This is a special audio documentary from Ruby Marshall.
Join us in this podcast to hear from local residents and workers from the Latrobe Valley about the just transition away from the fossil fuel industry that is happening there right now. What is currently happening in the Latrobe Valley with their transition away from the fossil fuel industry? How is the community preparing for the closing of the coal mines, and creating new industries with jobs to replace the mines? How is the Latrobe Valley experiencing the impacts of climate change and how are they dealing with it? Listen to find out.
Ruby Marshall 0:02 my name is Ruby Marshall. Before we begin, I'd like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nations and the Brayakaulung people of the Gunaikurnai nations on whose lands This podcast was recorded. I wish to pay my respects to elder's past, present and emerging and acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded. Always was always will be Aboriginal land welcome, and today, I'll be chatting to you about the Latrobe Valley and the just transition that is occurring there right now away from the fossil fuel industry, as well as delving into the issue of climate change is communicated in the Latrobe Valley. Just a content warning that there is some explicit language used in this podcast. I interviewed a variety people who work or live in the Latrobe Valley and are involved with climate change and just transitions work. You'll hear all about their involvement and their role in helping to create a better future for the Latrobe Valley. This podcast was made in the second half of 2019. So some information may be slightly out of date. And there have been some updates on the work the people I interviewed are part of the people that I spoke to are all part of the movement for just transition away from coal. But I just want to acknowledge that this is quite a biased perspective on what is going on. As I did not speak to anyone who was against the just transition or wants the coal mines to remain open. My intention here was to communicate with people about what is being done in the valley on just transitions. There were many people that I wanted to interview for this podcast, but some I was unable to. So I've included links to their websites in the podcast description. These include the earth worker cooperative, and the Gunaikurnai land and waters Aboriginal corporation that represents the traditional owners from the Gunaikurnai nations. The Latrobe Valley is located just under a two hour drive east from Melbourne in gippsland. It has a population of around 73,000 people and it's comprised of the towns of Moe Morwell and Traralgon. It is also home to four huge brown coal mines, which have supplied over 80% of energy to Victoria for the last 90 years. The Latrobe Valley is a community that was built on the fossil fuel industry after World War Two, and they rely on the coal industry for jobs. Wendy farmer, the president of voices in the valley told me more about the history of the Latrobe Valley and the privatization of the coal mines. Wendy Farmer 2:28 What's unique about the Latrobe Valley is that the amount of coal that is sits underneath Latrobe Valley brown coal. So john Monash. When he came to Latrobe Valley and brought his men to Latrobe Valley, I don't think he was amazing because of starting the power industry. What he did is he actually brought community and he created jobs for his his community. So he moved a lot of these people to Yallourn that was later dug up for coal. The SEC so the state electricity Commission had the power stations and ran them until the late 90s. Or sorry, early 90s, mid 90s. What was special about that is they there were a lot of people employed in the power stations. But everybody also outside of the power stations was employed, there was a lot of jobs that everybody so the 90s the state of Victoria was broke. So they decided to sell off the power stations to private corporations. Yes. That was the downfall of the tri Valley. So what happened there is you take a essential service and put it into private hands to international companies that really don't care for communities like this. The SEC did for communities. But of course you shouldn't privatize an essential service, because you actually take what is really needed by Victoria and put it into the hands of private industry. Now private industry don't care about communities as much as they care about their shareholders and their businesses. Ruby Marshall 4:00 In 2014, the Hazelwood power station, the largest of the coal mines in Latrobe Valley, caught fire and burned for 45 days, which had major health impacts in the region, and subsequently in 2017 was shut down. Wendy Farmer 4:15 Now, those sort of things happen because a private industry didn't think that community was worth protecting. They let things run down, they let water pipes run or remove water pipes. They and they didn't have the staff have previous fires in mind. So we see the fire happen. We see not only workers injured, or made or sick or die, but we see community become sick and die because of the Hazelwood mine fire, which was proven in further inquiry. Ruby Marshall 4:50 Hazlewood was originally supposed to be retired in 2005. But the government extended its life to 2030. But Engie, the company who