Campaigners in Australia’s federal election are caught in a balancing act between appeasing the majority of citizens who want the government to prioritize climate goals—and seducing voters in a handful of constituencies where a major source of livelihood is the world’s dirtiest fuel.
The May 21 elections have put the coal mining community of Hunter in the spotlight, reports BNN Bloomberg, describing the town as an “electorate the size of Jamaica” that was ravaged by bushfires two years ago, but remains dependent on fossil fuel sales.
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Hunter “is the nexus of the country’s climate dilemma, and helps explain the political paralysis that’s left the nation largely silent in efforts to craft global policy to accelerate action on emissions,” the news story states.
It could be a vital electorate for Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s coalition government—currently holding the majority by a slim margin of one parliamentary seat. With almost one in 10 workers in Hunter directly employed by the coal industry, its blue collar legacy may have made it a safe bet for Labor, but many traditional Labor supporters have been “spooked” by the party’s promises to accelerate the fight against climate change, writes BNN. Voters in Hunter may now choose the coal-friendly coalition headed by Morrison, who “once famously brandished a lump of coal in parliament in support of the fossil fuel sector.”
With Labor ahead in the polls, a shift in the coal miners’ vote could be critical for Morrison.
But the climate demands of the rest of Australia have his coalition walking a fine line. In one survey, 55% of Australians said the government’s main priority for energy policy should be “reducing carbon emissions.” To gain their vote, “Morrison and opposition leader Anthony Albanese have been burnishing their climate credentials,” writes BNN, but in Hunter, political campaigns are “all about promising to save jobs and keep the coal industry going long enough to safeguard livelihoods.”
Meanwhile, the country is stuck in a climate stalemate. “At stake is the policy of a nation that is a potential renewable energy superpower but still gets 70% of its electricity and about a quarter of its exports from fossil fuels. Hastening an end to the nation’s vast coal industry would make a major contribution to the global effort to limit planetary warming,” says BNN.
In a recent speech in Perth, Morrison said that if he’s re-elected, his government will tackle the climate challenge “in a way that maintains competitiveness of our traditional industries—not writing those industries off but strengthening them in efficient and technologically advanced ways.”
But BNN says workers in Hunter are not aiming to keep the coal industry going at all costs. Instead, they want to “come up with a realistic way to transition to clean energy without destroying the community.”
“We’re not planning for the future,” said Sue Gilroy, head of the Business Chamber in Singleton, a community with a population of about 22,000 at the heart of the coal mining region. “We could be diversifying and growing the other industries and the other opportunities that we have in Hunter.”