Labor must reassure coal mining workers they are central to Australia's green-energy future, rather than "part of the problem", the party's climate change and energy spokesman has said.
Speaking at an Australian National University forum, Chris Bowen argued that through a focus on renewable energy and manufacturing a future Labor government could both take meaningful action on climate change and create new jobs in coal-mining regions in NSW and Queensland.
Mr Bowen also told the forum that Labor would stick to its 2050 net zero emissions target and saw an important role for gas in Australia's energy mix, as he fended off accusations from the audience that his party needed to be more ambitious in tackling the problem.
At one point, two protesters interrupted Mr Bowen and the forum's host, Canberra MP Alicia Payne, taking to the stage with signs which read: "Whose side are you on?" and "We demand a jobs guarantee".
Mr Bowen has shifted the tone of Labor's messaging on climate policy since being moved into the position as part of a reshuffle of Anthony Albanese's shadow cabinet in January.
The reshuffle was triggered by Joel Fitzgibbon's decision to quit the frontbench, which followed months of the Hunter MP pushing the party to pivot on climate policy to focus more on blue collar workers.
Climate change has long been a vexed issue for Labor, with the party torn between appealing to progressive city voters who want stronger action on cutting emissions and regional electorates worried about job losses.
Mr Bowen said reconciling the two issues had been a "great challenge" for Labor, conceding the party had been politically outmanoeuvred by the Coalition - which has managed to win seats throughout Queensland and in inner-city Sydney and Melbourne.
In its efforts to win back regional electorates, Mr Bowen, who visited a coal mine and solar farm on a recent trip to Queensland, said Labor needed to send a positive message to blue collar workers that new opportunities and jobs would be created as Australia transitioned to a low-carbon economy.
"The regions which built our economy with cheap energy - the central Queenslands, the Hunters, the Latrobes - are exactly the same regions that will generate the electricity of the future in a renewable economy because they have access to the pipelines, to the rail lines, the ports and the space," he said.
"It's a conversation they [workers] want to have.
"These are smart, hardworking people who have worked in coal-fire power stations all of their lives - but they want to talk about their future and their role in a renewable economy.
"They are very receptive to hear that their regions are exactly the ones that can power our future.
"My argument is that we have to give them a hopeful future, simply going to them and saying they are part of the problem is no way to to convince them of the need for change."
Mr Bowen's comments come as Labor prepares to debate the policy platform it will take to the next election at next week's national party conference.
The draft platform commits to net zero by 2050, with medium-term targets to be put in place.
It calls on a future Labor government to establish a new authority to support workers as coal plants are shuttered.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said his preference is for Australia to reach net zero emissions by 2050, but has stopped short of committing to the target.
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