House debates

Thursday, 5 March 2020


Hunter Electorate: Nuclear Energy

10:30 am

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

The front page of the Newcastle Herald this morning screamed 'bombshell'. The headline was a reference to the plan by the Deputy Premier of New South Wales, John Barilaro, and the Upper Hunter state MP, Michael Johnsen, to establish a nuclear power generator right there in the Upper Hunter, smack bang in the buffer zone of the Bayswater and Liddell power stations. The question becomes: did Michael Johnsen consult his local community? Of course the answer is no. Did Michael Johnsen, the local state MP, ask questions about the implications and consequences for our water supplies, the consequences for public safety or the consequences for our existing coal-fired generators? I can tell you now, a nuclear reactor in the Upper Hunter would mean the earlier closure of our coal-fired generators. Liddell, at 50 years of age, is just about out of puff, but the Bayswater Power Station will run for at least another 15 years, I hope. So too will Origin's Eraring Power Station further south.

Michael Johnsen told the Newcastle Herald this about his plan to put a nuclear generator in the Upper Hunter. He said:

The Upper Hunter is a good fit because of its extensive energy infrastructure …

This is how I know he's going to put it right alongside Liddell or Bayswater, right there on the grid, right there where he has the water—and, in his mind, right there where he has the workforce. But the nuclear power industry doesn't employ as many people as the coal-fired generation industry does. That's a basic fact, and surely Michael Johnsen understands that.

Now, in pushing for this nuclear reactor in the Upper Hunter, John Barilaro says the plan is about reducing emissions. What a revelation! I didn't think John Barilaro, the Deputy Premier, or indeed state member Michael Johnsen thought we had a problem with carbon emissions. I didn't think they believed that it was necessary to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in this country, consistent with our Paris commitments. And yet here they were yesterday, saying we need a nuclear generator in the Upper Hunter because we need to reduce our carbon emissions. Well, I can tell you it's a slightly different tune to the one they had been singing. I say to John Barilaro a couple of things. Firstly, if you insist on putting a nuclear generator in the Upper Hunter, explain who is going to fund it. Is the private sector funding it or is the New South Wales government going to substantially subsidise the establishment of this expensive—very expensive—nuclear generator? Is that the case? We don't know, and he needs to answer that question.

Secondly, I say to John Barilaro, and, indeed, Michael Johnsen: you have been in power in New South Wales for nine years. John Barilaro is no less than the Deputy Premier of New South Wales. He cannot be allowed to behave like a crossbencher or an opposition backbencher. He cannot be constantly complaining about the New South Wales government when he's very much part of the New South Wales government. He can't take the pay rise, the big car, the extra staff and all the labels that go with being the Deputy Premier and crow outside the parliament—and, indeed, inside the parliament—on a daily basis, in disagreement with his own Premier and his own government. The Premier herself now has to tell the Upper Hunter community and the regional community today what she thinks about Michael Johnsen's and John Barilaro's idea to put a nuclear reactor in the Upper Hunter. I'll be very, very keen to hear her response. And the local state member should spend more time concentrating on workforce issues in a positive way, more time progressing the Singleton Bypass at more than snail's pace and more time attempting to get our fair share of resources in regions funding—something he has failed to do.

In closing, I just want to say something about a topic I raised here last week. I will continue to fight the new general practice model, which is denying my constituents bulk-billing services and is making it harder for us to attract doctors to the Hunter communities.