Senate debates

Wednesday, 23 November 2022


Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Legislation Amendment Bill 2022; Second Reading

11:09 am

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | Hansard source

I am proud to rise to support this piece of legislation, the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. I do so as a former minister for resources who had some involvement in kicking off the process which has led us to this piece of legislation. This is largely a bill that has been reintroduced from the previous parliament. The previous government had been working for a number of years on updating our regulatory framework to specifically cover the investment and creation of offshore wind turbines. Until we pass this legislation, there is a bit of a gap in exactly where and how any investment in offshore wind would be regulated. We already do have significant regulatory arrangements in place for offshore oil and gas developments. As the minister for resources, I was responsible for those. They didn't specifically cater for offshore wind. There was generic environmental legislation that offshore wind investments could potentially come under.

Despite what you might read in reports, I am not against wind or solar energy. I am more than happy to support investments in all types of energy. I just believe in energy abundance. We should have lots of different types of energy. We should have wind. We should have solar. We should have coal. We should have gas. And, yes, we should have nuclear, too. It's only by having lots of energy that we will bring energy prices down, protect our heritage as a manufacturing nation and have a future for that manufacturing industry, too. So I am more than happy to support this bill which would provide a stable, proper and consistent regulatory framework for offshore wind investments.

Of course, as Senator Whish-Wilson has expressed, it's very important that they are regulated. Marine environments are largely pristine and need to be protected. There needs to be significant regulation on any large-scale investment in our marine areas. Those seeking to build offshore wind turbines are probably going to have an environmental effect on our marine areas greater than the oil and gas industry. We are told—and I am yet to be convinced that we will necessarily see all of these investments—by the government that there are investments in the Gippsland and investments right across our ocean territories. Given the low intensity of renewable energy and wind in particular, there will need to be more turbines than there are oil and gas platforms around our country. Again, don't believe what you read. The environmental performance of our oil and gas industry has been absolutely stellar. There have been very few and limited environmental issues in our marine environment from those investments.

But these potentially larger footprint of investments of wind turbines will create risk. They will potentially create risk to marine wildlife, especially through their construction and drilling. That will potentially have an impact on seafood stocks. I was just talking to someone from the fishing industry the other day. They are very concerned about the potential for fishing vessels to be locked out of large areas around wind turbines. Again, given their larger footprint, that would have a much bigger impact than our oil and gas infrastructure does on our fishing industry. So all of those things have to be taken into account.

I have great confidence, though, in our regulators—the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority and the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator. NOPSEMA and NOPTA are both exemplars of our Public Service in this country. They have very committed individuals who I had the great privilege of working with as the minister for resources. They do a great job in regulating our oil and gas sector. They are a large reason why we have had that great and strong environmental performance on oil and gas. I am sure they will do an excellent job under this new regulatory framework, once this legislation is passed, to regulate the offshore wind industry.

It was the former government that provided funding to both NOPSEMA and NOPTA and their responsible department—it was then the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources—to create this framework and to get geared up to do this. I am glad that the new government is progressing these initiatives and continuing with the great work they have done.

I would hope that one day we will have investments in offshore wind here. I don't know if the grand plans that are being suggested will be realised. There are a lot of questions on the rigor of the CSIRO's latest GenCost report which I think will be exposed in the months ahead, especially in regard to nuclear. But, be that as it may, even the CSIRO, who are fairly pro on renewables, put the cost of offshore wind at around $150 a megawatt hour. That is at least 50 per cent higher than coal, solar and onshore wind in their cost models. So that's a lot higher, and, given the high prices we see at the moment, obviously we'd like to attract investment into sources of energy that can lower the cost—lower the cost for families and especially lower that cost for our manufacturers.

Offshore wind probably doesn't promise that. We've got to be real here with people. We've got to stop telling them fairytales. Offshore wind is a very expensive type of power—especially when you add on the fact that, on top of that $150, of course it's not available all the time. You've got to back it up—you've got to 'firm' it, in the jargon of the energy industry. And so the actual delivered cost—the cost to deliver 24/7 power with some component from offshore wind—would be much, much higher. It'd be probably at least in the order of $200 a megawatt-hour, or possibly more.

Compare that to nuclear. And I'll say: the CSIRO report has a lot of problems with nuclear, because, No. 1, it only looks at small modular reactors, which haven't been commercially deployed yet. I'm not sure why the CSIRO won't, or is unwilling to, publish figures for light-water nuclear reactors that are commercially available and used right around the world. In fact, we're only the settled continent in the world without nuclear energy; it's us and the penguins in Antarctica that are holding out against nuclear energy. Consistently, you get estimates, from around the world, of nuclear energy being delivered below that $150 a megawatt-hour. In some countries in Scandinavia and Asia, it's much lower than that—lower than $100 a megawatt-hour. Other countries in Western Europe have struggled recently with their cost of nuclear energy.

But, if you want zero emissions, if you want to get to this mythical net-zero land, and you want cheaper power, why wouldn't you consider nuclear power? Why don't we have some legislation here that, alongside this offshore wind bill, actually legalises nuclear? That's given me an idea: perhaps I should draft some amendments to put, to legalise nuclear energy in this bill! But I won't hold up the good work of those public servants. I will let this through. There is other legislation—if I could foreshadow something on the Notice Paperthat is considering that particular effort.