owned Hazelwood decided in 2017 that it was no longer economically viable to keep running. Wendy Farmer 5:05 We then here the announcement of that we hear rumors for months in the papers Hazelwood would close, then we get a an announcement from the company that you know - the night before they set up marquees - kept saying no, we're not closing not not closing in the morning. They announced the closure within five months. Ruby Marshall 5:24 There was only five months notice given of Hazel Woods closure, which left people without a job when it closed. Before its closure it supplied Victoria with almost a quarter of its energy needs and provided around 750 jobs. It also produced 14% of Victoria's greenhouse gas emissions. While the fire was the trigger for the closure of the power station. It had been functioning at a loss for some time. The Hazelwood power station is currently in the process of being decommissioned and dismantled. And there are plans in the works on how to rehabilitate the mine, which you will hear more about later. There are now three operating brown coal mines left in Latrobe Valley, Yallourn and loyang A and B all which have expiry dates before 2050. Chris Barfoot who was working at Hazelwood, when it shut down, also spoke to me about the history of coal in the Latrobe Valley and his story. Chris Barfoot 6:18 My name is Chris Barfoot, I'm an engineer and scientist ex actually from the brown coal industry. Third generation of the family, I ran up 33 years in here, my father ran up 30 years before that. So know the know the industry very intimately in that regard, but also very conscious of the changes that are occurring. And when I was retrenched, I did take the opportunity to move into the renewable industry. And now I lead the on the project officer with the Latrobe Valley Community power hub. And we work much more in many different types of renewable energies around this region. Ruby Marshall 6:57 You worked in the coal industry before Chris Barfoot 6:59 I did 33 years myself, I covered every power station and most of the mines. Ruby Marshall 7:03 So you also worked at Hazelwood. Chris Barfoot 7:05 Yeah, absolutely. I did probably close on 15 - 15 to 16 years at Hazelwood. Ruby Marshall 7:11 And were you working there when it got closed? Chris Barfoot 7:13 Certainly was. Ruby Marshall 7:14 So you lost your job when you're close down? And then that's when you found upir Chris Barfoot 7:19 Oh, no. One of the things I found very differently with privatization. And that coming up. When you had a state body who looked at power industry, what you found was that you look to a 30 year window into the future. When you became a private enterprise owning a single business, or a single power station, you only looked at your own asset. You didn't look to the future. Now for me, I found that incredibly frustrating. So when I was retrenched, it gave me the opportunity to go back to looking long term. And when you look long term, the future is renewable. Ruby Marshall 8:04 While we need to move away from coal, we also need to make sure that the communities that have been providing our country with energy from coal for so long, which we have relied on for so long, do not get left behind. We need to make sure that they have a just transition away from the fossil fuel industry, with new jobs and industries being created to replace the jobs and industry lost from the closing down of coal mines. Wendy Farmer 8:26 people lost their jobs because they were told that if they took packages, they would they would be reemployed into other jobs around the valley inside the power station but that never happened? Yes. I spoke to Laura Melville, who is a community organizer and environment in Victoria more about this. Laura Melville 8:45 I think there's a people potentially don't understand how many people do live in regional Victoria and in gippsland. So there's 70,000 people in the Labrobe Valley, and a small portion of those people work in the fossil fuel industry directly. And I think that's worth keeping in mind when we're talking about coal closing and having to replace jobs, that we're not talking about 70,000 people's jobs, we're talking about a couple of thousand people's jobs, which is super important. But it's important to remember the rest of the community in that transition. I think that we also can quite easily make assumptions of regional people's attitudes to climate change and to environmental issues, and that we shouldn't assume that people don't care about climate, we shouldn't assume that people don't know that coal has played a role in causing climate change or that everyone in those communities is supportive of the industry and what it's the impact that it's had on people and the environment. So yeah, I think it's just really important to actually talk to people in those communities before we make assumptions about what they think we've yet spoken to some people that are still working in the coal lmine and as well as people that used to work in the coal mine at Hazelwood, I think, yeah, it's like, I think the Worker transition is a really tough conversation. I don't think we've done transition very well anywhere in Australia. And there is a question over how successful that has been done with Hazelwood that needs to be addressed before we go through Yallourn and