A bold new proposal is calling on the government to create hundreds of thousands of jobs specifically aimed at reversing climate change.
The Australian Unemployed Workers Union (AUWU) has argued in a Senate submission that the government needs to create more than 600,000 environmental jobs to reach full employment and transition away from fossil fuels.
The submission, which the AUWU lodged with the Senate Committee into Jobs for the Future in Regional Areas, said hiring workers to reverse environmental damage would not only help fight climate change, but also provide a much-needed boost to Australia’s flagging economy.
It said the market had failed to create enough jobs and had provided an inadequate “response to the threat of global warming” – failures that an environmentally focused jobs program could help address.
“It’s the sort of big-picture idea that we need to be talking about if we are going to address climate change,” Connor Jolley, a PhD student at RMIT University who co-authored the AUWU’s submission, told The New Daily.
“Doing things like putting a price on carbon might be a good first step, but it was never going to be the be all and end all,” Mr Jolley said.
The scheme, titled the Green Jobs Guarantee (GJG), would see the federal government act as an employer of last resort, stepping in to provide meaningful and socially productive jobs to the unemployed.
Local government would determine exactly what jobs were needed, while community groups and organisations would help drum up ideas.
The submission states the jobs would pay a “wage fixed at the Federal Minimum Award rate … to preserve an incentive for workers to leave the GJG when opportunities in mainstream employment arise”.
The government would need to create up to 600,000 jobs to soak up existing unemployment, it said.
And this would cost between $22 billion and $28 billion – money that the government could raise by reducing tax exemptions and concessions.
They cited things such as superannuation tax breaks, negative gearing and capital-gains tax discounts.
The AUWU joins a chorus of voices calling on the government to take advantage of cheap borrowing rates and ramp up spending.
Welfare advocates and several business groups have also urged the government to increase the unemployment benefit, Newstart.
And RBA governor Philip Lowe has repeatedly called for structural reforms and more infrastructure spending.
According to University of NSW economics professor Richard Holden, the idea of a GJG has merit – especially given interest rate cuts are “running out of firepower”.
Dr Holden said such a scheme would provide a much-needed boost to the economy, as workers would likely spend most of their income.
But he said the scheme would have to satisfy two requirements to be successful.
“The first thing is the jobs people are doing would have to be socially productive in some way – in other words, the environmental benefits would need to be real,” he said.
“The second point is that you need to be careful with any of these job guarantees not to crowd out private-sector employment.
“If your goal is to provide jobs for the unemployed, and you create some jobs in one part of the economy, but destroy jobs in another part of the economy, that’s counter-productive.”