11 Jul , 2021
Hunter Renewal is a project based in the Hunter Valley of NSW, on the unceded lands of the Wonnarua people. The project brings together the people, businesses and organisations of the Hunter region in order to envision a diverse, resilient and thriving future. Hunter Renewal is largely driven by community members who volunteer their time and expertise to the project.
A big part of life in the Hunter
In the Hunter Valley, there are 41 coal mines, four power stations and the world’s biggest coal port. Here, thousands of families are reliant on the income from thermal coal mining, and the coal industry contributes $12 billion annually to the regional economy. Most of the coal mined in the region is exported to overseas buyers, but demand for coal is suffering from competition with renewable energy and global emissions reductions commitments. China, one of the biggest buyers, has also placed a ban on Australian coal, causing Australia’s coal trade to plummet from more than $1 billion a month to just $30 million a month.
The Hunter Valley is showing the effects. Mines are being sold or temporarily closed and workers have been laid off. Global demand for coal is likely to continue to decline, placing thousands of people’s jobs at risk. Businesses are likely to close down and communities to suffer. In the last mining downturn of 2014, the unemployment rate in the Hunter rose by 16 per cent.
A plan for life after coal
Clearly, there is a need for a plan to increase the resiliency and diversification of the economy in the Hunter region, but before the creation of Hunter Renewal there was little political or business support for a community-driven plan. The Hunter Renewal group is filling this gap. It has begun planning for a new economy that is ready for a changing future. Its main focus is engaging the local community in order to develop a robust roadmap and future vision that is responsive to the needs of the Hunter. This shared vision should provide opportunities for young people and coal workers, nurture new industries such as renewable energy and advance sustainable industries such as agriculture, vineyards and tourism.
“It can’t be community versus industry and government. To have a successful transition, we need to work together.” - Danielle Coleman, Hunter Renewal coordinator
The project involves getting out into the community, talking to locals and building consensus around the need for a transition and the solutions available to assist. Initially, organisers doorknocked more than 3,000 households and established that 90 per cent of the people contacted wanted a plan for the coal industry in the future. The Hunter Renewal project is also stimulating conversations and alliances between different community groups, including unions, environment groups and universities, necessary for developing a just roadmap for a transition to a low carbon economy. As the community bands together, there is increasing pressure on governments to implement the policy framework and funding that will solidify a Just Transition.
A resilient future
The councils of the Hunter Valley, with community backing, have begun planning for the transition and are now approaching the state government for funding. Speaking at our webinar on “Our Voices, Our Future”, Danielle Coleman, a Hunter Renewal coordinator, suggested that firm commitment and timely action from the government is the “missing piece” of the plan. “It can’t be community versus industry and government. To have a successful transition, we need to work together.”
The Hunter Renewal group has been asking local governments directly, “How can we help you to get on with the job?” This has resulted in invitations from local councils for the group to attend meetings around the transition. Although there is still work to do, the Hunter Renewal project is driving a more resilient, prepared and empowered Hunter Valley every step of the way.