Loy Yan A and B closing. Ruby Marshall 10:18 Latrobe Valley is in the process of a just transition away from the fossil fuel industry. There has been an emphasis on this just transition since the sudden closure of Hazelwood in 2017. To ensure that something similar doesn't happen again, when the other coal mines shut down. The shut down of Hazelwood happened very suddenly, which meant that there wasn't an opportunity for a just transition to happen. This meant that lots of people lost their jobs. But since the closure of Hazelwood, there has been a really big effort to create jobs in the valley that are not in the coal industry, and most specifically, that are focused on more renewable and community energy. Ella is from Morwell in the Latrobe Valley, a 19 year old who is a member of the local branch of the Australian youth Climate Coalition called new power, who is trying to help give youth in the region a space to discuss sustainability and a future beyond coal in the valley and empower them to become part of the movement. I also spoke to her about the transition away from coal in the valley. So at the moment in Latrobe Valley, there is a has been a really big push for a just transition away from the fossil fuel industry. What do you think about this push for just transition? Currently, Ella 11:29 it is definitely needed. I think it could be much stronger. I think every single fossil fuel community around Australia and the world needs to push for this just transition because it's inevitable. But while a transition away is inevitable, but we need to work to make sure that it is just for the workers and the entire community. Ruby Marshall 11:50 How do you feel about this job transition? And how are the young people feeling about this job transition away from the fossil fuel industry? Ella 11:57 Itsinteresting, because the discussion around just transition, it's mainly focused on workers but we never really consider.sort of young people who maybe just starting out or yet have never really lived in a community that has been moving into other industries. So yeah, it's a very new discussion. And there's a lot to go. I think. Ruby Marshall 12:21 So do you think people are concerned about the impact that climate change will have on the Latrobe Valley? Or at the moment? Are they more concerned about the job aspects of it? Ella 12:30 Yeah, it's definitely more around the jobs. But yet, the impacts of climate change, very rapidly selling to show everywhere. Ruby Marshall 12:42 Do you think that current action on climate change in gippsland is bringing the voices of people who are most affected by climate change forward? Ella 12:50 In a way, yes. But the focus should definitely be broadened more around traditional owners, farmers, local businesses, yeah, the focus is mainly on light workers and their jobs and their families. But yeah, it's about the whole community. And I think we could work a lot more to include all those voices. Ruby Marshall 13:14 What do you personally think is the most effective thing we can do or are already doing to tackle the climate crisis? Ella 13:20 Definitely. Put, the government is really letting us down and corporations. So the I think the biggest action taking place right now is the movement of young people and just everyone that is frustrated with the action. So yeah, our power, I think, is the best thing at the moment. Ruby Marshall 13:39 And what is it that you would like people in the city to know about Latrobe Valley and how it has been affected by climate change and the whole process of the just transition that's going on right now? Ella 13:47 Yeah, I think it's really important for city folk to understand that this is a process and it'll take a lot of planning and community consultation and things like that, to fully transition with justice in communities like Latrobe Valley. Ruby Marshall 14:07 What do you perceive the future challenges to be in the Latrobe Valley when it comes to climate change and making a just transition away from the fossil fuel industry? I Ella 14:15 think it'll be a very interesting like, attitude or like social shift, because people I know that very comfortable because we've been based around the coal industry for so long. It'll be an interesting, like change in like social climate around that, when they finally realize that we have to move away from that and open up ourselves up to other industries. Ruby Marshall 14:46 Wendy and voices in the valley have been working on how to achieve adjust transition where everyone is involved. I spoke to her about what voices is a valley doing to achieve adjust transition that everyone is involved in. Tell us more about voices of the valley and your role like So what exactly does voices in the valley do? Wendy Farmer 15:05 Well, they basically Voices of the Valley advocate for what the community needs. Yeah. In health, In jobs, yes. Really in it in most things. Now, what happens in the valley? Yeah, we often get asked, you know, what, what does a section of the community do? And we don't want to be the voice of everybody. Yeah, if people have a voice, we want them to be able to speak for themselves. But many come to us saying, I'm glad you've said that, because I can't say it. So nobody wants to talk out against the company, like the company's a family member. And sometimes it's