Mining and Petroleum Legislation Amendment Bill 2022
Mr CLAYTON BARR (Cessnock) (16:31): I make a contribution to debate on the Mining and Petroleum Legislation Amendment Bill 2022, and I recognise and thank the Minister for Regional New South Wales for bringing the bill to the House. I came into this place in the same year as the Minister and, to use a line I have used on other occasions, his cake has certainly risen higher than mine. He is committed to regional communities and he has seen his regional community transitioning around coal and coal-fired power stations and the associated industries.
I do not want to go back too far, but every second person in Cessnock in the 1950s and 1960s worked in the coalmine, quite literally. Every second male worked in the coalmine, and thousands of females worked in coalmines as well, mainly in ancillary or office administration roles but those roles were there. Coal was a really big deal. I reckon I have the great privilege to represent about 50 villages in the electorate of Cessnock, and 48 of those villages developed on coal seams. That is our history and that is our background. I give that background because I want to paint a picture of what a community looks like if coal has moved on and no-one has done anything about it. That is the truth and the lived reality for the community of Cessnock, and it does not bode well for us. It does not matter if one wants to criticise the current Government, the former Labor Government, the previous Greiner Government, the Wran Government before that, the Askin Government, or going back even further, governments in the past have not done anything for communities who have transitioned out of coal.
The coal job losses in Cessnock are for two primary reasons.
One is the coal seam around the Cessnock and central coalfield areas of the Hunter was worked to the extent that the technology used in those days could not work it any further. So it moved north and west—it is important to recognise that it moved. The other reason is that machines and automation took tens of thousands of jobs away from coalminers. Those developments are continuing as we have this debate and will continue over the coming years. We may well still be mining in the next 10, 20 or 30 years, but the number of people working in mining will diminish significantly. Those people who can no longer find a job in coalmining, in the Hunter in particular, and their families will no longer have the income to keep a roof over their heads, maintain the lifestyle they had, put food on the table and give their kids an education. They will no longer have the family holiday, the boat, the caravan or the hobby. Those things are important.
I will concentrate on education. The 2016 census data relating to education—the 2021 census data will not be available until June—is no different from the 2011 or 2006 census data. I challenge the Government with this fact about the Royalties for Rejuvenation Fund: The money to be set aside is a lovely first step, but it is a spit in the ocean compared with what will be required. As mining has moved on in Cessnock, the number of people working in coalmining has gone down significantly—from 30,000 or 40,000 people to about 2,500 people now. The census data shows that Cessnock ranks second last in the entire State based on the proportion of persons obtaining tertiary qualifications to transition to jobs on the new frontier, whatever that might be. No-one helped us transition to whatever that new frontier was going to be. The jobs moved, but no-one invested in encouraging people to get an education.
Historically, in the community that I represent education was not as important as getting a foot in the door of a coalmine. People left school in years 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12 to get a trade qualification or to become a labourer— a fed—in the mine. People did not need to expand, explore and extend their educational horizons because the mining jobs were there. Three generations later, we still do not fundamentally value education anywhere near enough in the community that I represent. Consequently, Cessnock has the second lowest number of tertiary-educated people in the entire State. Barwon is the only area that beat us. Barwon has a rich mining history, but mining moved away and no-one paid attention to the impacts on the community. Education is the key to our future, no matter where someone lives. But access to education is not equitable in New South Wales. It never has been. I hope one day it will be, but it is not now.
The people of Cessnock have not gone to university to find the new frontier. Which electorate is right up near the top of the ranking by proportion of persons with no post-school qualifications? Barwon is there again as well as Cessnock, Shellharbour and the Upper Hunter because, historically, our populations have not necessarily needed to get post-school qualifications in whatever way, shape or form they came. What about the ranking by proportion of persons whose highest level of school completed is year 12? Who is right at the very bottom of that list? They are mining communities where mining has moved on but the community has not transitioned. Right down the bottom is Barwon. Not far above Barwon is Cessnock. A couple of steps above that are Upper Hunter, Swansea, Port Stephens, Shellharbour, Dubbo, Bathurst, Lake Macquarie and Maitland. They are all mining communities where mining moved on, jobs shrank or disappeared and no-one thought to work with the communities to change their approach to education.
