NO one knows when the last shipload of coal will depart the Port of Newcastle but virtually everyone knows that day is coming.
The weasel words Australian politicians use are that coal will 'be a part of the energy mix for decades to come', but those words conceal a simple truth: coal is already a shrinking proportion of the energy mix and that proportion will shrink to zero in decades to come.
The owners and managers of the Port of Newcastle know that. Port chair Roy Green and chief executive Craig Carmody have stated that over the course of their 98-year lease the role of coal will shrink.
Diversification via container terminals is key to both the Port and the Hunter's economic futures. If the people who own a coal port can plan for the end of coal why won't the federal or state governments?
The last thing a world that's tackling climate change needs is new coal mines but the Morrison government is determined to ensure the Adani mine and five others are opened in Queensland's Galilee Basin.
As much as 200 million tonnes of new supply coming into a flatlining world coal market will devastate the Hunter coal industry.
An increase in coal supply from new mines will cut both the price and the market share of existing coal producers.
The Hunter's Joel Fitzgibbon, a man not usually known for his focus on climate change, gets the economics, saying in 2017: "Adani should be able to stand on its own two feet and any government subsidisation of the project will be a blow to the Hunter region".
A world that needs less coal needs less coal mines. Luckily for the Hunter coal industry the first step Australia needs to take towards this reality is to stop building new coal mines in regions that currently employ no coal workers. The next step is to invest in the industries and infrastructure that will inevitably grow in the coming decades. Container and cruise terminals at the Port of Newcastle are two such projects.
But instead of planning for the future, the federal and state governments are working desperately to lock in the past. The way forward is simple: we need to stop new coal mines in Queensland and invest in diversification in the Hunter.
Hopefully the state parliamentary inquiry into NSW's transition from coal, chaired by independent Alex Greenwich, will take these issues more seriously than our government.