Right-wing groups are mobilising against offshore wind projects, holding rallies in Wollongong and Port Stephens on the NSW coast against plans for nearby projects.
Barnaby Joyce spoke at a rally in Port Stephens alongside members of One Nation and Liberal leader Peter Dutton has visited the area twice to cheer on the opposition to renewable energy.
Around Wollongong anti-wind farm groups have targeted the consultation process on an offshore wind zone between ten and 30 kilometres offshore.
“Unfortunately, the Liberal National parties and alt right groups have used this as an opportunity to spread disinformation,” South Coast Labour Council Secretary Arthur Rorris told Solidarity.
“Even though they’ve had wall-to-wall free advertising on Sky news, 2GB and all of the major outfits who are part of the Murdoch machine, they were still unable to get more than 500 people to a rally on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Wollongong Beach.
“What is happening, though, is a polarisation driven by the conservatives flooding the public space with ridiculous misinformation and lies. We have heard that the sun won’t rise because these turbines will be so big on the horizon. We have heard that the wind will not blow over Stanwell Park – Bald Hill, to allow hang gliders to take off.
“Yet when you look at it, there is no proof at all. Even though there is not a shred of evidence that even one whale has been killed by an offshore wind farm, they are repeating Donald Trump’s words, saying that the wind farms are causing deaths.
“We know that the thing that’s actually causing current whale deaths is boats and nets. And in the longer term, the biggest threat the whales face is climate change, which will deplete their access to krill in the Antarctic and cause the acidification of the oceans.”
The South Coast Labour Council has been helping organise support for offshore wind in the area. This has involved “getting the broadest possible coalition”, including “organisations that people readily identify as protecting whales like Greenpeace coming out and saying this is part of a right wing agenda to try and hijack environmental sentiments and use it against the environment movement”.
Wind farm opponents have been using social media to “intimidate anyone who they see as disagreeing with them,” he said. “The idea is to scare anyone with any credibility out of the discussion. And it’s working, that’s the sad part.
“We have seen them target Greenpeace, the ACF, even accusing the university [of Wollongong] of corruption for accepting money to do research to look into the [impact on] whales and all the claims that they make.
“The lesson that we have learnt is that it’s not good enough to treat these things as something that you can just ignore.”
Unions in the Illawarra area including the MUA have been campaigning to demand offshore wind in the area as an alternative source of jobs for workers in the fossil fuel industry.
The local steelworks at Port Kembla, nearby coal mines and heavy industry are all carbon-intensive.
Offshore wind in the area could deliver an estimated 2500 jobs in construction and 1250 ongoing jobs. This would include work at the port and in seafaring. “We’re going to require two extra ships just to service these things,” Rorris said.
“These projects are big, we’re talking enough to power more than three million homes. But it would also open the gateway to make hydrogen with clean energy, which you need to move the steelworks to being able to produce green steel. To make hydrogen in the quantity that we need, we need massive amounts of clean energy.
“This is what we were talking about when the short-sighted suggestion came up about a nuclear submarine base at Port Kembla. Why would you risk this offshore wind for that?
“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime economically and industrially.”
Government investment in renewable energy is needed to ensure these projects are built in areas like the Illawarra and Newcastle where they are needed to replace coal jobs.
The South Coast Labour Council also argues that using locally-made steel for foundations and wind farm components would guarantee further jobs.
Climate activists need to organise to counter the myths about renewable energy and push for the government to act. The campaign in Wollongong shows how unions can be a key ally in this fight.
We need to fight for alternative jobs for fossil fuel workers, not simply call for existing coal ports and infrastructure to shut down. Workers will not support calls to transition away from fossil fuels unless they can see there are real alternative jobs on offer.
The climate movement needs unions and organised workers to have the power to force change.
By James Supple