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WA Premier misses opportunity to secure Collie’s future

December 19, 2023

An historic coal mining community in Western Australia faces an uncertain future, as the state government announced no long-term plans to manage critical energy assets in Collie. This will have dire consequences for jobs and energy security in the region, calling into question the prospects of a just transition for Collie’s mineworkers.

As the primary coal producing region in Western Australia, Collie has long been expected to bear the brunt of the state’s renewable energy transition. The situation became more complex as Griffin Coal, one of only two mines supplying coal for WA’s power generation, entered receivership in September 2022.

Just 10 kilometres east of Collie, Griffin Coal produces fuel for the nearby Bluewaters Power Station, which in turn supplies 15% of the South West Interconnected System. Additionally, the mining, manufacturing, and energy industries account for over 50% of the town’s workforce, meaning that the collapse of Griffin would have catastrophic effects for Collie as well as the WA energy reserve.

In November, the MEU and AMWU presented a proposal to the Western Australian government detailing a transition trust that could take ownership over Griffin and Bluewaters. This trust would manage the asset with community and worker-focused objectives, ensuring that Collie continues to attract investment and maintains its position as an energy hub as the economy transitions to renewable energy.

The trust would have also instituted stricter governance over the operations of Griffin and Bluewaters. This would have guaranteed transparent and sustainable conduct in protecting the economic stability of the region while also supporting affected workers in the transition to renewable energy.

The Western Australian government has instead elected to bail out Griffin Coal to the tune of $220 million. This ensures the mine will continue to supply coal to Bluewaters until June 2026.

Mining and Energy Union Western Australian District Secretary Greg Busson said the “short-sighted announcement is likely to trigger rapid decline in the community.”

“This funding arrangement rubber stamps the closure of Griffin, along with Bluewaters power station which it supplies, when funding runs out in 2026.

“Griffin Coal has been a mess and workers have borne the brunt of that, with pay cuts and years of uncertainty and mismanagement. With no new jobs in Collie for workers to go to, how does the Government think that Collie’s Just Transition is going to work from here?”

It is apparent that the WA Government has taken the cheapest and easiest solution to the problems plaguing Griffin, but their choice simply delays the issue for a short three years. In doing so, the state has missed an opportunity to fund the long-term future of the region and protect the jobs and entitlements of mining and energy workers. This decision undermines the extensive work that has gone into Collie’s Just Transition Plan and the programs in place for workers at Collie’s publicly-owned power stations.

The government’s commitment to bankroll Griffin Coal until 2026 does nothing to protect the conditions of the workers engaged at Griffin and Bluewaters. Workers at these sites have already felt the sting of the owners’ financial chaos, and the WA government’s band-aid solution does nothing to alleviate the downward pressure or secure their economic futures.

Of particular concern is the fate of the workers’ accrued entitlements when the funding dries up and the insolvent operations inevitably collapse. Significant forethought and planning is required to avoid this outcome, and the state’s response frankly does not measure up to the challenge.

“Meanwhile, we’ll be fighting for the best possible employment deal for the workers at Griffin Coal. They must not be left to pay the price for the mess these private operators have created” Busson said.

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