Offshore Wind - 27/10/21

27 October 2021


Labor is excited about the potential of offshore wind. We know how effective it is. We know how good it is at producing zero emissions power. We know largely because Australia is so late to this party. Offshore wind has been around for years. In Europe 20 years ago, offshore wind farms were a common sight. Seriously, why has it taken so long?

Finally, we're here. We've got some legislation. It's not perfect, but it's here and it's welcome. This legislation, the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Bill 2021 and the associated bills, will finally allow offshore wind to take off here at home. It will establish a regulatory framework for electricity infrastructure in the Commonwealth offshore area. It will allow the construction, installation, commissioning, operation and maintenance of offshore wind and other electricity infrastructure.

Australians are very aware of the benefits of renewable energy. They know it's good for the country. They know it's good for their bank accounts. That's why Australia has the world's highest uptake of rooftop solar. Although this government is currently trying to take a lot of credit for that, it has nothing to do with its policy.

Australia has the potential to become a solar and wind superpower—a superpower when it comes to renewable energy. We have such incredible untapped potential, and offshore wind is just one example of this. Australia is in the unique position of being both an island and a continent. We are huge and we have a huge coastline, and our coastline isn't just long; it's abundantly windy. That comes with huge potential for offshore wind power.

We know that the conditions of our coasts rival those in the North Sea, where wind farms abound. We have more offshore wind resource than we could ever possibly use ourselves. Recent research by Blue Economy indicates feasible wind resources of 2,233 gigawatts of capacity off Australia's coast. Australia's entire national energy market is around 55 gigawatts. If we utilise even a fraction of that potential, we can export huge amounts of renewable green power to South-East Asia.

Boris Johnson—in many ways a politician very similar to our own Prime Minister—has said that in 10 years time offshore wind will power every home in the UK. That is the potential of this technology. And let's be abundantly clear: everyone knows about this potential. It's the coalition, our government, who have been dragging their feet. There is no word for 'renewable phobia', officially, but that's the malady that afflicts those opposite. It's that malady that is afflicting the jobs opportunities in the towns and industries in this country, because of the government's pathological and ideological opposition to renewables being an important part of our sustainable and more certain energy future.

Luckily, Australia's energy providers are already there. There are now more than 10 projects that have been proposed and have been waiting for the government to get on with the job of allowing them to go ahead. The Star of the South of Gippsland will power 20 per cent of Victoria's energy needs—20 per cent from one project. One single rotation of an offshore wind turbine provides as much power as an entire day of rooftop solar. These turbines turn 15 times a minute. Imagine that: all of Australia's energy problems fixed, if we just got on with it.

Let's not forget that all these projects will create lots of jobs. The opportunities that come from offshore wind are abundant. These turbines need maintenance, ships to service them and people employed at the ports. There are 26,000 people already working in the offshore wind industry in the UK. It's expected that this number will grow, with an extra 70,000 jobs by 2026. To put that in perspective: the total coal industry in Australia currently employs around 52,000 people. That's before we even begin to talk about solar, hydrogen, hydro, pumped hydro and all the other renewable industries that will create an additional massive jobs boom, and, also, the advantage that will come from affordable energy for energy intensive industries.

And where would these jobs be? They'd be in the regions that power Australia right now. They'd be in the Hunter, in Gippsland, in the Illawarra, in Gladstone, in La Trobe and in Central Queensland. The regions that power Australia today will be the regions that power Australia into the future. But you wouldn't know that from the Nationals. You wouldn't know that from the comments by the minister for resources. These are their communities, yet they don't want them to benefit from these huge opportunities. It's clear how beneficial offshore wind will be for Australia. We know it, the community knows it, the private sector knows it, and I'm glad that finally—finally—the government is belatedly acting on this huge opportunity.

The government doesn't have to look far to figure it out. The effectiveness of wind energy can be seen just outside this building—in the capital, in my city of Canberra. It's been two years since the ACT officially became the first city outside Europe to be powered by 100 per cent renewable electricity. The ACT has managed this by offsetting its energy use via renewables, including five wind farms in resource-rich areas of the country: the Hornsdale Wind Farm in South Australia, the Ararat Wind Farm in Victoria and, just up the Federal Highway, in New South Wales, the Crookwell wind farm. Canberrans should be proud of this achievement, and the rest of Australia can draw inspiration from it.

While we welcome the government's long overdue epiphany, Labor do have concerns about certain aspects of these bills—specifically, around the work health and safety framework and licensing regime. It's concerning that the government has failed to adopt a harmonised national WHS law in the bills, instead amending those laws into a regulatory minefield. Without uniform laws, there is a danger of confusion and real risk for both workers and employers. We don't want to end up with a confusing situation where a worker would be subject to three different regulatory regimes: one regime while onshore, a second while on vessel in transit and a third while on the job on an offshore project. It's such a mess that even the department, the regulator and industry stakeholders can't agree on the situation. Further consultation is clearly needed on both the content and coverage of the WHS provisions. Labor has committed to improving and harmonising the WHS regulatory frameworks covering workers in offshore clean energy. We need to get this right.

