Offshore Electricity Infrastructure (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021

House of Representatives 28/10/2021

Mr KHALIL (Wills) (19:27): I rise to speak on the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Bill 2021 and the associated bills. We support these bills. We commend the bills, as the previous speaker said. Why is that? Because we have called for this time and time again. As is often the case under this government, they are very late to the party. But we welcome them; finally, they’ve seen the light! They’ve heard the wind, as it is. It’s great that in recent weeks the Morrison government has suddenly discovered that climate change is an issue, and the need for renewable energy. There must be a ‘remind me tomorrow’ button installed on the coalition’s computers, for dealing with climate change. Or maybe the Morrison government is simply out of scare lines and scare tactics. Either/or, the fact remains that offshore wind has huge potential for Australia.

We are girt by sea, as we know, with endless coastlines. We are an island nation. We have some of the best wind resources in the world—and I’m not talking about some of the hot air that has emanated from the Nationals’ party room or all the infighting, bluster and huffing and puffing that’s gone on as they try and get to the no-brainer position of net zero emissions by 2050. Seriously, we are comparable to places like the North Sea, between Britain and Europe, where offshore energy is already an established industry.

It is beyond ridiculous now—it’s ludicrous—how long it has taken us to catch up to the rest of the world. In fact, research from earlier this year found that if all the proposed offshore wind farms were built their combined energy capacity would be greater than that of all of Australia’s coal-fired power plants. But, despite all this, Australia’s lack of a legal framework has meant we’re yet to commission our first offshore wind farm. This legislation will finally allow offshore wind to begin in earnest in Australia by setting up the regulatory frameworks necessary for offshore wind farms. It’s great to see the government finally getting around to it. There are a lot of reasons why offshore wind must be harnessed for the good of our country. In the long run there is potential not just to generate electricity for us here in Australia but also to export that energy into other countries. There is potential for export to Southeast Asia. The rest of the world is already taking advantage. Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, has pledged that by 2030 wind farms could power every home in the UK. Imagine that for Australia. One of the already proposed offshore wind farm projects in Victoria is the Star of the South, off the Gippsland coast. If built, it would have the potential to supply up to 20 per cent of the state’s energy, or energy for around 1.2 million homes. That’s 1.2 million homes that would get the power for their heating, their washing machines, their microwaves guilt free from the gusts that blow around our state. And I tell you it is very windy there in Gippsland. What I find amazing is that one turn of a wind turbine provides as much energy as a solar panel out in the sun for one day. They’re big turbines, and these turbines turn 15 times a minute. If you multiply the number of turbines in the installation, it gives you an idea of the scale.

But the other story of offshore wind is the jobs that it creates. It is labour intensive: you have the construction phase and the maintenance. And, because they are offshore, the workers cannot swim there. Well, maybe some of us can, but certainly it is not practical, so they have to be taken there by a crew, so this creates maritime jobs and port jobs. Estimates suggest that the offshore wind industry could create as many as 8,000 jobs each year from 2030, and these jobs will be created in areas that are going through economic change and transition, like the Hunter Valley, Gippsland, Latrobe, Illawarra and in Central Queensland. Twenty-six thousand people already work in the offshore wind industry in the United Kingdom. Another 70,000 are coming on board by 2026. In Australia, green energy partners have two projects they are looking to start exploratory work on off the Illawarra and off Newcastle. They want to use Port Kembla as a construction hub. The government likes to talk about technology not taxes, but here we see them late to the game yet again. They’re always late, always laggards, when it comes to offshore wind technology.

There are some issues with the bill that we don’t feel are adequately addressed. The Senate committee examining the bill, including government senators who lead the committee, made some suggestions that it considered important to legislation. These include amending the objects clause to better incorporate electricity transmission and exports, and an amendment on the consultation requirements for declared areas. And the government should consider amendments to the changes in control provisions. These three suggestions were made by government as well as non-government senators on the relevant committee. It’s surprising, then, that the minister has so far decided not to listen to his own colleagues. It’s becoming a pattern, where even government members of various committees make recommendations or support recommendations and the minister ignores them.

