Is the head of the Australians Workers Union and occasional visitor to Wollongong Paul Howes putting his personal dislike of the Greens ahead of the interests of his own members and the promotion of job projects in the Illawarra?
Paul Howes has been a vocal critic of the Greens and has worked hard to discredit our policies and priorities.
Last week, when the Senate debated the Steel Transformation Plan that earmarked $180 million for BlueScope, the Greens moved an amendment that called on the government to "pay particular regard to the Green Jobs Illawarra Action Plan and any other similar plans in other affected regions."
The Green Jobs Illawarra Action Plan, released in 2009, was produced by a committee that included the South Coast Labor Council, the University of Wollongong, Illawarra TAFE, Illawarra Business Chamber and the Australian Industry Group.
The plan sets out in a great deal of detail the jobs that can come with a shift to a greener economy and greener communities.
Just one example is its bid to position the Illawarra as a "centre of excellence" for wave power generation technologies, by harnessing the R&D capacity of the University of Wollongong and the innovative manufacturing and engineering capacity of regional firms.
The steel bill was passed with the backing of Greens and Labor MPs but when the Greens amendment was moved, the Coalition and the Government joined forces to reject it.
It is disappointing that the Labor Government could not stomach voting for the Greens’ amendment in support of a plan that would enable a regional community to build on the carbon package and the new steel laws.
In campaigning to defeat the amendment, Howes effectively put sectional Labor interests ahead of the interests of his union’s members.
On the day we announced our amendments Howes was reported on ABC Radio News saying, "We don’t support the Greens’ amendments. We believe that it [the steel package]should go through as it is. It gives the guarantees and the certainty that is needed in terms of steel-making, the transition that is needed but also to guarantee minimum manning levels, minimum personnel levels across the industry."
Why would an Australian trade union leader not back this plan? His own union is a member of the South Coast Labor Council which helped initiate and actively promotes the plan. When it was announced, then-ACTU president Sharan Burrow trumpeted the plan as showing "how a regional economy traditionally dependent on ‘brown’ industries could be transformed by co-operative action on climate change".
Secretary of the South Coast Labor Council Arthur Rorris explains:
"This action plan turns conventional wisdom on its head: it demonstrates that our steel and heavy industries are actually the ones that should give us a competitive advantage in the green economy.
"Just take a look at the renewable energy sector, whether it’s wind turbines, wave power and solar thermal plants — we are talking thousands of tonnes of steel and the fabrication, engineering, design and logistics that go with it."
The Greens made it clear that our support for the $300 million steel package was not dependent on our amendment promoting the benefits of the Illawarra Jobs Plan being passed.
In parliament our job is to determine whether we should support, object or try to improve legislation when it is introduced. In this case, the Greens determined that the Steel Transformation Bill was an opportunity to highlight the great work undertaken by unions, education institutions and business groups in the Illawarra to promote green jobs.
This plan provides a model for regional centres across Australia facing jobs losses due to the mixed economy.
When the Greens were determining our position on the Government’s steel plan, Senator Bob Brown and I visited Wollongong and met with South Coast Labor Council delegates who put the case for why the legislation should pass. We were also briefed about the Illawarra Jobs Plan.
Proposals such as the Green Street Project, retrofitting iconic public buildings and clean energy systems are set out in comprehensive detail that any government or union leader should appreciate. The report examines how the strengths of the Illawarra’s economy can be utilised in emerging green industries and points to the jobs that will be created in the shift to a greener economy and communities.
When the news broke in August that BlueScope would axe 800 jobs at their Port Kembla plant Senator Brown and I thought it was time to take the Green Jobs Illawarra Action Plan to the federal parliament.
The plan is a road map on how to diversify the Illawarra economy in concrete ways that would promote long term jobs growth in sustainable industries.
With another financial crisis looming and the ongoing challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, every regional centre across Australia needs it own version of the Green Jobs Illawarra Action Plan.
The negative vote by Labor and the Coalition in the federal Senate and the hostility from Paul Howes just served to show how out of touch they are with the needs of the Illawarra.
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