It's time for a Green New Deal for Ballarat
Ballarat is buzzing right now with ideas for our potential - visions of what our city could become over the next decade. Professor Ross Garnaut is in town talking about our huge potential to become a renewable energy powerhouse, greening our electricity sector while creating good long-term jobs. The State Labor government is putting the finishing touches on the Ballarat Line Upgrade project, providing more frequent and reliable train services, while the State Liberal Council is lobbying the Federal government to fund the next big step on the Ballarat line. The Business Council of Australia is calling for cities like Ballarat to be named "priority cities" for investment, with a cohesive industry policy to help unlock our potential.
Everyone is bringing different perspectives to this discussion, which is great - we need everyone contributing their expertise. But the jumping off point for this discussion has to be the need to address climate change. If the world doesn't hold warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees, it will have a devastating impact on our lives, as well as our economy - and we need to do our bit. We need to rejuvenate our sluggish economy, but we need to do it in a way that transforms it into the high-tech low-carbon economy we'll need for the future, rather than propping up the fossil fuel industries or supporting emissions-intensive practices.
A Green New Deal would tie our visions together into a cohesive suite of policies that would do just that - transform our economy, eliminate carbon emissions, and protect the people of Australia through the transition period. The name comes from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "New Deal" to pull the USA out of the Great Depression, and put the nation to work building the vital infrastructure that served the country for decades afterwards. Transforming our own economy will create a lot of jobs in new industries - from renewable energy to transport to agriculture and sustainable forestry - but it will inevitably mean that polluting industries need to be phased out.
A key component of the Green New Deal is to provide a just, fair transition for the workers in those industries - making sure that they have access to the training and education they need, the financial support they need, and jobs that harness their skills in the renewed economy. This is all possible, but it won't happen by accident - we need a hands-on government plan, to invest in infrastructure, education and all the other programs necessary to actively manage the transition.
Thankfully Ballarat and western Victoria stands to gain more than most from a Green New Deal. We aren't heavily reliant on jobs in the kinds of industries that need phasing out, yet we are perfectly placed to grow the new jobs that this new economy will provide. We have world-class education facilities, from Primary right through to Tertiary education. We are a healthcare hub, with fantastic work being done at the Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute and plans to go even further with BIRCH. We have a growing IT ecosystem, with an important relationship between FedUni and IBM, and a number of IT startups in town. You mightn't think of these as "green" jobs, but they are both environmentally and economically the kinds of jobs we need for the future, so they are among those a Green New Deal would seek to nurture.
When it comes to stereotypical "green" jobs, Ballarat is at the junction of several transmission lines, and Victoria's west has unparalleled wind and solar resources - there are huge opportunities in this field. But it's not just renewable energy. Transport is Australia's second-highest source of emissions, so we will need to completely transform our transport system in the next few decades. This will include electric cars and trucks, but it will also mean a lot more electric trains and buses need to be built and maintained. Ballarat has the Alstom workshop at Ballarat North to build trains, the Bombardier facility at Ballarat East to maintain trains, and OzPress Industries to build buses. MaxiTrans has recently fallen on some hard times, but a lot of the skills used for building trailers are directly transferable to building public transport vehicles. We are in prime position to benefit from the expansion and progressive electrification of Victoria's - and Australia's - public transport fleet.
It's important to note that the Green New Deal is not owned by any one political party. It's a non-partisan, grassroots campaign that originated in America (hence the name) and has spread around the world, gaining support in places like the UK and Spain. A package of investment that saves our environment, transforms our economy and creates and protects jobs everywhere from rural farms to urban centres - this is surely something all political parties can see the value in.
Doing the policy legwork to finetune exactly what we want and need from a Green New Deal will take time, and it will take Ballaratians from all walks of life contributing their points of view. But if we want to save our environment and our economy - and the people who rely on both - it's the best way forward.
Ben Lever is a transport and climate activist, and is Convener of the Ballarat Branch of the Public Transport Users Association.