We are also concerned about the bills’ work health and safety framework. The committee heard substantial evidence that the government has not adopted the harmonised national WHS laws in the bills. Instead, the committee heard the government has amended those laws into an unrecognisable state. Without a harmonisation of these WHS frameworks, we may end up with a situation where a worker would be subject to one regulatory regime onshore, a second while in transit on a vessel and a third while working on the offshore renewable project. That poses confusion and risks for both workers and employers. Another concern we have is that the bills do not require local benefits to be included in merit criteria for licenses. When the minister of the day is considering whether to grant an offshore electricity licence, he or she should be required to consider benefits for local workers, businesses, communities and First Nations people. Currently, the bills, as they stand, do not do this. We would welcome an amendment to ensure benefits for local communities where these new industries will be situated.

Despite these concerns, I am shocked to see the government’s change of attitude on wind farms. Once upon a time they were too noisy and unappealing to look at: that was the narrative that the government was pushing. And it’s flip-flopped all over the place on this. It’s only taken the government eight years to finally make a decision on climate change policy, and after all the melodrama we’ve seen over the last couple of days—the infighting, the scare tactics, the huffing and puffing in the Nationals party room. All that hot air in the Nationals I could feel it when I walked past in the corridor, there was so much hot air coming out of there! And then the government rocked up with a reheated policy announcement from last year, talking points that the Prime Minister delivered just reheated from last year’s so-called technology roadmap. He whacked it on a PowerPoint and he thought that, by doing that, ‘Oh, I can call it plan’—and I think he mentioned ‘plan’ about 94 times in his speech. This so-called plan is as hollow as the Prime Minister. It shows a lack of conviction. Also, the so-called plan is as shambolic as the Deputy Prime Minister, who is flip-flopping all over the place, wanting to be both the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and a rebel against the government—a rebel with a cause against his own government. Talk about schizophrenia; talk about not knowing who you are! Ultimately this government acts in its own self-interest when it comes to climate change policy.

The substantive point is that the government have a track record in maintaining their self-interest above all else—their interest in maintaining their power. They are not using the political power that they have in the executive to implement policies in the interests of the Australian people. They are not doing it in the interests of Australia or even the interests of the rest of the world when it comes to what is clearly a global problem in reducing emissions. That’s probably why it has taken so long to get even a whisper out of them, or even a policy, or similar to a policy, out of them, and even then it is a zero plan when it comes to net zero emissions.

Unlike that mob over there, unlike the government, we on this side of the House believe—we have conviction—in a set of policies that will make a difference. It is the right thing for Australian jobs, it is the right thing for our climate and our environment and it’s the right thing for future generations. We are committed to climate policy for those reasons. It’s not about us; it’s about the future generations. It’s about what is important for Australians today and into the future. And it is not because it is politically expedient either; these are hard decisions that have to be made.

For all the talk and criticism of Labor, on the opposition benches, we are still in opposition, but we are a party that can form government. We are an alternative government to the Australian people, and we have policies that will take action on climate change—real, substantive action on climate change. It is about Australia being brought back into the community of nations who will fight the good fight on this global issue. Unlike the Liberal Party and The Nationals, whose policies are not really based on scientific evidence but on a lot of hot air, we base our assessments, our analysis and our policy work on the science. That’s why we committed to net zero emissions by 2050. That’s why we committed years ago. That’s why we will have more ambitious targets. If elected, we will invest in electric cars to make them cheaper—a critically important transition. We will invest in 10,000 new energy apprenticeship jobs, because it is about jobs and the opportunities that come with renewable energy. We will invest in hundreds of community batteries to power hundreds of thousands of households around this country. And the Leader of the Labor Party has already announced $20 billion to rewire, rebuild and modernise the electricity grid for the renewable energy age. That’s the future we are investing in and committing to.

As I said, it is about future generations. It’s about what is important for Australians. For Australians, it’s about us making us a renewable energy superpower. We have the assets and we have the resources. We are blessed with an abundance of natural resources, and we’re not taking those opportunities. That’s a failure. Offshore wind is part of that future and part of that investment in new jobs, in new industries driving our economy and in a reliable, affordable, clean energy future for our children and our grandchildren. Only the Labor Party, when it forms government, will make this happen for Australians and for our future generations. Thank you.