Senate debates

Wednesday, 23 November 2022


Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Legislation Amendment Bill 2022; Second Reading

10:23 am

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to speak in favour of the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. The Greens will be supporting this bill put forward by the government because it is an important step forward to ensure that we can transition to a cleaner, greener economy and to ensure that we are investing all of our efforts in the production of renewable energy.

But let me mention at the outset the sheer hypocrisy from the other side. We have just heard the representative from Mr Dutton's side of government, the opposition, the Liberal Party, trying to criticise someone else when it comes to having an energy policy in this country. His mob were in charge for nearly a decade, and we had chop and change, chop and change, chop and change the whole way through on energy policy. Do you want to know why Australians' electricity bills are so damn high right now? It is because of the incompetence of those who were in charge for the last nine years. They did nothing to reduce carbon pollution, they did nothing to reduce people's power bills and, in fact, what they did do was stand in the way and make it harder and harder for industry to develop and deliver what we know is the cheapest form of energy. We know that new renewable projects deliver cheaper power for everyone because the facts are absolutely clear and the numbers don't lie.

That is why this bill is important—in fact, it is absolutely essential. It's also important because, alongside this piece of legislation to establish more offshore wind power in Australia, is the fact that the environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, has today released the State of the Climate 2022 report. We should not be surprised by the statistics and the findings in this report, but we should be alarmed. Our climate is in absolute crisis. Climate change is here—it is happening, we are living with it. It is devastating our homes and our livelihoods, and it is putting people's lives at risks. It is already wreaking havoc on life as we know it here in Australia. The State of the Climate report shows that we've already increased temperatures here in Australia by an average of 1.47 degrees. We have a global effort designed to keep temperature increases at 1.5 degrees globally, and already Australia is nearly at that level. It is having a devastating impact on our environment, our communities and our economy.

The State of the Climate 2022 report shows that we are going to have more extreme weather. There are going to be more damaging floods, there are going to be worsening droughts and there is going to be bushfire intensity that we have never seen before. The climate has changed, and we have to face up to the reality that we have to drastically reduce pollution if we are to try to hold back the very worst changes, which are yet to come. Our oceans are in crisis. The State of the Climate 2022 report shows that our oceans, particularly our reefs such as the Great Barrier Reef, are some of the most vulnerable reefs in the world. The bleaching events that are devastating the Great Barrier Reef are making it harder and harder for the reef to recover because of the frequency of these events, and these events are only going to get worse.

Our climate is in crisis, and rather than bickering from the other side about how quickly or slowly we should move from fossil fuels to renewables, we just have to get on with it. Our climate is in crisis, and we have to get off the gas and get off the coal. That is the truth, and we do that by investing in renewable energy. We do that by investing in a smart grid. We do that by making sure that we transition our entire economy to one that is based on ensuring a clean, green outcome.

This particular bill is largely technical in the aspects of creating an offshore wind industry in Australia, but it is essential for Australia to get off fossil fuels and to make sure we tackle climate pollution. We won't be able to build the zero-emissions export economy for Australia that we know we need without offshore wind. It is essential. The scale and potential for clean energy growth is massive, so while we are dealing with this climate crisis, which is already devastating homes and livelihoods, we also have a massive opportunity if we are willing to take it with both hands. For instance, the Star of the South project proposed for South Gippsland in Victoria will be big enough to replace the Yallourn brown coal fired power station, the dirtiest power station in the country. Let's get on with it, let's do it—in fact, it should have been done some time in the last decade. But now is not the time to delay. These offshore wind projects will power Australia's new industries, and that's why Portland in Victoria, the Hunter in Newcastle and Gladstone in Queensland are all target sites. They can transform existing deepwater port regions into export green steel, hydrogen, ammonia and fertilisers that have zero gas in them. That is essential for transforming our entire economy, for decarbonising our economy. And if we don't do it, climate change is only going to get worse—the climate crisis will become more and more devastating. So let's grab with both hands the opportunity to transform our economy, to get more investment in Australia and to reduce the pollution that is harming our environment.

It is important, with all of these new industries, that we tread carefully to ensure that the public is brought along. There are already signs of concern about some of the proposals in Gippsland impacting on existing treasures like Wilsons Promontory. I remember camping at the Wilsons Promontory campgrounds as a kid over summer. It is a stunningly beautiful area and we need to protect it. We need to balance these areas. We need to make sure we are protecting nature while at the same time investing in the transformation of the decarbonisation that we need. And you can do that: you can talk to community, you can respect local traditional owners and you can make sure you bring people along, but you do it with transparency, you do it with clarity and you do it with purpose. You don't do it with the raw politics that we've seen from the Liberal and National parties for the last nine years. We will be keeping a close eye on the projects as they come through to make sure the communities are being consulted and the environment is being looked after. We want to make sure that not only are we getting a net gain on an investment in renewables, cheaper power prices for Australians, and an export industry that we can be proud of and that can power our national economy, but also that we're still protecting the areas that are so beautiful and that make Australia the great country that it is.

We are worried about the impact on migratory birds, and we'll be making sure that the EPBC legislation—that is, the environment laws of this country—is strong enough to protect migratory birds and our endangered animals and wildlife as these projects are being discussed. You can do these things in harmony if you do it right, with transparency and with purpose. This bill is an important step forward. I'm not going to stand here in this place today and hear the sheer hypocrisy from the other side, who have done nothing to protect the environment, nothing to reduce pollution and nothing to reduce power bills. If they want to step up to the plate now and work with all sides of the parliament to make sure we do get a proper decarbonisation agenda running in this country that balances renewable energy, care for the environment and respect of the community, then okay, I'll start listening to them. But at this point it is sheer politics. It's as if the Liberal and National parties think the rest of us have amnesia. Well, we don't. When you read the State of the climate report, it is shocking that we are at a point where we are nearly seeing 1.5 degrees warming in this country, yet we still have the Leader of the Opposition arguing against proper targets to reduce pollution, against global ambition to tackle climate change and, earlier this week, against those in the Pacific being given some assistance to deal with the loss and damage caused by climate change. If this is the position and the direction that the Liberal and National parties are going to continue down, they'll lose more seats at the next election.

In my home state, I know South Australians are deeply worried about the impact that climate change is having right now. They are worried about what happens when the next drought hits. They are worried about the state of the Murray-Darling Basin. They are worried that the head of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority said only yesterday that there would be 30 per cent less water in the Murray-Darling Basin because of climate change. South Australians know that we have to take this issue seriously, and we cannot delay it any further. When they hear members of the Liberal Party saying that it can still just get kicked down the road, see them playing grubby politics over climate change or hear the Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, suggest that our friends in the Pacific can simply drown on their own without the support and help of Australia in terms of a global effort to combat climate change and to help fund a loss and damage contribution, I wonder how many Liberal members in South Australia will continue to hold their seats.

The Liberal Party have totally missed the message from this election. Australians voted in huge numbers in this election for climate action—more than ever before—and you never hear a peep out of the Liberal-National coalition since then about what they are doing to change their policies to reflect the will of the Australian people. All you hear is petty politics, gutter politics and an excuse that it was somebody else's fault. They were in charge for 10 years, and they did nothing. Now we have the worst State of the Climate report that this country has ever seen because our environment and our climate is in crisis. So I'm glad they're finally voting for something to help reduce carbon pollution, but, boy oh boy, it has taken them a long bloody time to get here.


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