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Coal miner speaks out on climate

Grant Howard lives in Queensland and is a coal miner currently working in the Bowen Basin

At 17, fresh out of school, I landed my first job as a coal miner and have been doing that ever since. I grew up in a coal heartland of Wollongong, south of Sydney, the location of some of the oldest mines in the country. As a teenager, I took mining for granted, just like I took the amazing beaches, beautiful escarpment and bush for granted.

I have worked in all aspects of underground coal operations, including longwall extraction, developing access roads, methane drainage and supervising coal mining crews in these processes.

For the last two decades I have been lucky to live and work in Queensland. I have worked through boom and bust cycles where mining corporations hired workers, then laid them off and shut mines when it suited. I witnessed the growth of automation which has led to a contraction of jobs, and will continue to do so in the future. I have also seen the industry talk up job prospects to get their latest mine approved, and then seen the actual numbers drop once production began.

In recent years I bought a piece of land outside of Mackay where I stay when I’m not rostered on in the Bowen Basin. I’ve grown to love this block but I worry about its survival too, having witnessed the severe impacts of extended heatwaves and changing rainfall patterns on the bush and the animals that live there.

After watching what climate change is doing to my land, and knowing that burning fossil fuels is making these extreme conditions worse, it strikes me we have a clear choice. We can protect Queensland’s unique way of life and exceptional environment by transitioning to clean energy. Or dig more coal, for limited jobs and economic benefit, at a time when the trend away from coal is accelerating.

Although I work in the coal mining industry, I know that the vast majority – 98.8 per cent – of Queenslanders work in other, more job-intensive industries. This means that while Queensland might dig and sell a lot of coal, this industry isn't bringing a lot of jobs with it.

In Australia we’re still trying to hang onto an industry in decline. Meanwhile, global giants like China have recognised that coal is a polluting and dying industry and are working to grab the wealth and employment opportunities presented by clean energy.

The Adani mine owners are claiming that the new mine will bring jobs and prosperity to Queensland. But I have grave doubts about this. Jobs growth is a red herring and it’s production levels and profit that they have their eye on.

Right now the company is striking a deal with the Queensland government to defer paying royalties. This is money that would otherwise be available to hire nurses, teachers, emergency workers and develop sustainable industries – all things that Queensland needs.

The exact nature of this deal is secret, but financial experts predict it could amount to a $900 million subsidy for Adani, ensuring no royalty return to the Queensland economy for at least a decade.

It is simply not believable that mining operators’ key interest is in driving jobs and economic prosperity for Queenslanders. These days I’m not so naive as to believe their claims.
Back in the 1980s I had a teenage interest in science and read about climate change. I thought governments would do something to stop it happening. Now in my 50s, I recognise I was wrong. As a result of government inaction, the special places I once took for granted are suffering from a rapidly changing climate.

The good news is it’s not too late to preserve Queensland and everything about it that makes this place unique. If we changed direction and swiftly moved away from mining and burning coal, lifting our ambition to be the early adopters of job-generating new technologies, we could still protect the special lifestyle we all enjoy today.

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Showing 3 reactions

  • Anonymous
    commented 2020-02-10 11:54:13 +1000
    Hey Grant,

    Well done mate! Your courage is inspiring. Just as we discovered asbestos killed, we’ve learnt that burning coal is poison.

    I empathise with the struggle faced by you and other coal workers. Workers need support to transition to new employment.

    Our democracy has failed us in Australia, and particularly here in Qld. The Coalition remain hostage to the ‘Climate Mafia’ and the braying voices of Joyce, Christiansen et. al. I wonder if Scomo still has his pet rock?

    Labor, too, abandoned reason and many of their Qld supporters by blaming us for their terrible 2019 loss. (ref the parochialism of Sen. Nita Green’s maiden speech)

    The Premier slurs protesters as “sinister”, and legislates new police powers, while Adani get handouts, approvals and extinguish native title. Labor’s policy vacuum is at best a failure of imagination. Why not invest in the people and work that needs to be done?

    Thanks again mate for having the guts to stand up and speak out. If we need anything these days it’s heroes.

    Kind regards,
    Jeff Keys
  • Winsome Dockter
    commented 2019-11-30 15:53:03 +1000
    Coal is dead and a red herring as far as giving new jobs.
  • Almerinda Clarke
    commented 2019-11-07 20:50:16 +1000
    Grant Howard you’re spot on ,transition is the train we all need to board if we are to reach our destination for innovational change for a viable future