One of the Illawarra's most prominent unions has welcomed the NSW Government's new hydrogen strategy, but insists the massive jobs potential would be "squandered" if lessons aren't learned from natural gas.
Australian Workers Union national secretary Daniel Walton said this meant providing the necessary skills training, building hydrogen infrastructure in Australia, and having a domestic reservation policy so the product was not all exported.
Mr Walton was speaking after NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and Treasurer Matt Kean announced $3 billion would be put towards incentives to encourage investment in hydrogen power, primarily in the Illawarra and Hunter regions.
South Coast Labour Council secretary and co-convenor of Recharge Illawarra Arthur Rorris said this moment was an international energy "revolution" and the Illawarra was "ground zero".
"It has been more than 10 years since we first pulled together unions, business and community leaders to adopt an action plan for the Illawarra and transform our industrial base to realise these opportunities," he said.
"Today we have a headstart: a steelworks, a deepwater port, skilled workforce, a leading university and a united community.
"Hydrogen will need bucket loads of renewable energy and plans to establish offshore wind-farms are the key to unlocking these opportunities for our region."
Mr Walton said hydrogen development offered "fantastic opportunities" to workers in the fossil fuel sector - if it were done properly.
The AWU represents many of the Illawarra's steel and manufacturing workers.
"So long as governments are proactive in making training opportunities available to workers there are obvious synergies and great opportunities to shift from one to the other," he said.
He said the lesson from natural gas was that efforts were needed to maximise local benefits.
"Australia is one of the most gas-rich nations in the world, but instead of using that wealth to provide affordable energy to our manufacturers, we've given multinationals a no-strings-attached licence to pump it offshore to power jobs overseas," Mr Walton said.
"There is potential for the mistake to be repeated with hydrogen if we don't get our policy settings right. For example, if we're investing in hydrogen infrastructure, why not build the electrolysers [systems which break water into hydrogen and oxygen] here? We could be investing massively in Australian manufacturing capacity.
"We also need a hydrogen reservation policy so a portion of the hydrogen we produce in this country is set aside to sell to Australian factories providing Australian jobs."
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