Climate Change: Broken Hill’s Economic Opportunity

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Senator Tim Ayres

For more than 150 years, Broken Hill has been a mining town.

Its history of strikes and struggle is legendary; many of the basic industrial rights that Australians take for granted were first won by the miners of Broken Hill. That struggle made sure that the Broken Hill’s mineral wealth was shared with the workers who have produced it.

The good mining jobs that so many local families rely on are the legacy of those struggles. They are safe, secure and well paid – and they should continue to bring prosperity to the people of Broken Hill for decades to come.

For too long the Australian political debate about climate change has been about dividing Australians. For decades, both the National Party and the Greens have both defined themselves by pitting cities against regional communities in a false culture war.

This decade of division has left mining communities behind. The truth is: action on climate change means more of the mining jobs that make Broken Hill great.

At the Glasgow COP 26 summit this year, countries around the world pledged to reduce their net carbon emissions to zero, including India and China. At the same time, trillions of dollars of private investment have been promised for new clean energy industries.

Every net zero plan that was announced at Glasgow relies on a massive expansion of two industries: renewable energy and battery storage. That puts Broken Hill at the front of the queue for jobs in the coming decades.

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Broken Hill has been a leader in renewable energy for a decade now. Both the Broken Hill Solar Farm and the Silverton Wind Farm are already taking advantage of the Barrier’s natural conditions. The planned grid-scale battery will mean that Broken Hill can meet its goal to source 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.

Other clean energy technologies such as electric cars will need a massive new investment in global battery manufacturing. A World Economic Forum report released this year found that world’s battery capacity must grow 40 times larger than it is today to meet global demand.

This massive new demand for batteries will create a massive new demand for battery materials: a 40-fold increase in the production of lithium and nickel and more than 20 times as much as copper, graphite and cobalt compared with 2020 levels.

Many of the minerals that will power this technology are already mined by Broken Hill workers, and there has been a flood of investment in minerals exploration in the Barrier region. With the right plan, this mineral wealth can create hundreds of good jobs.

The opportunities are there. What Broken Hill needs is leadership.

At a local level, Mayor Darriea Turley has done an extraordinary job. Not only has she implemented the goal for Broken Hill to source 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, she has led the regional councils in calling for Federal action on climate change.

It is the Federal Government that has let the people of Broken Hill down. In the past eight years this Government has announced more than 20 energy policies and delivered nothing. Instead of taking a real plan to Glasgow, the Prime Minister took a pamphlet written by consultants.

Meanwhile, the National Party has been hopelessly divided; focussed on their own internal politics at the expense of the communities they claim to represent. This lack of political leadership is costing regional Australia the clean energy jobs that towns like Broken Hill are going to rely on.

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Like the vaccine rollout, it is a race to seize new economic opportunities for the regions. Labor will take to the next election a plan that puts Australian workers and Australian technology at the front of the pack.

It will deliver new mining industry jobs, as well as ‘value add’ jobs in manufacturing to lift the value and complexity of our exports and deliver good jobs to regional Australia.

Just as the jobs that built Broken Hill were the product of struggle and a political movement that made sure that working people benefitted from the prosperity they mine, the jobs of Broken Hill’s future must be too.

Tim Ayres is a Labor Senator for New South Wales.

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