Saturday, September 12, 2015


(Flying foxes, some of the many casaulties of 'mine-induced' habitat-destruction in the Hunter Valley)

Guest Post from local architect, Bev Atkinson, outlining her presentation to the Planning Assessment Commission in Singleton earlier this week


I come from Scone, north of here in the coal belt. I am an architect.

I speak about making a healthy economic and social transition, straight away not later. Many of us reject any simplistic use of the word ‘jobs’ as persuasion to favour mines. As if it were mine earnings or no earnings. We all know that is not true.

In Scone all the time, we see trades drained of practical workers, to feed the mines. They use only a tiny percentage of all workers, but from the available skilled tradies needed in towns, they drain a significant number; and often the best. Many don’t return. So trade apprentices don’t get trained; there’s no time. Our living standard has actually dropped: it’s terribly difficult to get trade work done soon and well. Tourism fades as mining grows; and all those jobs go with it; permanently.

Miners earn a lot, but where I come from, it erodes equality, rather than spreading wealth around. And sadly, they can lose their health, which is priceless. I bought my home from a mine manager. He was well paid, but then he died young, of lung cancer.

Health effects from mining are spreading north. But we don’t see our doctors asking for more mines. Doctor shortages in the country are not boasted of as positive job opportunities from mining. Jobs involved in mental health problems, accidents to shiftwork drivers, and chasing up of infringements ... those jobs are not used to advertise mining. Many mine related jobs are just to patch up its problems.

How good for us all, if these jobs were lightened up and redirected, in an environment of healthy work and healthy land. People would spend more in town then, not less. Patients would not be advised to leave town to survive longer.

The fact is, new emerging and clean industries too, create flow-on and indirect employment.

I want to see the ancient traditional owners, and the people of Bulga today, with their history and society unbroken, their land intact. I hope to see them living free from the tensions of fighting for existence, free to work producing food and fibre ad infinitum on a clean landscape.

Their young workers will enter jobs which hurt nobody and sustain us all. Jobs in agriculture, in renewable energies, in manufacturing. Benign, creative jobs using practical skills. To get there we need to spend on jobs in re-training, research and development; now, not later. Training and research provides inspiring work, and it too, generates many support jobs. Mines have served as a sinkhole for top talent, and for training opportunities, for long enough. The balance is now tipped right over. Hence we have excess readiness for mine jobs, and underfunded TAFE colleges.

The advertised energy and optimism of mine work belongs more truly to jobs which endure, with the intact land, for longer than a handful of decades. Jobs which feed but also inspire our grandchildren’s grandchildren. Jobs which make things in Australia to serve our people, rather than jobs which import huge diggers made elsewhere.

We need workers in sustainable design and manufacturing, in technology for reducing energy demand; in our CSIRO, in water management, soil sciences, in habitat preservation and nature conservation, in the arts, and in careful timber production.

Is this expensive to do? So what ... we get what we pay for! Paying is what we want to do surely: paying workers! Isn’t that what we want? Jobs? Two researchers for the price of one miner, and both of them happy to clock off and have normal family hours.

It may cost, to start up these investments, so let’s subsidise that instead of mining.

Sadly, all mining must to some extent affect the land, the water, the soil, the trees and the habitat, while spoiling the air and climate. It cannot avoid extinguishing land which took eons to evolve. Land which left alone, could produce and sustain life for as long as Earth endures.

So to be credible, Government economic analysis needs to take in a realistically extended future timescale looking centuries ahead at least. Only then could it validly choose life or death for the planet. With luck, it might see the light and choose pathways which nurture the planet and its amazing species, against the fatal depredations of its escalating human population.

I salute the world famous people of Bulga, and the Wonnaruah our gracious, gentle and kindly landlords, for showing us where to start.

Bev Atkinson B.Arch Hons UNSW

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