How teachers and tourism could keep mining towns afloat

Stephanie Gardiner |

The report says mining towns need support to reinvent themselves as the world shifts to green power.
The report says mining towns need support to reinvent themselves as the world shifts to green power.

Australian coal mining regions need a steady supply of teachers, healthcare workers, volunteers and entrepreneurs to adapt and prosper as the world moves away from fossil fuels.

A greater focus on tourism, agriculture and the arts could also lead regional Australia’s mining communities through the green energy transition, according to a study by the Centre for Policy Development.

The centre’s Making Our Way report looked at the demographics of 11 fossil-fuel regions across Australia, including Queensland’s central highlands, Collie in WA and the NSW Hunter, to guide investment priorities.

The report recommended all levels of government focus on economic diversity, access to services like education and health care and social capital, as areas affected by the energy transition were lagging behind.

Communities would need different approaches to face decline in demand for fossil fuels, report author and economic adviser Mara Hammerle said.

“The people and communities affected by climate transition should be at the front of the pack for jobs, projects and opportunities in emerging industries,” Ms Hammerle said.

The NSW Mudgee region was the only area with sufficient teacher-to-student ratios, while Victoria’s Latrobe and WA’s Collie met healthcare worker-to-resident targets.

The report said access to services like health, education, aged care and childcare were critical for quality of life.

“The likelihood of residents to remain in a region, rather than emigrate, is an important component of that region’s adaptive capacity.”

The researchers measured social capital by the number of volunteers in each region, a symbol of cohesion.

Other than Banana in Queensland, all regions had volunteer rates below the regional average, possibly because of fly-in-fly out workers, the report said.

“A strong social fabric is an advantage as communities go through significant economic transition, as it provides alternative non-work-based avenues of support, connection, identity, and meaning to people’s lives.”

Collie’s $50,000 art prize showed the region could become a thriving arts hub, with creativity and entrepreneurialism considered key to transition.

“A more highly-educated workforce is linked to higher creativity levels, the generation of new knowledge and the absorption of knowledge generated elsewhere, enabling communities to adapt quickly to both short- and longer-term economic changes.”

Regions like Isaac and the central highlands in Queensland have strong potential in the tourism and agriculture sectors, while Victoria’s Latrobe region could build on its existing infrastructure and its proximity to Melbourne.