really frustrating when you see that family member doing really bad stuff to the community, but everybody thought, or we might lose jobs. In fact, the power stations don't employ that many people any more in Latrobe Valley yet everybody you know, I think if you went to, it'd be interesting to run a survey and say to people, how many people do you think are employed by the power industry? Yeah, you know, not actually. And obviously, people will probably say thousands. Yeah. And itshundreds. Daniel Andrews came down, or announced $40 million for transition. within half an hour of that 20 minutes of that meeting. We had the Latrobe City Council call us into the office inside, what was that transition, how do we get hold of the money. And then later on down the road, Daniel Andrews announced $266 million for transition, including the LVA. So the Latrobe Valley Authority, which would coordinate worker transition, or workers coming out of power stations, they would re educate them, they would put them into jobs, very much the plans that we had drawn. Yeah. Including the high tech process. Yeah. Is in our planning to what we're drawing in 2015. Look, it's going slow. Yes. We're just starting to see now the LVA reaching out to the community saying Actually, we want to do community programs, including micro grids and different things with the community. So rather than them doing it, but with the community, which I think is a real big step for them. Yeah, we did get the power hubs, of course, and I think that's what they hpped the power hubs will do. Ruby Marshall 17:16 So what exactly are the power? Wendy Farmer 17:18 The power hubs are designed to birth community energy? Yeah. So take energy back into the community? Absolutely. Taking and being renewable energy, renewable energy? We've actually spoken to all the green groups. Yeah. Because we said, what happens with transition if you if you tie yourself to power stations, block roads, tell people they're no good their jobs have to go. We're taking your jobs away. You create fear. If you slash them and tell them they can't have it. They're going to fight the climate movement Even harder to have what they want. Yeah. So they need to feed their children. Yeah, they need to educate their children. They need to live in a home. They are the breadwinners, you can't take their wages off them So why we call it jobs and hope is creating visions for people to move forward. Yeah. Ruby Marshall 18:10 So thosegroups can work together to move. Wendy Farmer 18:12 But rather than pushing people away from what they know, creating a vision that they can move to Yeah. And people will come on that journey with us. Definitely. And so I think, you know, when I look at transition, I don't think a transition is so much a worker to worker transition, it's a community transition, it's a whole community moving forward to what they can have, rather than moving away from what they have. We want to, we want to see new industries, new renewable energies, supported by both state and federal government. In Latrobe Valley, we have the transmission. We have the knowledge, we have the skills, use Labrobe Valley now before it's too late. And what I mean by that, while it's happening in western and everywhere else in Victoria or Australia, while we ignore these coal communities, they will be left if action isn't taken to support them. It's not the end. This is a beginning of something new, because we have to move forward because we don't have choice coal will end. coal will end. when is the other question but it will end. We need to be ready. Ruby Marshall 19:21 Chris Barfoot, spoke with me more about the diversification industry in the valley. Chris Barfoot 19:28 So one of the major things we have here has been a large concentration in the coal based industry. Now that over reliance, has then left us with a more difficult job of transitioning. Whereas if we'd had more diversification, you know, there would have been more opportunities to move forward. And so now part of what's happening is people are now working on getting more and more industries down here. Ruby Marshall 19:53 Do you think it's working? Oh, Chris Barfoot 19:54 absolutely. I mean, you've only got to look around. We've got the new tech school center down at Kernot Hall. You've got the high tech center being built. You've got the GovHub going across the road. You've got SEA vehicles just come down here. We've got proposals for solar farms. We've got proposals now for wind farms. You got a proposal for a battery recycling plant. Lots of things are happening. Ruby Marshall 20:18 Yeah. And do you think that there are still some people who are reluctant to this transition? Chris Barfoot 20:25 I don't think so. Taking the Hazelwood example, at this point in time, round, about 80 odd percent of people who are at Hazelwood are now working again. Oh, good. The other 20% To be honest, probably quite enjoying an early retirement. So yeah, it has been a fairly complete transition, there has been, obviously, some people have a very different lifestyle, some will be doing fly in fly out works. Others will be in a lower paying job. I mean, there's just life we are when you when you drive a truck in a mine, you get paid a lot more than when you drive a bus in the town. And so one of the things that the town does