Lithgow Jobs

Tonight I discuss something that is easily forgotten by members opposite in the Liberal-Nationals Government. Workers in regional and rural New South Wales hardly rate a mention on the agenda of the Coalition party room meetings in this place because at the end of the day they are not the sort of people that most of the members opposite represent. We have the converging pressures in the upper Blue Mountains and Lithgow regions of the effects of climate change and the uptake of renewable energy on a mass scale by middle-class households throughout suburban Sydney. This convergence in the medium to long term will render the core activity of Lithgow and its surrounds, namely the digging up and burning of coal, almost completely obsolete. This is a simple economic reality.

 

The domestic demand for coal-fired power is reducing year upon year. Micro renewables are being taken up by ever more thousands of households and our Federal Government, along with countries across the globe, is demanding even stronger emissions reductions from State energy utilities. In turn, this will drive new investment in less emissions intensive electricity generation. Many families in my electorate, particularly in Katoomba, Blackheath and Mount Victoria, rely on the skills jobs provided by mining and energy industry jobs in the Lithgow region. Moreover, Lithgow as a whole is dependent on the mines and power stations that keep many of its local residents in well-paid skilled employment.

These issues do not exercise the minds of the Government benches usually because they are only interested in mining company owners, not mining company workers. They are interested only in protecting coalmining interests because it represents the big business status quo, not because they care a jot about the plight of a worker from my electorate who digs coal in Lithgow. Blue collar workers are of little consequence to The Nationals either, especially when many Nationals members of Parliament live in Sydney apartments and buy their RM Williams boots from the Pitt Street Mall.

Only Labor takes an interest in these matters. Only Labor is interested in blue collar workers in our regional and rural electorates like the Blue Mountains and Bathurst, which will bear the economic and social brunt of the transition away from polluting technology like coal-fired power stations. That is why not only are we always at the forefront of legislative reform to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels but we also take care to think about what these changes will mean for workers employed by these sectors. The Blue Mountains electorate is pulled in three directions economically. Penrith, Parramatta and Sydney to the east offer job opportunities for service industry workers, academics, teachers and white collar professionals. Within the mountains, our creative industries, tourism and hospitality provide local jobs within a short distance of population centres in Blaxland, Springwood, Wentworth Falls and Katoomba.

But the fortunes of the Blue Mountains economy are also tied to our west with the fortunes or not of Lithgow and Bathurst. This means that the economic business of Lithgow and beyond is Blue Mountains business too. To this end, I am acutely aware that as we transition to renewable energy and reduce our dependence on coal we must offer workers employed in the State's Central West a just transition to new jobs and provide them access to training and education that will equip them for those new jobs. The State has a role to play here and it will only be a Labor Government that will turn its mind to activating the workforces west of the mountains and making sure these workers have access to highly skilled jobs with excellent pay and conditions of employment.

There is no reason why Lithgow cannot become the home of railway maintenance facilities for the new intercity fleet or the XPT train replacements.There is no reason why the New South Wales Government should be buying buses from Malaysia, like it has done recently with the new B-Line double-deckers.These buses should have been designed and built in Australia by a local workforce with local materials, and this could be done in regional centres like Lithgow if bus manufacturing companies like Custom Bus and Volgren were incentivised to set up shop locally and supported with consistent, recurring orders. I am not being prescriptive here and I am openminded about what these future industries may look like, but I do want to start a conversation about jobs in the regionsand what they will look like in 10 or 15 years. We need to remember the people whom we are here to represent—the workers.

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