Poll reveals clean industries key to future prosperity in coal heartlands


A poll of more than 2,000 voters in Queensland and New South Wales (NSW) found that more than 60% of respondents believe the future prosperity of the states won’t be found in coal or gas, but rather in clean industries like green hydrogen, the mining of critical minerals like lithium and cobalt, and manufacturing renewable products.

The survey, commissioned by the Climate Council and conducted by YouGov, found only a quarter of voters in Queensland (26%) and about one fifth in NSW (21%) believe their state’s future prosperity lies in coal and gas.

NSW and Queensland are home to 11 of Australia’s 17 operational coal-fired power stations and are also the nation’s largest coal producers. The two states also dominate Australia’s coal export sectors, with NSW home to the world’s largest coal port while three of the nation’s major liquefied gas export facilities are located in Queensland.

Yet two thirds of those who took part in the poll say renewable energy will be the best source of future employment opportunities with 63% of people in Queensland and 68% in NSW backing the transition to clean energy to drive the future jobs market.

Economist Nicki Hutley, a former partner at Deloitte Access Economics, said the poll shows people in NSW and Queensland understand “the era of coal and gas in this country is coming to a close as the world rapidly decarbonises”.

“They strongly support government investment in new, clean industries that will future-proof jobs and secure our economic prosperity,” she said.

“Significantly, voters recognise that further cuts to carbon emissions – critical if we are to keep global warming in check – will increase jobs and lift economic growth.

“They also think regional areas will benefit the most. However, there is a strong view that there needs to be better support from government for communities that currently rely on fossil fuels in order for them to adjust to the changes.”

Those who took part in the survey believe the government’s top investment priority should be in renewables.

Image: ARENA

The survey found that 60% of people in Queensland and 62% in NSW believe the government’s top investment priority should be in renewables.

In Queensland, 20% backed coal and 15% said gas. In NSW, the figures were 15% for coal and 17% for gas.

Almost two thirds of those polled believe further cuts to carbon emissions will deliver economic benefits to workers (58% in Queensland and 64% in NSW) and to businesses (59% Queensland and 66% NSW).

Six in 10 agree that regional areas will benefit most from the global transition to renewables but only two in 10 say workers who currently rely on fossil fuels are getting enough support to prepare for a decarbonised future (19% in Queensland and 21% in NSW).

Amanda Cahill, chief executive of not-for-profit advisory organisation The Next Economy, said Australia’s transition from fossil fuels to clean new industries presents opportunities for regional areas but they’re crying out for support from government to help them diversify their economies.

“This poll reaffirms what I’ve been hearing on the ground. Workers, businesses and investors are ready to take advantage of the opportunities in the new economy, but they need the government to back them in with clear targets, regional development funding and planning support,” she said.

“The countries we export to are already on the road to net zero emissions and we have a choice – help them do it or lose out on those new export opportunities.”

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