what - they have a point. There's a lot of talk about the mine as a problem but where are the alternatives? There's a vague reference on the StopAdani website to an ACF report claiming that if we invest in renewables, there will be 1 million new jobs in clean energy by 2040.

That's all well and good but where's the guarantee that those jobs will be in far north Queensland? One of the key arguments of the green groups is that any public funding of the mine represents buying jobs at a very high price. I don't really have a problem with buying jobs. If the NAIF has $5bn to spend, let's review how else we could use that money and whether we could generate the same level of employment as Adani claims it can (between 1464 and 10,000 jobs depending on who you believe).

The Carmichael mine involves a total investment of $21.7bn. That means each job costs $2,170,000 (21.7bn / 10,000 jobs). Let's compare that to building solar farms. If you look at it superficially, massive solar plants like the $1bn facility Lyon group recently announced in Adelaide sound great. For example, the Nyngan plant involved 300 construction workers for a paltry $300mn. That seems like a much better ratio. We're talking $1mn per job at that rate! The problem is, construction doesn't really take that long. A similar project with a $100mn budget involved 100 workers during construction but only 5 workers for ongoing operations. That means each job ends up costing $20mn which is not competitive.

To beat Adani with renewable jobs, we'd need to invest $200bn in solar farms (i.e. 10x more). I can't see that happening.

So we need other options. Retraining mining workers seems wise. The NBN has reached Bowen and Townsville which are in the epicentre of the employment catchment area for the proposed mine. It seems a little tricky to achieve but could we create jobs in the digital economy for these people instead? I don't have a solid proposal yet but the Stop Adani movement needs one if we want to get the people of Bowen/Townsville/Cairns on board.