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Welcome to this blog, the story of a great big Australian adventure. It documents my travels, life in Australia, and a subject close to my heart – environmental conservation. 

Election '15: jobs

Election '15: jobs

There are more myths about jobs than there are about the LNP's handling of the Queensland economy. The biggest by a mile is how many people are employed by the state's mining industry, and coal in particular.

Coal mining employs a fraction of those engaged in service industries; building and construction; hospitality and tourism; retail; manufacturing; health, education and local government…

The Queensland Resources Council and the mining companies themselves include 'indirect' jobs in their figures in order to inflate them. So they'll garner numbers from a contractor supplying goods and services, for example. I think many people in Brisbane would be surprised to learn that 'direct and indirect spending' by minerals and energy companies supported more than 197,000 jobs in the Brisbane region, according to QRC Chief Executive Michael Roche.

When a company applies for a mineral development licence or an environmental permit to mine, it doesn't have to provide a cost benefit analysis that takes into account the 'value' of farmers displaced off the land or tourists deterred once a landscape has been laid waste. Neither does the assessment procedure take into account the future costs of dealing with the effects of increased carbon emissions, either in Australia or in the countries where coal exports are headed. In the case of the Reef, job losses in tourism will be considerable if the degradation continues. The reasons for its demise include warming oceans, agricultural run-off and a starfish invasion as well as the more widely publicised dredging and dumping for port expansion.

Jobs are glibly promised to accompany resource development or infrastructure project announcements. They are likely to be more numerous during the construction phase, rather than once a mine, for example, is up and running, especially with the high level of mechanisation. The reality of job numbers locally is often debated. Historically, many workers have come from overseas, either selected for their skills and entering on the infamous 457 visas, or brought in by foreign owners of the mines from their home states where labour is cheaper. Both are controversial. Job creation is used to justify ruining the landscape, losing prime agricultural land and upsetting ecosystems, thus reducing biodiversity. I'm sure most people don't expect to see half these projects materialise, even if the party who promised them are elected.

A couple of weeks ago, a man in search of a job rang into local radio to describe an extraordinary state of affairs. He had expressed interest in working on the Carmichael mine project in the northern Galilee Basin. He lives a couple of hours from the site, but was informed he'd have to fly in and fly out from Brisbane. This despite an Adani spokesperson assuring the Mackay Daily Mercury only last August that the company favoured applications from local people.

Mining workers are often housed in largely self-sufficient camps, thus depriving local communities of a lot of the business they'd expected to be generated by the mine.

Those people who believe no more new coal mining areas should be developed are criticised for denying jobs to areas badly in need of a new stimulus. Investment in renewable energy projects will create opportunities in regional Australia, such as the construction of large-scale wind and solar farms and community energy projects. Jobs have already been lost in the domestic solar market, thanks to uncertainty surrounding the Renewable Energy Target created by the Federal Government's lack of enthusiasm, and the Queensland government's threat to remove subsidies for solar power installation and feed-in tariffs.

In reality, alternative thinking and practice within new industries and communities will ultimately provide more opportunities than either of the major parties while they have their electioneering hats on. You can start reading about some of these alternatives here and here.

Update 27 Jan: yesterday, Australia Day, Campbell Newman declared he would only take questions from the press on jobs and the economy, and suggested this would be the case for the rest of the campaign.

This post was last edited on 27 January 2015

Vote for the Reef

Vote for the Reef

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