That will be the key to unlocking the new frontier, whatever it is. People can talk about hydrogen and renewables, and about a “Silicon Valley” for the Hunter. People can talk about whatever they like, but it is pie in the sky if communities are not re-engineered to place education at the heart of what they want and what they pursue, and if they do not understand that education will allow them to open the doors to that new frontier. No-one has invested in that in the past. But this bill can potentially start that journey. I can go through more census data. The ranking by proportion of persons whose highest level of school completed is year 10 or below has all the coalmine communities near the top: Swansea, Cessnock, Shellharbour, Upper Hunter, Barwon, Lake Macquarie, Port Stephens, Maitland, Tamworth, Orange, Dubbo and Bathurst. In those mining communities the highest level of education is year 10 or below. Who said to them “The world is moving on, and you haven’t got a ticket”?
That is why this bill is important and significant. I want to come back to whether things are changing today. Most of the coalmining jobs in Cessnock moved on 30 years ago. Sadly, our last coalmine shut down last year. Whether that was 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago, anyone would think my community has had a fair chance to realise that the world is moving on without them. The jobs are moving. But we have not invested in that conversation with them. We have not taken them on the journey. They cannot be what they cannot see, and we have not created new industries on the doorstep to help. [Extension of time]
We might hope that the proportion of people in mining communities who attain a tertiary education has risen. I am looking right down the bottom of the ranking of electorates by proportion of persons attending a tertiary education institute in 2016. Which ones are right down near the bottom? Barwon, South Coast, Upper Hunter, Tamworth, Cessnock and Dubbo—all mining communities. So I extend an offer to the Minister that goes go hand in hand with my excitement for this particular Royalties for Rejuvenation Fund concept. I stand ready to serve in any way he would like me to. I stand keen and eager to help him to understand, and to help the select panels to understand—using data, statistics, case studies and census data—how hard this transition is and to show them that in 20 or 30 years’ time we might still be having the same conversations if we do not do something different, or simply do something.
I draw members’ attention to a particular part of the bill that concerns me. I would love for the Minister to respond to my concerns if he gets the chance. The bill inserts new section 292W in the Mining Act 1992, headed ” Royalties for Rejuvenation Fund”. Subsection (2) states:
(2) The object of the Rejuvenation Fund is to alleviate economic impacts in affected coal mining regions caused by a move away from coal mining by supporting other economic diversification in those regions, including by the funding of infrastructure, services, programs and other activities.
That is a nice set of words. But what if all we do with that money is just fix a bridge somewhere? What if we just refurbish the emergency department of the existing hospital and create no new jobs? What if we say that the $3 million we already had to spend on mental health services in an area will now come out of the rejuvenation fund instead of coming out of the Health budget?
All of those services are going to be needed in these communities—and not just needed, they are going to need to be expanded. Part of the new frontier for those regions will be an expansion of those services. We know that in regional communities in particular, young people who seek out a tertiary education have usually been inspired by a local nurse, school teacher, doctor or dentist. If they cannot see people in those roles in their area, if they cannot see the bigger employers and employment opportunities for those roles in their area, the chances of changing the tertiary education statistic that I referred to earlier are almost zero. I do not hear any kid in Cessnock talking about becoming an international foreign currency banker or an insurance CEO or executive.
When I drive over the Sydney Harbour Bridge I see all the glass buildings that are funded by the financial institutions—insurance companies, banks, consultants and the like. I see all of those glass offices and think about all those jobs—really high-paying jobs—and see all the beautiful boats on the water. None of the kids in Cessnock are talking about any of those jobs because they cannot see them. They talk about jobs working at Cessnock Correctional Centre as a prison guard, because they can see that. They talk about a job as a mechanic or a builder, because they can see that. So what are we going to do with the Royalties for Rejuvenation Fund? Are we going to take AMP, the Commonwealth Bank or Ernst & Young, build a new glass building tower in Cessnock, plonk them all in there and say to the locals, “There’s a whole bunch of jobs in there, guys”? We have to help our young people—and older people who might transition out of the mining roles—to understand that all of those other jobs and roles exist.
The Royalties for Rejuvenation Fund is seed money. It is just a spit in the ocean. In Germany they pledged $44 billion to help regions transition from coalmining. The fund is a nice start. But the experts we are going to put on those panels cannot be so small-minded that they just talk about building a bridge or redeveloping a hospital emergency department. We have to go bigger than that. The core of it is education. Historically, the Government has failed these communities dismally. I do not want any of that money pilfered to pay for general government services that should already be provided.