A new report has endorsed the need to establish a 'Hunter Valley Authority' to support workers and create new jobs as the region heads into a period of unprecedented economic change.
The 24-page report titled Building for the future: A 'Hunter Valley Authority' to Secure Our Region's Prosperity argues the new local statutory authority should be well-resourced to support workers transitioning into new jobs as well as to encourage new investment in the region.
The report has been produced by The Hunter Jobs Alliance - a locally-based union and community environment group alliance.
It argues the Hunter statutory authority should be established as a priority to allow the region to prepare for the closure of four coal-fired power stations in the next 14 years and to deal with the loss of 16,000 manufacturing jobs over the last decade.
"The Hunter needs to get to grips with major changes facing our region. For decades locals have called for action to improve government and industry coordination, sell ourselves better to investors, and support workers. Despite some noble efforts, we are sleepwalking into major structural economic change, with all the consequences that brings for livelihoods and communities," Hunter Jobs Alliance Coordinator Warrick Jordan said.
"For two centuries our economy has been driven by natural resources, particularly in coal and energy, but that advantage is beginning to decline. Growing and attracting well paid, job creating industries like manufacturing, medical technology, clean energy and education in a competitive global economy will take hard work and leadership. We need to be one of the best places in the world to invest and work, and a coordinating public authority is critical to making that happen."
The report cites regional investment strategies in other states which could be used as a template for a Hunter statutory authority.
Western Australia and Victoria have established structural change bodies in coal regions undergoing transition while Queensland and Tasmania are investing in retraining manufacturing workers.
"This is the year to establish a Hunter statutory authority and take our role as a regional powerhouse into the future," Mr Jordan said.
"Taking the best evidence from across the country, a well-resourced statutory authority to manage change with on-ground programs is the best way to lock in prosperity for future generations."
The State Government announced during the recent Upper Hunter byelection that it was creating a Royalties for Rejuvenation fund to assist coal mining communities making the transition to a clean energy economy over coming decades.
The $25 million fund will complement the Resources for Regions program, which has seen $345 million invested in local communities.
"Coal is here for decades but if we aren't planning for the future we get left behind," Mr Barilaro said.
A focus of the fund will be to help communities develop other viable industries.
"We welcome the recent announcement during the Upper Hunter by-election that the Hunter will have a local future fund and statutory expert panel, and hope this is a sign of a more substantial policy discussion on these issues," Mr Jordan said.
"This is partly offset by a $20.6 million downgrade over the three years to 2024-25, resulting in a $30.5 million (0.5 per cent) uplift over the four years to 2024-25.