As I say, what we need to do here, most importantly, is to tell the truth to the Australian people. This government, in particular, has already been caught lying to the Australian people. They've already been caught breaking a massive political promise—only six months ago, suggesting that their renewable energy plan, which included offshore wind, would save Australians $275 a year on their power bills. That was what they put to the Australian people. Indeed, their leader, Anthony Albanese, promised that to the Australian people 97 times before the last election. We don't hear the words 'two hundred and seventy-five' from this government anymore. They won't repeat that promise. They've walked away from it. They walked away from it within weeks of being elected. They just dropped it as if no-one would remember. But I don't think the Australian people are mugs. I do think they will remember that they were promised—they were promised; there were no ifs and buts; there were no caveats—that, by voting for the Labor Party on 21 May this year, they would get a $275 saving on their power bill. And they haven't got what they were promised. There are no refunds on a newly elected government, but there is another election coming up. And I don't think the Australian people will forget that lightly.

Now, the reason the Labor Party have not been able to deliver on their promise is that we are investing too much in renewable energy. You can't believe their promises, but if you were to believe what the Labor Party say about our energy system, they walk around saying: 'The problem is that terrible, dastardly former coalition government did not invest in renewable energy enough.' They say: we did not invest in it enough; we didn't do enough; we had 10 years of no action. Well, obviously, the Labor Party doesn't read the Australian Energy Market Operator's reports, and obviously they do not get across the detail of what has been happening in our energy market, because Australia has been investing in solar and wind at a record rate, well above any other country in the world—well above. And those are not my figures. If you go to the last Australian Energy Market Operator's quarterly report, they say that Australia has invested in solar and wind at a rate four times higher, per person, than North America or Europe—higher than any other country in the world. And four times higher, by the way—not just a little bit higher; not just marginally above. We have been installing solar and wind energy at a rate four times the rate in other developed countries in the world.

Now, what has that delivered us? What has that delivered to the Australian people? It has delivered us skyrocketing energy prices. It has delivered crushing power bill increases for Australian families who, this Christmas, are facing a very difficult decision about how many toys to buy the kids to put under the Christmas tree, because they have to pay for higher power bills. That's what it has delivered. That is the clear and direct evidence. In fact, it's also the evidence in countries overseas. Every other country that has gone down this path of investing in unreliable, weather-dependent energy ends up with higher power bills. Every country in Europe that has done it—Germany, Denmark and every other country that's done it—has ended up with higher power prices. We are no different; we're just doing it a little bit faster than those other countries right now. It's about time we got off that track and invested in reliable power so that Australian families do not get crushed by their higher energy bills.

I do give thanks today to the Reserve Bank governor, Philip Lowe, who is consistent with what I'm saying: we've got to tell the truth; we've got to be upfront with people. As hard and painful as that might be, our job is to do that. I've been very critical of Dr Philip Lowe's management of monetary policy but I give credit to him for, overnight, belling the cat on our energy crisis. He said plainly yesterday, in a speech to CEDA, that investing more in green energy will lead to higher power bills. That's what he said. I just hope—and it's about time—that the Australian Labor Party and the federal government will be as upfront and honest with the Australian people as Philip Lowe had the courage to be yesterday, because right now they are telling us fairytales.

You have to make choices and trade-offs in life, and if you invest in a power system that is less dependent, less reliable and costs billions of dollars you are going to get higher power prices as a result. The Australian Labor Party wants to spend $60-odd billion on transmission lines and untold amounts on wind and solar. If you invest all those billions of dollars in new infrastructure and get exactly the same energy system we had before, which is what they're proposing—we're not going to get a better electricity system that is going to make our fridges colder and our factories run more efficiently; if everything works out, it's going to be exactly the same as before but we'll have spent tens of billions of dollars getting there—that means you're going to be less productive. That means you're going to have higher prices and higher costs. That's the way business works. If a business spends billions and billions of dollars on new equipment, new gear and new technologies and gets exactly the same output as it did before, it's going to make less money. Its profits are going to go down. That's what's going to happen to our country if we continue on this path. We are spending billions and billions of dollars and not getting a better energy system in return. We're going to shut down our existing coal-fired power plants early, when they could still be running—they've been invested in; their costs have been sunk—and we're going to replace them at a very, very high cost. That is going to cost our economy and our society dearly.

We have to realise right now that the world is waking up to this fraud of an idea that we can run an industrial economy on renewable energy alone. We saw just last week, as Senator Whish-Wilson mentioned, the complete failure of COP27. Surprise, surprise! The rest of the world is not signing up to phase down fossil fuels. In Egypt there was no agreement to do that. People went there—Chris Bowen went over there—thinking this would happen. The rest of the world didn't agree. They didn't agree because they can see what's happening in Europe right now. They look at those countries that have become dependent on solar and wind, like Germany, which has been at the forefront of this—they call it the Energiewende, the green energy scam—and see the disaster that is Germany now. There's another German word that we should all learn right now. It's 'Dunkelflaute', which means 'the dark doldrums'. The Germans have a word for everything, and they've now got a word for the terrible consequences of an obsession with renewable energy. Dunkelflaute means 'the dark doldrums'. It refers to the periods in Germany when there is no wind for weeks at a time, and at that time they've got no power, no energy.

Germany are lucky in that they can import power from the nuclear energy plants of France and the coal-fired power plants of Poland. They used to import it from Russia, of course. They can get by. We don't have that. We're an island nation, so when a Dunkelflaute hits this country it really will be the dark doldrums. We will not have factories, we'll have the lights out and we'll have Australian families who cannot afford the basic costs of living. We cannot do that in this country with so many energy resources. I support this bill but I support investing in all Australian energy.


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