NSW Labor Backs ‘Proud Coal Miner’, Union Candidate in Upper Hunter By-Election

April 14, 2021 Updated: April 14, 2021

New South Wales (NSW) Labor has shifted away from its national counterpart’s climate change agenda to support a former coal miner as its candidate in the Upper Hunter by-election.

NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay made the statement while announcing their candidate for the Upper Hunter by-election.

“We do not support a moratorium on coal mines; let’s get that out of the way,” McKay said.

The about-face comes as NSW Labor announced it would run a former coal miner and Jeff Drayton as its candidate. Drayton is district vice president for the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).

McKay said that the by-election would be about the future of coal in the region but denied that her declaration damaged her party’s standing on climate change and environmental issues.

“What frustrates me is that if you’re in this corner, supposedly you can’t accept that corner,” McKay said.

“We need to be pursuing renewable energy, we all know that, but we also need to make sure that we’re protecting jobs in the coal industry,” she said.

McKay also noted that it was important to remember that Australia has a vibrant coal export industry that needs support and that people should actually be thanking the industry’s workers for the thriving NSW economy.

Coal has been a key issue in the by-election, which was sparked by the resignation of the former Nationals MP Michael Johnsen. Johnsen was forced to resign after it was revealed he was the subject of a police investigation into allegations he attacked a female sex worker in 2019. He also is accused of having sent lewd messages to the same woman.

Drayton, who declared himself a “proud coal miner,” said he was sick of people attacking the coal industry and its workers.

“Every time I open the newspaper, every time I turn the TV on, I see someone having a go at coal miners,” he said. “That has to stop, and I’m gonna fight bloody hard to make sure it does.”

NSW Labor’s choice of Drayton comes despite a poll showing that a majority of the region’s residents don’t support new coal mines.

An Australia Institute poll taken in the Upper Hunter electorate found 57.4 percent of the 668 residents polled supported a moratorium on approvals for new coal mines against 35.1 percent who oppose the measures.

However, Drayton believes the polling does not accurately reflect the region.

“I must be talking to a different 600 (people) than they polled,” Drayton said.

The news comes after climate change advocates accused the ALP of being soft on coal.

The Climate Council of Australia has said that the ALP’s climate policy is not explicit enough on the topic of coal. However, it did note that some of the party’s policies will reduce Australia’s dependence on it.

“Climate change is affecting Australians today,” the Climate Council said.

“The ALP’s climate policy is silent on the current Coalition Government’s potential investment in fossil fuel power generation and the need to phase out domestic and export coal and gas (including the controversial Carmichael coal mine). Rapidly phasing out fossil fuels is crucial to tackling climate change effectively.”

The Climate Council believes that the ALP should provide Australia with a “clear climate adaptation strategy” that will address the changes needed to move Australia away from fossil fuel technology.

Drayton’s campaign will also focus on extending the state’s manufacturing sector, which he believes will answer any reduction the coal industry may face in the future.