Senate debates

Wednesday, 23 November 2022


Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Legislation Amendment Bill 2022; Second Reading

10:41 am

Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. Like many things in this place, it is a great piece of coalition legislation that the out-of-touch Labor senators opposite want to transform into something that hurts communities more than helps. Don't get me wrong: nobody is a bigger supporter of offshore renewable electricity than myself. Unlike the Prime Minister, I went to COP27 in Egypt last week, where I heard firsthand how offshore wind will be one of the many technologies required for Australia's and other countries' transition to a net zero economy. And I welcome Minister Bowen's move to join the Global Alliance for Offshore Wind, which aims to see 380 gigawatts of offshore infrastructure built around the world by 2030. Right now, there are only 60 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity around the world. Of those 60 gigawatts, not one is produced in Australia. However, in the last parliament we did enable the legislation for that to commence.

Despite being a country that boasts of our bountiful beaches, with one of the largest shorelines in the world, there is not one offshore wind project in our whole country, and the research about this is conclusive: we have an exceptionally strong capacity for offshore wind, especially in my home state of Victoria, where the first project is likely to be built. According to recent studies, the technical offshore wind resource was estimated to be 2,233 gigawatts, an amount far in excess of current and projected electricity demand in Australia. If we exploited just two per cent of Australia's technical offshore wind resource, we would provide nearly double the entire generation capacity currently in the NEM, according to leading experts.

Offshore energy infrastructure has the potential to create significant investment and job-creation opportunities, contributing to Australia's future energy security, and is key to our path to becoming a country that reaches net zero emissions by 2050. More importantly, it doesn't disrupt communities and destroy usable agricultural land or the natural environment. That is why, when in government, the coalition delivered on a 2019 election commitment and passed legislation to enable the development of offshore electricity infrastructure and provide the industry with the certainty needed to invest in offshore energy infrastructure projects.

The Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Bill 2021 established a regulatory framework that intended to support the development of this sector in Commonwealth waters. It established a regulatory framework to enable the construction, installation, commissioning, operation, maintenance and decommissioning of offshore electricity infrastructure in the Commonwealth offshore area. The bill included the key offshore electricity infrastructure instruments like offshore wind farms, as well as tidal, wave, rain, solar and geothermal power generation, as well as the necessary transmission facilities to bring it ashore.

In the 2020-21 budget the former coalition government invested $4.8 million to develop the legislative framework, which included $2.9 million as seed funding for the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority, NOPSEMA, and the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator to develop policy, regulations, guidelines and industry advice, as well as $1.9 billion to the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources and Geoscience Australia for legal advice, marine spatial data collection, public consultation and drafting of regulations.

This action was part of the coalition's energy policy that kept the lights on and the prices low. Households and businesses rely on affordable, reliable power to grow and thrive. In government we took decisive action to deliver affordable, reliable energy for Australian consumers. By that we mean having an affordable, reliable, 24/7, 365-day supply of electricity. And, I might say, our plan was working. Under the Morrison government renewable energy generation grew by 360 per cent in both wind and solar. We also reduced annual carbon emissions by 77 million tonnes. And power prices were going down.

Of course, we're seeing now prices going up. It's no surprise, because power prices always go up under Labor governments. Let's not forget that in the last disastrous six years of Labor government power prices doubled and went up each and every year. Since coming to power, Mr Albanese and Mr Bowen have failed the Australian people on energy. In less than six months of coming into power the government has walked away from its election promise to the Australian people to reduce household energy bills by $275.

Those opposite might have forgotten, but I remind them that this wasn't a once off promise. The Prime Minister promised Australians 97 times before the election that he would reduce power bills by $235 a year. But budget estimates show power prices rising by 56 per cent—a price that many Australian businesses and families simply will not be able to afford. These numbers aren't just statistics. The increases in energy prices and gas prices have been estimated to cost $1,092 for some households and $2,450 for small businesses, with increase in gas bills of $602. They have been spending their time in government demonising important gas projects. Rather than competing with renewables, complement them.

Let's not forget taking the extraordinary intervention of suspending the wholesale electricity spot market, which shook the market to its core and cost energy users more than $200 million. With all of these massive failures in such a short amount of time, it would appear the only truthful thing the Prime Minister has said is that his government has hit the ground running. But don't just take my word for it. Energy experts across Australia are calling the Albanese government's energy transition a train wreck. Alinta CEO Jeff Dimery said, 'I think where headed for failure unless things change significantly.' EnergyAustralia's CEO Mark Collette said, 'I am more concerned about a smooth energy transition than a year ago.'

Offshore energy technologies such as wind could provide Australia with new investment and job growth, particularly in coastal regional communities. It is, however, more important to ensure this does not come at a cost or negatively impact those regional communities that have been identified and declared as suitable for offshore energy infrastructure. A key part of our legislation was community consultation and, by association, gaining a social licence for these projects before an area can be declared as suitable. On the road to net zero we need to be working with our communities, not working against them, if we want to meet our targets.

Careful and ongoing consultation and regulating offshore infrastructure is critical, given the deep connection Australians have with the ocean and existing offshore industries. It is critically important to manage the marine environment in a way that recognises all users. This includes local communities and recreational users. The coalition government included a minimum 60-day public consultation period on a declared zone, to ensure people can have their say on the proposed area.

Another inclusion was locating turbines and other assets beyond three nautical miles from the coast, to help address the amenity concerns associated with some onshore renewable projects—that is, not being an eyesore in our great environment. It is critical to the maintenance of our environmental and cultural capital that the wind turbines we build aren't going to impact peoples' day-to-day lives. This is one of the key benefits of offshore wind—for lack of a better word, it's 'out of sight and out of mind'. Constituents of the sunlit undulating hills of beautiful regional Australia are right to worry when they hear of wind energy projects going up in their backyard. As much as they are important for our energy transition, they can be very ugly. This brings me back to my original statement, about working with our communities—not working against them.

The government is also intent on spending billions of dollars on its Rewiring the Nation project. They should, however, be focused on building solar projects closer to where the energy is needed, rather than spending billions on changing the powerlines just to get a product to market. The government is intending to make a few amendments, most of which are uncontroversial and don't greatly affect the core intention of our previous bill—except for one important one. The government wants it to be the power of the minister, not the regulator, to decide what forms and amount of financial security licence holders must provide and when these obligations must cease under regulations.

This move leaves the process wide open for corruption. Our biggest wind energy companies in Australia are also some of the biggest donors in the country. When onshore wind and power projects often cost billions of dollars, there is the potential for misdealings. I won't try and impugn the intentions of any minister or company, but, with such lucrative projects going up, the coalition has always believed that the power to decide the levels of financial security that licence holders need should be in the hands of independent regulators not the partisan and political hands of the minister. I remember all the lectures we got from the other side on integrity when we were in government, so it's strange to see that they're walking back from that now.

Furthermore, when it comes to building our largest energy projects, it's important that the government gains social licence from the community they plan to build it in. Simply put, these projects will be going up in backyards, in communities, and they deserve a say in how they are built, where they are built and the safety precautions that need to be put in place. An independent regulator would ensure that communities have a say in these projects and that they are truly listened to. It would prevent a minister from firing off a project right before a by-election or delaying a project until it was politically advantageous to release it.

What matters is the energy needs of the country and the local needs of the community. That's what matters: making sure that we are working with our communities, not working against them.


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