Monday, 11 September 2023
Private Members' Business
I'm pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this important area of debate, and I thank the member for Grey for raising this critical motion. Energy security is of course national security; that is not a new concept, but the increased digitalisation of our energy production has brought new risks and vulnerabilities that the federal government has to contend with to maintain our national security.
We know that Australia's solar sector, much championed by the current government, is dominated by imports from China. We know that Australia has one of the greatest levels of rooftop solar take-up in the world, yet many of our households are reliant on smart inverters to convert energy from rooftop solar panels into electricity. In fact, some states have now mandated the adoption of smart inverters. These smart inverters have internet connectivity and can be controlled remotely, creating a significant risk of infiltration and sabotage.
Chinese imports make up 58 per cent of Australia's smart inverter market. Many of these firms have established links to the Chinese Communist Party. The two largest suppliers in the Australian solar inverter market, Sydney-based Sungrow and Melbourne based GoodWe, are Chinese owned and have links with the Chinese Communist Party. Firms such as Huawei, a Chinese firm already blocked from participating in Australia's 5G rollout due to national security concerns, are suppliers of smart inverters in Australia. The question has to be asked: if they can't be trusted with our digital infrastructure, how can they be trusted with our energy infrastructure?
It goes without saying that the capacity to disrupt a significant portion of our energy capacity would have disastrous effects for Australian industry and Australian households, particularly if we find ourselves in the midst of a national crisis. This risk has materialised slowly over many years. Our reliance on foreign-made material components in our critical infrastructure networks is increasing almost exponentially. I'm advised that there are no security measures currently in place to prevent malicious actors from using solar inverters to disrupt the solar electricity grid. This isn't good enough, particularly when the policy of the federal government is to continue to ramp up the adoption of solar technology.
The government has said that for Australia to reach its 43 per cent emissions reduction target there will need to be 60 million panels by 2030. How many of these will be able to be turned off by a foreign actor? How much baseload capacity will be left to supplement supply if and when this occurs? I note that the home affairs minister's public comments in this area have pointed to government's efforts to boost domestic inverter manufacturing capability. While that is of course worthwhile, it's a long-term strategy to an immediate problem that's getting worse every day.
I note that this is an issue that has been thrust into the national conversation by the research efforts of shadow minister Senator Paterson. Earlier this year, the federal government also began a process of removing numerous Chinese-made surveillance cameras from Defence premises and other sensitive national security areas, after Senator Paterson's advocacy. But it shouldn't have to come down to the research efforts of the shadow cabinet for action to be taken by this government. They should be proactive on this front, not reactive.
We've seen energy network disruptions in Ukraine. It's now, clearly, a feature of war in the modern age that these sorts of digital attacks do occur. We've seen action being taken on this front by the government of the Netherlands, and, in the United States, we're seeing more and more legislators ringing alarm bells around the implications for or the risks to the system from foreign actors.
It's clear that the headlong rush towards 82 per cent renewable energy is creating unnecessary security risks. These issues need to be sorted out before wider adoption, not as an afterthought after it's too late.
The opposition is calling on the government to take this threat seriously. Action must be taken to ensure Australia's energy grid is free from foreign interference. And it's not just solar photovoltaic systems that need to be investigated. How many other renewable energy technologies have components that can be sabotaged by foreign actors? It's time that the Labor government was awake to this danger. I commend the motion to the House and encourage the government to take the necessary action to ensure that this rush towards renewable energy doesn't result in an undermining of our national security.