Hunter set to lose 5000 jobs as global coal consumption and mining in the area winds down

FIRED UP: Singleton's Sophie Nichols is pleased with the state government's decision to launch an inquiry into the transition of energy. FILE PHOTO
FIRED UP: Singleton's Sophie Nichols is pleased with the state government's decision to launch an inquiry into the transition of energy. FILE PHOTO

THE shift away from coal towards other energy sources is inevitable.

And, that is why the NSW Government has established an enquiry to help investigate how this can best be accomplished.

Set to be led by independent MP for Sydney Alex Greenwich, it will look into supply and export trends, renewable energy and pertinently for towns in the Upper Hunter - how mining communities can be guided through the transition.

The committee chair has been assisted in his push for the probe by fellow independents Greg Piper and Joe McGirr, who sought a commitment from both the government and opposition prior to the election in March.

They intended on developing a 10-year adjustment strategy for communities that relied on coal mines, and secured the inquiry after pledging to support the coalition in parliament if required.

A report released last year by researchers at the University of Western Sydney and commissioned by Lock the Gate Alliance, dubbed Weathering the Storm, found the Hunter region was set to lose as many as 5000 jobs as global coal consumption and mining in the area wound down.

One Upper Hunter resident that has both a keen interest and expertise on the issue is University of Newcastle student and Hunter Renewal (HR) member Sophie Nichols.

HR is a group based in Singleton, which aims at getting funding and investigating how the region can most smoothly become less reliant on coal.

Studying honours, the 22-year-old's thesis is on the retirement in mining-affected communities.

"Mining is not an infinite source of employment in the Hunter community; we know that the majority of the mines in Singleton will wrap up from about 2030 to 2035," said the fifth generation Singleton local.

"So, we have to talk about how they then transition away and we have to get onto the ball now rather than when the jobs start decreasing."

A firm believer in renewables, Ms Nichols is hopeful the district can remain an energy powerhouse.

"There is considerable worry in Singleton about the future of coal exports - it's clear they cannot be relied on and we need to prepare for change, and this inquiry is a chance to put the Hunter region on the road to renewal," she said.

"It's so important for people to have this chance to get involved in talking through and planning how the Hunter can diversify and generate new opportunities for jobs and prosperity - independent of other country's uncertain coal demand."

A five-person committee, which contains MPs from both sides of politics, will facilitate the enquiry and is hoping to release their findings by March or April 2020.

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