House debates

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Committees

Environment and Energy Committee; Report

4:51 pm

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I'm pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this report today as a supplementary member on the nuclear inquiry. I stand today in steadfast opposition to the inquiry's report. I strongly oppose the lifting of the moratorium on nuclear energy and a shift towards nuclear power. In my very first speech in this place, I spoke about nuclear energy. I talked about how the government needed to turn its attention away from nuclear energy proposals, and I made a commitment to my community that I would fight against any plan to pursue this. Today, I want to reassure my community that I stand by that commitment.

I will never accept a nuclear power plant being built in our community. The risks are simply too great. There are risks to our beautiful coastline, to our health, to the reputation of our primary producers and to the hospitality and tourism industries that thrive on our environment. We know that accidents happen. We have seen that.

We also know all too well at the moment that natural disasters happen. Already, this year, we have seen unprecedented bushfires and the devastation they have caused. Sadly, just this week, my community has also seen the damage that floods can do. We cannot afford to add nuclear power risks to our precious environment.

Risks aside, there is simply no evidence for nuclear power in Australia. I do not believe that we need to undertake further investigations into the science and economics of nuclear energy as the second recommendation in this report states. As far as I am concerned, this is already settled and putting more resources into this is a costly and wasteful distraction. There is already so much evidence against this.

Nuclear power has been in decline across the world for years. According to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019, nuclear energy produces less power now than 10 years ago, while wind and solar continue to grow. The capital cost of nuclear energy per kilowatt hour has increased, not decreased, as you would expect of an industry that has been around for 60 years.

The New Delhi Energy and Resources Institute's senior director of electricity and fuel division called nuclear energy 'frightfully expensive' and stated that it has only ever been delivered through very considerable government financial support. The Australian Energy Market Operator and the CSIRO found in their GenCost 2018 report that nuclear energy was hugely expensive—both large and small-scale. What did the market operator instead tell the committee? That the cheapest form of energy production was unfirmed wind and solar—renewables.

Dr Switkowski, a nuclear physicist and Chancellor of RMIT told the committee:

There is no coherent business case to finance an Australian nuclear industry.

Dr Switkowski also made clear that nuclear power is getting more expensive, not less expensive. I could go on. Submission after submission, expert after expert, clearly saying that nuclear power is not the way to go. Instead, what we need to be doing and what we should be talking about is renewable energy. It is absolutely clear that we need more investment in renewables. We need cleaner, cheaper power—and that cannot be found in nuclear energy, but it can be found in renewables.

This whole discussion, this whole report, is merely a distraction so the government can hide from the fact they are taking no action to move Australia forward in the renewable energy space. We don't even have a national energy policy, something the experts continually pointed out during these hearings as well. While the government spends time talking about nuclear energy, we are wasting the opportunities that renewables can provide.

My electorate on the New South Wales South Coast has the lowest workforce participation rate in Australia. We have the highest youth unemployment rate in New South Wales. We need jobs and we need them now. A renewable energy hub in our region would create jobs that we desperately need—and I believe this is where our future lies—jobs in industries like engineering, construction and maintenance of renewable energy infrastructure; jobs in battery manufacturing and installation, logistics and distribution. The list goes on. Local community groups like the Southcoast Health and Sustainability Alliance and Repower Shoalhaven have already seen that potential in renewables. These groups are helping the individuals, businesses and community groups invest in solar energy, reducing power bills and helping the transition to cleaner, cheaper power. My concern is the damage that proposals like nuclear energy can make and will make to the potential of those jobs.

Tim Buckley, the director of Energy Finance Studies at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis told the committee about the harm lifting the moratorium could do to regional investment and jobs. He told us about the likely negative investor reaction to the suggestion that Australia might lift the moratorium. I will quote Mr Buckley's reasoning for this. He said:

… this would cause significant community debate over an extended period of time, and if it were eventually passed, the presumption would be that the Government was proposing to then provide a massive multi-decade capital subsidy towards nuclear generation capacity. After a decade of energy policy chaos and a trebling of gas and electricity prices, a further delay to debate this issue would further lift investor uncertainty in Australian electricity markets.

Mr Buckley went on:

If successful, this would then crowd out private capital investment in lower cost alternatives, and with a 10-20 year construction timetable, the Australian people and Australian industry would have to continue carrying the burden of higher energy prices while we wait.

Instead, Mr Buckley suggested that a wind or solar project could be built 10 times faster in one or two years. Not only will nuclear power be unsafe, costly and slow but it will also put investment in renewables and the jobs this can create at risk. I simply will not accept that. The New South Wales South Coast could be benefiting from this job growth right now, but the government's obsession with nuclear power is putting that at risk. They continue to pursue this dead issue against all evidence. This report is only one example of that.

The Morrison government's biggest advocate for nuclear power has just had a promotion. He is the new minister for resources and water. Keith Pitt has been a vocal advocate for nuclear power, and appointing him to the resources portfolio sends quite a message. I have a message in return: the people of the South Coast will not accept a nuclear reactor in Jervis Bay. We will not accept a nuclear reactor in our pristine environment anywhere along the South Coast—not now, not ever.

Forgive me for diving into the history books for a short moment. I'd like to briefly touch on the long background of the proposed nuclear reactor in Jervis Bay, because this is not a new proposal. It is not something that those opposite thought up yesterday or even while hearing the evidence during this inquiry. A nuclear reactor in Jervis Bay was first explored in the late 1960s. In 1969, the Liberal-National government led by John Gorton gave in-principle support for the construction of a nuclear power station at Murrays Beach in Jervis Bay. Back then, it was expected to cost $131.3 million to build. It took until 1972 for the cabinet to decide to not altogether discount but defer the project 'pending clarification of technical problems with overseas reactor systems and of Australian fuel and power-generating policies'. Sounds oddly familiar.

Today, nothing has changed. We still have a Liberal-National government that wants nuclear power in Australia. In 2018, the Nationals even went so far as to pass a motion at their federal council calling on the federal and state governments to 'abolish such regulation as is necessary to allow the development of sustainable nuclear energy'. They have appointed their biggest nuclear advocate as the resources minister, and now we have this report calling for an end to those regulations preventing nuclear proliferation in this country.

Nothing has changed with the challenges in Jervis Bay either. In a 2007 report published by The Australia Institute, the prospect of a reactor at Jervis Bay was again raised. This report noted a medium earthquake risk at the site. It noted important heritage and ecological sites, 70 nationally listed species and at least 43 migratory species in the area. So again I say that I will strongly oppose any plans this government has to build a nuclear reactor that will endanger the ecological and heritage values of Jervis Bay, a reactor that will endanger the lives, health and safety of thousands of local people who would be caught in the fallout radius of such a plant. We need cleaner, cheaper power, and we need jobs for local people, not nuclear.

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