Blog | 22nd Aug, 2013

Mark Wakeham's speech at rally for Yallourn mine workers

Transcript of Mark Wakeham’s speech at the rally for locked-out Yallourn coal mine workers in Melbourne CBD on 16 August 2013

We’re here, standing with you today, because in the 21st century, in Australia, locking workers out of their place of employment is not an acceptable way to do business.

And this sort of behaviour is indicative of the management of Energy Australia. They are continually cutting corners, cutting costs, and failing to properly engage with workers and the community about issues at Yallourn.
And this is leading to poor outcomes for workers, for the community and for the environment.
When the Yallourn mine collapsed in June last year, the second time there has been a catastrophic collapse in the last 5 years, we were told about how a worker had identified leaks in the conveyor tunnel just minutes before the mine collapsed. Its incredibly lucky no workers were killed or injured. Yallourn’s mining practices, getting too greedy and mining areas that shouldn’t be mined, and cutting mine walls that are too steep, is a dangerous for workers.
Its dangerous for the environment as well. For months management at Yallourn dumped poor quality water into the Latrobe River, causing high levels of turbidity- ie muddy water. That reduces the oxygen in the river for fish and anything else living in the river. That’s not good for the environment and its not good for the region’s fishing or tourism industry. Poor management decisions at Yallourn are hurting workers, hurting the environment and hurting the community.
Similarly, Energy Australia is slashing maintenance expenditure on the power station. That is not sustainable in any sense of the word, and its only a matter of time before there are serious and potentially dangerous outages as a result of under-investment in maintenance. There’s a real risk that workers, the environment and the community are again the victim of EA’s corner-cutting and cost-cutting.
As you know there is tremendous uncertainty in the power sector. Players like AGL are talking about a massive oversupply of baseload power. The power industry is under enormous pressure from industrial change, rise of renewables, and previous investment and privatization mistakes.
Now the Andrew Bolts of this world will say why have you got a greenie speaking at your rally. They want to shut down power stations like Yallourn and Hazelwood.
And in our work with workers, unions and the Latrobe Valley community over the past decade we’ve been very clear that the climate crisis requires that we replace old and polluting power stations as soon as possible.
But modernising our electricity system does not mean hanging workers out to dry It does not mean locking them out of decisions about the future of operations. It does not mean running the power station into the ground like a clapped out car and then walking away from the community as China Light and Power may well do.
Action to clean up our power supply is both necessary and inevitable, but we don’t want workers or the local community, or the environment for that matter, to be the meat in the sandwich.
We need a planned, phased replacement of our oldest and least efficient power stations and we need to ensure that new investment, both in power generation but also in other industries, happens in the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland.
You need that, we need that and the planet needs that. That’s why your fight to have a say in management decisions at Yallourn is so important.
And that’s why, though we might disagree on closure timeframes, or the likelihood of coal ever being clean, we are united by more than divides us.
Free market thinking won’t deliver investment plans for Gippsland and phased replacement of power stations. We’ll get sudden closure decisions by management in Hong Kong or France, no notice for workers and no Plan B for the Valley.
That’s why we’re here. That’s why we wish strength to your arm. That’s why we’ll continue to work with you for truly sustainable industry and quality jobs in Gippsland.