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‘The best job for a coal miner is another mining job’: Adam Bandt looks beyond Melbourne

Crikey logo Crikey 22/10/2021 Kishor Napier-Raman
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Adam Bandt has a picture of a coal-fired power station on the wall of his Fitzroy office. 

The photo was a thank you gift from workers in the La Trobe valley, who the Greens Leader represented during his past life as an industrial relations lawyer. It’s a surprising choice for the leader of a party often dismissed as representing inner city elites out of touch with the blue collar workers in the resources sector. But speaking to Crikey at the end of another week when Australia’s broken, backward climate politics has been on full display, Bandt wants it known that he is not anti-mining. 

“I’ve been very clear in saying the best job for a coal miner is another mining job. It’s not that we’ve got to shut down the mining industry, it’s just that we’ve got to get out of coal.”

Instead, Bandt believes mining communities can be at the centre of a just transition toward a renewable economy

“We’re blessed with the minerals that Australia’s going to need to dig up and process in a zero pollution world. Not only for making our batteries, but for making our green steel,” he says.

“Those places … [are] the best places for making green hydrogen and making green steel, and creating new export industries.”

Bandt also wants it known that Queensland is in play for the Greens. Conventional pundit wisdom says words like net zero are politically toxic north of the Tweed. In 2019, the story goes, Labor thought blue collar voters would deliver them marginals in central and north Queensland. Then former Greens leader Bob Brown came along with his Stop Adani convoy, antagonising parochial voters with deep ties to the resources sector, driving an anti-progressive backlash that helped a gleeful Scott Morrison stay in the Lodge.

But with an election looming, Bandt is optimistic about the Greens’ chances in metropolitan Queensland seats like Ryan, Griffith and Brisbane, where the party achieved a positive swing in 2019. He points to the party’s improved performance in the 2020 state election, where it picked up an extra seat, and an ongoing sense of momentum in the state.

This is part of Bandt’s ambitious strategy to become a kingmaker in a potential minority government. On top of Queensland, the party has a list of target seats – one in the NSW Northern Rivers, one in the ACT and five in Melbourne. He believes that should a tight election produce a hung parliament, Australia’s best hopes of aggressive climate action lie in a Coalition where the Greens drag Labor to the left.

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It’s an ambitious call for a party which has seen its electoral performance plateau since Bandt won his seat of Melbourne – the party’s only lower house electorate – in 2010. It’s also a plan which makes Labor bristle. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has repeatedly ruled out such a coalition. 

Despite sharing some progressive values, the relationship between Labor and the Greens has been fraught. Labor says the Greens have the luxury of not walking a tightrope between inner city progressives and mining workers. 

Bandt, meanwhile, is critical of the Opposition’s failure to adopt a more ambitious medium-term emissions target for 2030. He also has little time for critics, both among Labor and the press gallery, who pin the blame for Australia’s decade of climate shame on the Greens’ refusal to back Kevin Rudd’s carbon pollution reduction scheme back in 2009, rather than Tony Abbott’s denialist wrecking ball.

“If Labor spent more time talking about what we did in 2010 rather than the one that got away and telling alternative stories about that, we might be closer to climate action in this country,” he says.

He points to the Gillard-Rudd minority government as a time when the two parties worked together to produce Australia’s only successful policy to reduce emissions, the now-repealed carbon tax.

“I’m sick of Labor throwing Julia Gillard under the bus. What was achieved in that Parliament was really, really good.”

Despite being a period of policy productivity, especially compared to the Morrison government’s lack of policy ambition, the Gillard years are remembered by some in Labor and the electorate as an era of acrimony and instability. But on climate, that instability hasn’t changed.

Morrison is headed to Glasgow next week, and so far can’t even commit to a net zero by 2050 target, the bare minimum to save face with allies like the United Kingdom and United States, because his own joint party room won’t agree. Any deal he reaches will likely come with billions in concessions to the Nationals and could include major subsidies to fossil fuel exports which go against the spirit of emissions reduction.

Even before a deal is reached, Bandt says the damage has been done by the decision, essentially made for Morrison by Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce, not to improve on Australia’s 2030 emissions target. The capture of Parliament by the fossil fuel sector, whose influence is particularly strong among the Nats, has disfigured Australia’s debate on climate.

“We’ve got major parties, Liberal, Labor and National that all take coal and gas donations. Australia has effectively become a petro-state with Russia and Saudi, because politicians have been captured by the coal and gas lobbies.”

The only way Australia’s time as an international climate pariah can end is by removing the Liberals from office, Bandt says. Here, Labor and the Greens agree. And if the only way to do that is through a minority government, Albanese might have to hold his nose and reconsider his promise that Labor will only govern in its own right.

Correction: a previous version of this article said Adam Bandt won the Greens’ first lower house seat. He is the Greens’ second lower house MP.

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