Labor frontbencher Terri Butler says climate change reform can't be achieved without properly explaining what will happen to jobs in coal.
Labor frontbencher Terri Butler says climate change reform can't be achieved without properly explaining what will happen to jobs in coal.

Labor puts jobs at heart of climate change

Labor's environment spokeswoman Terri Butler has warned against equating coal mining jobs with renewable energy roles in the push for climate change reform.

Ms Butler was speaking at Labor think-tank Chifley Research Centre's Towards 2022 conference, a forum designed to look at the opposition's direction ahead of the next federal election.

"If I said, hands up who is willing to take an $80,000 a year pay cut right now, I don't reckon many people would put their hand up," she told Labor environmentalists.

The left faction frontbencher said there was a real question about what people were willing to do, rather than what they wanted.

Ms Butler said assurances there would be plenty of new jobs in renewable energy could sound blithe.

"You can see why some people would be saying 'well that's easy for you to say, mate'," the Brisbane-based MP said.

"The experience of this change to renewables, where there is genuine concern that good, secure, well-paid jobs could potentially be replaced with insecure less well-paid jobs."

"It's not an equivalence to say there'll be just as many jobs because what people really want is certainty, security, they want to know the living standards they enjoy will be enjoyed by their children."

It comes after Labor MP Meryl Swanson, whose Hunter Valley seat has coal mining districts, said workers in the sector didn't want to take pay cuts to work on renewable energy projects.

She said "once respected" coal miners in her electorate were earning between $100,000 and $120,000 a year.

"They don't want to screw solar panels on roofs for $40,000 a year. They don't and I don't blame them," Ms Swanson told the conference.

The Paterson MP said those workers "hate" being told to transition from coal to renewables.

"So what used to become a worthwhile well-paid job has somehow become dirty and I resent people who refer to coal as dirty," Ms Swanson said.

"We have built a nation off the back of coal. It deserves our respect."

Labor's resources spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon backed Ms Swanson, saying Australia could take meaningful action on emissions without forsaking local jobs.

The opposition took an electoral hit in Queensland and other parts of Australia with coal mining areas for its confusing stance on the sector.

Mr Fitzgibbon has stridently defended coal since the election after suffering a major swing against him in his Hunter Valley seat.


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