Senate debates

Wednesday, 23 November 2022


Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Legislation Amendment Bill 2022; Second Reading

11:24 am

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | Hansard source

'Any energy policy of any kind, because we would like to make final investment decisions about this project or that project or another project.'

But during that long decade of Liberal and National party government none of that could happen, because there was no energy policy. Under Mr Abbott we had Direct Action. He was then of course replaced by Mr Turnbull, who set Dr Finkel to work in labouring over a long and quite coherent report where he recommended a clean energy target. Of course that wasn't adopted, it produced enormous infighting and, ultimately, was transformed into something else—the National Energy Guarantee. Mr Turnbull sought to legislate that and that of course was overwhelmed by infighting and bickering within the Liberal and National coalition—and, I suspect, between Liberals themselves. That saw the demise of Mr Turnbull and we ended up with Mr Morrison as the Prime Minister.

He of course had a big-stick policy—a policy which was, strangely, not connected to any of the actual challenges facing the energy system at the time. We had Mr Taylor in the chair as the energy minister—he now wants to be the Treasurer—who suggested that taxpayers should indemnify new coal projects. That of course produced more fighting between the Liberals and the Nationals and we ended up with the UNGI, the billion dollars that was going to produce a whole lot of new investment in energy projects that never eventuated. Then we had a technology road map.

It's actually quite unclear what the energy policy of the Liberal and National parties is at the moment. It seems to have something to do with nuclear. Of course they had a decade where they could have pursued nuclear energy and could have enlivened that option for the country. But they didn't do that and now, as far as I can tell, the only policy they have on the table is a policy to put a nuclear reactor in every coastal community. So it's an intriguing approach from a group of people who would like to come in here and talk about social licence. It's an absolutely intriguing set of propositions but, more generally, an interesting political approach, because I think honesty does matter. Actually thinking about the legacy of the previous government in relation to energy policy and just having the tiniest bit of insight about the problems generated by their approach over the last decade might actually be appropriate as they commence a period in opposition.

That's because the legacy of all of this is that four gigawatts of capacity were retired from the system—four gigawatts of capacity left the electricity system and only one was constructed. That was a direct consequence of the chaos and dysfunction in the government led by those three Liberal prime ministers. It was chaos and dysfunction which led to the exit of a very significant volume of capacity from the system, with very little to replace it. The Labor government is setting about remedying those challenges and the problems created by the mismanagement and incompetence of those opposite.

This bill is essentially a technical bill, and I will return to the substance of what is before us. The establishment of offshore renewable energy will promote regional development by enabling sustainable investment in Australia's coastal areas, creating jobs and growing local economies. This bill makes some quite small administrative amendments to the existing Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Act 2021 to reflect machinery-of-government changes. The bill also makes some technical amendments and closes a regulatory gap in the Customs Act 1901 to ensure full coverage of customs obligations for new renewable energy infrastructure projects offshore. This regulatory framework for offshore renewables will contribute to delivering cleaner, cheaper renewable energy for Australian households and businesses. This underpins the acceleration of energy transition and decarbonisation in Australia. We're sending a clear signal that we are open for business when it comes to new energy investment, and we are giving certainty to the market.

I thank the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee for their inquiry into the bill and their recommendation that it be passed. The government is committed to a sustainable offshore wind industry with a strong social license for its operation and benefits to the community. It's important that this new industry for Australia not only cuts emissions but is environmentally sustainable in its operations.

I note the comments from Senator Whish-Wilson, and I thank him for his contribution to the debate. We do expect that these projects will take all reasonable steps to deliver on this important part of their social license, including through the reuse and recycling of any components that are being decommissioned.

The department is developing further regulations about management plans and the operation of offshore electricity infrastructure, and it will take these issues into account in that process. While we do not support the need for a second reading amendment, we are committed to an environmentally sustainable industry in Australia.


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