still suffer from at the moment is the lack of disposable income, which is then impacting some of the service industries. Ruby Marshall 21:09 And do you think there's a solution to that? Chris Barfoot 21:11 Yeah, look, the whole part of this now is thing to move towards getting more high tech industries in If you bringing in the high tech you bring in the higher pays. Now we've got, for example, the waste for energy plant, which is now being approved for APM, which again, will offer substantial opportunities in construction and operation and so forth. So there is still a lot of hope the Gov center coming in, will bring in government base wages, which you get into higher pay rate. So lots of potential, and lots of options. Ruby Marshall 21:41 What do you think is like the most effective thing happening in the Latrobe Valley to tackle the climate crisis that you think? Chris Barfoot 21:48 Well, at the moment, we're pushing very hard into a number of areas, we're pushing into regenerative agriculture, which, of course, is a very important part because whilst we talk about renewable energies, and that that's about producing less carbon, but what's critically important is to actually take the carbon that's in the atmosphere, and bring it back into the soils. So regenerative agriculture is one thing, that's a very important part that we're pushing and trying to get that happening here. We're also pushing of course, obviously, the change from brown coal power into wind, solar, offshore wind, especially. So we're seeing that as an again, another major aspect of it. Now, this is going to be an issue in Latrobe Valley. And that's the reason for that is the fact that we have, at this point in time, about three and a half thousand megawatts of capability into the grid. So this is the ideal place in the state at the moment for creation of new power generating systems. The biggest part, of course, is just as we mentioned before, that people in power stations and in mines earn a good wage, because it's dangerous work. So trying to find an equivalent job is hard. Definitely. And so part of what we're trying to do is to build up those new industries, which will give us the opportunities for those people that still transition across at a reasonable rate compared to what they had. Ruby Marshall 23:08 Pollyanna is the artistic director of coal hole, and founder of the big picture space incorporated based in gippsland. Aiming to create opportunities, education and resources for artists, mainly young, emerging entrepreneurial minded artists. She spoke to me about the work she's doing to communicate with the Latrobe Valley Community about the transition, and specifically her work on mine rehabilitation. PollyannaR 23:33 Well, I think we're an example of just transition. Were a pretty young collective so were emerging mix between like emerging and established artists. But realistically, if we weren't work, we'd have to go to the city, it's very hard to make a living as an artist in a regional town. But working in collaboration with the mines and the mine commissioner and making work around this art, like this problem has given us employment, because were engaged at the moment with the mine Commissioner. So our funding is through the mind Commissioner, as a community engagement strategy. So essentially, they were having a really hard time communicating this really big problem and getting the community's baseline understanding of what's happening, especially with young people, or the token disengaged, yeah, disengaged youth and I say that with little quoty Marks around my face. So we approached the mine Commissioner, and we said, we actually think we could help you by making art about this, and give people different pathways that aren't so intimidating yet to learn about this. So we've been able to employ I think we've employed close to 30 artists and weve only been going for. This is our fifth month and we run workshops every week. And we do a major public event every month. Ruby Marshall 25:13 Yes. I you said obviously you're using this way as his project as a way to communicate, like the issue of like coal mines. And like the really big problem that is the rehabilitation of them, because you can't just leave them, obviously. So do you think there's been like a lack of effective communication around this and also around, like, environmental issues in general and his job transitions? Do you think there has been a lack of communication? PollyannaR 25:39 I think it's about context. So in the gippsland region, I actually think there's a lot more conversations about this than anywhere else in gippsland. So I think that what has been done does seem like it's not enough. And obviously, I guess, in a way, because I would put myself in kind of the other end of - Well my responsibility, and my job is to communicate. And when I look at my project and our engagement, and our reach and what we could be doing better, it's easy to say like, we haven't done this very well. But then when you compare it to us not existing, like we've had hundreds, thousands of people we've had conversations with like thousands of people and weve directly interacted with hundreds of people in a very short amount of time. So we've been quite successful. But there's always more work to be done. There's always more conversations. But