Labor Senator Murray Watt is now the Shadow Minister for Queensland Resources.
Labor Senator Murray Watt is now the Shadow Minister for Queensland Resources.

What's in a name: Senator's title reflects party priorities

Queensland Labor Senator Murray Watt has another portfolio to his name: he is now the Shadow Minister for Queensland Resources, as well as that for Disaster and Emergency Management and for Northern Australia.

The appellation reflects Federal Labor's renewed conviction in coal mining, a retributive pivot for perceived strategic failures during 2019's national vote.

It also gave Mr Watt the chance to reiterate the arguments that his party will take to the next election.

He positioned Labor as the moderate, pragmatic option: neither all-in nor all-out on coal, somewhere between the LNP and the Greens, attempting to straddle an apparent contradiction between a traditional working-class base and a burgeoning environmental movement.

"This isn't a new challenge," Mr Watt said.

"For 40 or 50 years, Labor has represented different constituents: working-class people in regions and what might be seen as university-educated professional people in the cities.

"We've done it before and, frankly, unless we do build that coalition of support across working people, regional workers, and city people, then we can't win."

But that conflict would dissolve, Mr Watt said, if the conversation started with employment itself, rather than with the coal-environment division.

He said the resources sector and its employees had a "strong future", particularly when it came to exporting metallurgical coal, but it was also "important to take action on climate change".

"We can have jobs and protect the environment," Mr Watt said.

"Central Queensland is sitting on a gold mine of solar, wind, and other renewable resources, and I think we should be developing jobs in those newer industries at the same time as securing jobs in our existing industries."

"At the last election, Queensland showed that we can win seats in Central Queensland by focusing on people's jobs and their health.

"Our job is to make really clear to people that our number one priority is Central Queenslanders having secure jobs."

Mr Watt said that while he wants mining companies to be successful and create jobs, workers needed "a fair share".

"I've been in mines everywhere from Moranbah to Mount Isa and done a lot of work with mining companies, mining unions, mining works, mining communities," he said.

"We've been highlighting the problems arising from the abuse of labour hire and casualisation for a number of years now. I expect that we will have some more policies to deal with that - that will be a key focus.

"We will have the needs of mining workers at the centre of our plans for the mining industry. We do need changes to our laws that prevent labour hire firms from exploiting people. "

More broadly, Mr Watt said he would advocate mending Australia's "buggered up" relationship with China and hedge against Queensland coal sitting unemployed on foreign shores.

"What we want to see is the government really diversifying its trading markets," he said.

"For too long this government has really put all of its eggs in the China basket and they've ignored other potential markets, whether that be India or South-East Asia or other places, and now we're paying the price for that."

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