Four prominent Gladstone locals say their city and region has been misrepresented during this election campaign by politicians who want to extend the life of the coal and gas sectors.
Gladstone Regional Councillor Natalia Muszkat, Electrical Trades Union organiser Shawn Higgins, high school teacher Emma Smith and Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner Jaclyn McCosker have joined together to voice their objections to Gladstone locals being stereotyped as ‘coal lovers’ and ‘bogans’.
Natalia Muszkat is a councillor with Gladstone Regional Council and mother of two teenage sons. She represents 64,000 people, is president of a CWA branch and small business owner:
“There’s a lot more to Gladstone than coal. There are a lot of different industries and a great diversity of opinions, but some politicians are only amplifying the voices that will support their political aspirations.
“The people here are very diverse. And we’re not stupid, we can approach issues with critical thinking. Comments calling us ‘coal lovers’ and ‘bogans’ – this is not who we are. This is not a good way of engaging people, it only divides us. We care about the things everyone cares about: secure jobs, the environment and a future for our kids.
“Politicians using us to create divides is not what people here want. We’re not fearful about workplaces changing, we’re fearful about the lack of plan.”
Shawn Higgins is an organiser with the Electrical Trades Union:
“Our members understand the science is proven. We can’t keep going with fossil fuels, it’s destroying the planet. Our members want to see a future for their kids and grandkids.
“I remember at our first big meeting about this a 50-year-old coal miner stood up and said, I have children and grandchildren, we can’t continue to push this issue back. We need to take ownership now and see the government put effort in for real change and true transition.
“Delegates who work in coal mines and coal-fired power stations have put together their own ‘just transition’ committee to do their own work on this.
“They want to be part of the change and they don’t want to be let down by politicians going against the science.”
Emma Smith is a high school teacher and mother of three young kids. She grew up in Biloela in a mining family. Her husband works in manufacturing:
“For a few years, there was a sign on the way out of Calliope that read ‘Ken backs coal’. This sign used to make me feel so furious, but the fact that our federal MP was fixated on old technology goes some way to explaining why industry and state government and the local council have had to go their own way in finding a path to a low carbon future.
“I have friends who feel very frustrated that we are depicted as only farmers or coal-lovers in central Queensland.
“It seems as though the potential for renewables in Gladstone is starting to change perceptions, but who is advocating for a clean future for towns like Moura, Biloela and Blackwater? Let’s have a conversation about how to diversify our region so people want to stay, even if their current job needs to change.”
Jaclyn McCosker is an Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner who is born and lives in Gladstone. She has family and friends who work in fossil fuel sectors:
“For too long, communities like ours have been used as a political soundbite to push a very narrow agenda, especially by those profiting from the coal and gas industries. But who is asking the community what we want for our future?
“There is a lot of talk about what different political parties want to do with our future, but we’re not hearing much from real locals.
“We can see the writing on the wall – coal and gas are on their way out and they have to be for a safe climate. Regional Queenslanders know this. We want a future for Gladstone that is economically sustainable and provides future-proof jobs we can be proud of.
“We have so much opportunity to have a bright future powered by renewable energy. Gladstone has the sun, the wind and the port. We could lead this renewable transformation. We can be making and exporting goods the world wants like green aluminium and hydrogen.”