you can create the opportunity, the platform and the pathway but people still have to make their own decision whether they want to engage with this conversation or not engage with it. Ruby Marshall 26:58 And what do you see as being like the future of jobs in Latrobe Valley? PollyannaR 27:03 It's definitely like renewables and tourism. Pretty much we have all the power infrastructure into the grid. So we can say close down the coal mines. And yes, that's definite - that's 100% happening. It's not an IF - they've got the closure dates, that's when they're closing, We now have to replace 33 - I think coal contributes to something like 33% of energy. It could be more than that, I've got the facts somewhere. But there's still a huge chunk of energy generation coming from coal, which needs to be replaced with renewables. The Valley has the infrastructure to put the electricity straight into the grid. So it's like plugging out of one power socket, and plugging it into another power socket. So we're going to have massive expansion into renewables. So wind farms and solar, Ruby Marshall 28:09 what is it that you would like people in the city and urban areas to know about the Latrobe Valley and how it has been affected by climate change? And, yeah, this whole just transitions thing. PollyannaR 28:22 I think one of the best things is you don't need to come down and save us. Like, we have a lot of people come to the valley, a lot of contractors, a lot of organizations coming to save us. We have our own answers. We have our own talents, we have our own responsibilities, and we have our visions. And we know our area, so. And there's a lot of money to be made coming to the valley. And Iyou see it - I've been working here for four years, and you see it like they come down, they get overwhelmed. They spend tons of money, and then they go back to the city, big corporations and stuff. You mean corporations, community organizations not-for-profits? I think it's really important not to see the valley as something that is disempowered, that actually, we're really on top of this. And we're really progressive, and we're doing tons of work. What's happened in the valley is we have been reliant on one industry, and that industry isn't there anymore. And now we need to diversify our jobs and our talents and our workforce to create opportunity for ourselves. So it happens with logging It happened with coal, it's gonna happen with oil and gas. Everyone is going - our generation is a generation of transition we've got a lot of work to do. And we're not necessarily going to see the result so that the only way we're going to know whether we're successful or not, is that if we actually have a fucking planet at the end of it. Ruby Marshall 30:30 We've just heard from a range of people who live and work in Latrobe Valley, on just transitions and climate action. These are really valuable insights into what has been done in the valley on the just transition. The work that has been done in Latrobe Valley on just transitions has been very positive so far. There are so many good examples of amazing renewable energy projects that have been developed in the Latrobe Valley to create jobs to help that transition away from the fossil fuel industry. There's projects such as the star of the South offshore wind farm that's currently being developed. And there's also the Delburn wind farm which is proposed to be placed on the site of where the Hazelwood Coal Mine is. There's also a new electric car manufacturing plant that has been built in Latrobe Valley, which provide loads of jobs and also a local solar and battery storage program. There are so many amazing things that have been done in the valley at the moment that give a really positive outlook where the value is going and where that just transition is taking them. I think there's still a really long way to go in this transition. And making sure that it is done right is really, really important. Making sure that marginalized communities aren't left behind. And making sure that those marginalized communities voices are elevated is really important. I think there needs to also be a lot more work done to talk to traditional owners in the area about this just transition and what role they can play in that. Since I interviewed these people in the second half of 2019, they've continued to work on the transition in the Latrobe Valley. Ella and Pollyanna both just ran for Council in Latrobe Valley. And even though they were unsuccessful. This time, it was amazing to see two young people fighting for a better future for other young people in the Latrobe Valley. In May 2020. The operators of the now closed Hazelwood power station were fined more than $1.9 million by the Supreme Court of Victoria over the 2014 mine fire. Wendy fama and voices of the valley played a role in this action against Hazel powerstation. But many Latrobe Valley residents were very disappointed as they wish to see the company fined a much higher penalty. Chris and Laura also both still helping to work on the just transition in Latrobe Valley in their respective roles. Even though the just transition is and will continue to be an ongoing cause. It was amazing to hear from these incredible people and what they're doing to help create adjust transition in Latrobe Valley. Thanks so much for listening.