Labor also calls on the government to include an amendment to ensure that benefits from these new industries flow to the communities where they are located. It is a serious concern that the bill doesn't require local benefits to be included in the merit criteria for licences. The minister of the day should be required to consider benefits for local workers, businesses, communities and First Nations people when considering whether to grant an offshore electricity licence.

While the government's position today is welcome, it can still do so much more. Let's not forget this is the same government that only a few short years ago argued that the sight of a wind farm was 'offensive' and a 'blight on the landscape', and the same government that has said batteries are as useful as the Big Banana and that electric vehicles will 'end the weekend'. The coalition are no climate converts. There has been no road-to-Damascus experience. The government's hostility to the renewable energy revolution sweeping the globe is unchanged. You simply can't believe anything this government says. This government loves the announcement but never follows through with its promises.

Just last week Keith Pitt—the same Keith Pitt who got a promotion in exchange for the government committing to net zero—in question time tried to undermine solar energy, trotting out the Tony-Abbott-era slogan that solar doesn't work at night. The member for Mallee followed this up by claiming wind farms don't work in the dark either. Matt Canavan has floated a mortgage tax to prop up the ailing fossil fuel sector, while claiming that net zero means compulsory veganism. That's the level of foolishness this debate has sunk to inside the government. If that isn't enough, Mr Canavan and George Christensen are also in open rebellion of the Prime Minister and the government's policy, claiming they will campaign against their own party on net zero. So now Australia is facing a climate crisis, a leadership crisis and a government in crisis.

We don't just drink water when it rains. We capture it and store it, and then we turn on a tap when we need it. Labor understands this. Labor understands that you need to invest in storage and battery technology to store the energy harvested in peak periods. That's why Labor has already committed to connecting up to 100,000 homes to 400 community batteries across the country. Labor will also invest $20 billion to modernise Australia's energy grid, to spur the production of cheap, clean renewable energy and keep power prices down. Labor understands the government needs the right policy settings so Australia can reap the rewards of the renewable energy boom.

Instead of preparing for this change, the Morrison government has chosen inaction and, in the process, has scared off international investors. Some 2,700 clean energy jobs are estimated to already have disappeared on Mr Morrison's watch, jobs ripped away from the regional electorates the Nationals claim to champion. This tired and rudderless government has no ideas. It would rather sow fear and division than harness hope and opportunity. Yesterday the Prime Minister and the energy minister stood up in the blue room, with a nice glossy brochure, with their fancy PowerPoint. They stood up and claimed to the Australian people that they had a plan. Yet this is no plan. It was a rehash of their old non-policy. In their own words, this is based on 'existing policies' with net zero written on the front.

How serious is the coalition when it comes to net zero? Clearly, not very, because yesterday they voted against it—every Liberal, every National, all the so-called modern Liberals. Minister Taylor would have us believe that laws are bad. He'd have us believe that this parliament enshrining our commitment to climate action is bad. They won't even make a real commitment. A newsflash to the minister: you are a legislator. That is the role of this parliament, to make laws, and it's time that this government did their job.

The plan released yesterday was not a plan, it was a scam. Australia needs climate action now and we don't have another three years to wait. We need to end the climate wars. We need to move on as a nation. We need to do our part as a global citizen. We need to respect the science. We need to legislate these targets. It is an embarrassment that our Prime Minister will go to Glasgow to represent Australia and won't even take a new target for 2030, which will be the focus of that meeting. We are still under the old Abbott-era targets, and they're not even going to be legislated formal targets. This new plan does not even formally change those 2030 targets. This is so embarrassing, and it is disgraceful that this Prime Minister would try and gaslight the Australian people into believing that this is some sort of action.

The government now claim they are committed to net zero by 2050, which is the absolute bare minimum that countries around the world are committing to. They will not enshrine this in legislation, and they have voted against it several times now in this parliament. It's shameful. It is shameful for the people in Australia who understand that we need climate action now, people who respect science, people in my electorate who contact me constantly about this. There is no issue that Canberrans contact me about more often than climate change, and many of these are young people.

Our young people are feeling that the adults in this parliament have let them down. I remember learning about climate change when I was in primary school. I never would have expected, all these years later, to be standing here in parliament crying out for a government to take action on this existential crisis facing our planet, that a wealthy, developed country like Australia would not feel the need to do its bit on the international stage and that our government, a coalition government, would treat this with such a lack of seriousness that they think they can get away with an announcement and a glossy brochure. They haven't even released modelling behind it. The Treasury seems to be distancing itself from this modelling as well, saying that they haven't been much involved today.

This is such an important and serious issue. The most authoritative body, the IPCC, have called this 'code red'. They have said this is our last chance to stop our world from reaching a level of warming that is beyond repair. We saw the Black Summer bushfires in 2019-20 and I note that they loom large in the memory of all Canberrans and Australians. These events, that unprecedented catastrophe, will become more common in Australia and around the world if we don't take action now. I call on this government to get serious about climate action.