Senate debates

Tuesday, 27 September 2022


National Energy Transition Authority Bill 2022; Second Reading

4:23 pm

Photo of Penny Allman-PaynePenny Allman-Payne (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I present the explanatory memorandum and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The climate crisis is happening before our eyes—and it's getting worse. In the past few weeks we've seen a third of the land mass of Pakistan drowned by record floods, caused by torrential rains and melting Himalayan glaciers, which are disappearing at a much faster rate than scientists had predicted.

Earlier this year the east coast of Australia suffered through its own flooding catastrophe, in what was Australia's third-most costly natural disaster. Thousands of homes ruined; livelihoods destroyed; 22 lives lost. More flooding is forecast this year.

Scientists say that global heating makes a sea-level rise from the melting of the Greenland ice cap now inevitable, even if fossil fuel burning was to end immediately. With continued carbon emissions, and the melting of other ice caps, a multi-metre sea level rise now appears likely. This would mean that islands in the Torres Strait and many of our neighbours in the South Pacific would simply cease to exist.

In July we discovered the full extent of climate change's impact on our natural habitat and wildlife in the State of the Environment report, a devastating and terrifying assessment that drew a direct link between the extraction and burning of fossil fuels and species extinction.

Climate change is threatening farming production and food security, with a recent report commissioned by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment forecasting massive reductions in meat, wool, dairy and fruit production by 2030 as a result of global warming and extreme weather events.

There can be no doubt that the climate crisis is here. And the biggest contributor to the climate crisis is the extraction and burning of coal and gas.The IPCC, the International Energy Agency, climate scientists and environmental groups all say that in order to have even a chance of keeping warming below 1.5 degrees from pre-Industrial levels, we must open no more coal and gas projects. And that slim chance dwindles by the day.

To continue to open up new coal and gas flies in the face of all scientific and environmental reason and would keep us on the path towards a planet that is no longer capable of supporting human life.

Not only can we not open up new coal and gas mines, we must also phase out existing coal and gas extraction and energy production and rapidly transition to a zero emissions economy.

The good news is that this is already starting to happen. The global market for coal is drying up, as more and more renewable energy comes online and the urgency for climate action ramps up. Our major trading partners are beginning to abandon Australian coal, with a recent report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis saying the export market is in "permanent decline".

The Australian Energy Market Operator is preparing for a grid dominated by renewable energy, with around half of Australia's coal-fired power stations scheduled to be retired in the next decade. The former CEO of AEMO, Audrey Zibelman, described the retirement of Australia's existing coal fleet as "inevitable".

Renewable energy is taking off across the country. Almost 20% of power generated on the national grid comes from renewable energy sources. My home town of Gladstone, for example, famous for the 50 million tonnes of coal that leaves its port every year, will soon be home to one of the world's largest hydrogen equipment manufacturing facilities, making Queensland a world leader in hydrogen generation.

The transition has begun. But what's missing is a plan for a fair and equitable transition that ensures we are able to rapidly and responsibly exit coal and gas while securing the futures of the workers and communities who are at risk of being left behind.

We can't leave our renewable energy transition in the hands of private interests. Coal and gas corporations have no interest in safeguarding the futures of the workers and communities from which they have extracted their billions.

We only have to look at what's happened in Appalachia in the United States for a cautionary tale of what happens to coal communities left to fend for themselves during transition. With no federal leadership or funding allocated, disconnected local initiatives to transition former coal workers into other industries floundered, leaving already economically disadvantaged areas to suffer even more. Vulnerable and without planning and support, many of these communities fell victim to predatory corporations like private prison operators. Instead of safe, secure and rewarding work, the Appalachian coal workers that had been the backbone of America's economic boom were rewarded with coercion into working the for-profit carceral state, typically on a lower wage.

In Australia, some state-based initiatives in places like Collie in Western Australia and the Latrobe Valley in Victoria have had variable success in managing the decline of coal, but we still lack an overarching national approach.

That's why we need a National Energy Transition Authority. Unions are calling for it. Business is calling for it. Coal workers and communities are calling for it. And the Greens hope this parliament will vote for it.

Our bill establishes a new independent public authority, the National Energy Transition Authority, to guide Australia's shift from an economy powered by polluting coal and gas to one powered by reliable, secure and low-cost renewable energy.

By providing national coordination, expert advice and funding, the National Energy Transition Authority will work with communities, workers, unions, energy companies and governments at all levels to plan the pipeline of clean energy projects, creating good, secure jobs and opening up new export markets while pushing down power prices for homes and businesses.

The National Energy Transition Authority will support the creation of regional jobs and ensure localised transition plans are put in place so that coal- and gas-dependent communities get the funding and support that they deserve.

We don't want these communities to collapse. Australia owes coal workers a debt of gratitude for their contribution to this country. They have literally kept the lights on. The communities that have grown around mines and power stations—whether it's in Collie in Western Australia, the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, New South Wales' Hunter Valley or my home of Central Queensland—cannot simply be left to the whims of the market. We all know how that ends, and they deserve much more respect than that.

These communities know the transition is happening and they know their livelihoods and communities are at risk without a coherent strategy that they are able to contribute to. I know these communities. I live in one of these communities. What they're asking for is for politicians to stop lying to them that coal and gas are here to stay, and that their futures are secured. They know that's not true. They read the same headlines we all do. They're simply trying to answer the question, What comes next?, and they want some help to work that out.

Mining will continue to play a role in Australia's energy future, and Australia is going to continue to mine the minerals that are needed to make the products we need in a zero-carbon world.

Instead of continuing to dig up iron ore and send it off overseas, only to buy it back as steel, we can create thousands of green steel jobs for former coal and gas workers right here. Using our sun and our wind to make the steel locally from our own ore, we can lay the tracks for high-speed rail or build the wind turbines that are going to power the country with renewable energy.

That is what this Bill is about.

The National Energy Transition Authority will ensure that no worker is left behind during our energy transition. It will support and fund the creation of the new industries and jobs that communities want and help revive the fortunes of declining regional centres.

Four out of every five tonnes of thermal coal we dig up in this country are exported overseas. If you don't have a plan for the phasing-out of coal exports, then you don't have a plan for climate change.

The authority will provide guidance on the closure of coal- and gas-fired power stations, giving communities and governments certainty and providing clear direction to the energy market about how much clean energy we will need where, and by when. Without such a plan, coal plants can shut at short notice, like Hazelwood did and like others might do next.

The National Energy Transition Authority will ensure that no worker is left behind during our energy transition. It will support and fund the creation of the new industries and jobs that communities want and help revive the fortunes of declining regional centres.

We know this can be done. It's been done before. In Germany, under the slogan "No one left in the pits," thousands of workers have been helped in their transition out of coal. The plan they made between workers, employers and government meant that every coal worker walked into a new job or transitioned safely into retirement.

I believe in an Australia that leads the way in renewable energy, and ensures that all workers have well-paid, secure employment and world-class social services.

This is why a National Energy Transition Authority is so critical, but also so invigorating. We can harness the power of the state, alongside private investment, to guide, to shape, to implement, and ultimately, to transform our country's relationship with energy.

We can, once again, engage in nation building.

Everyone knows that there is massive potential for clean energy and for job creation if we manage this transition properly. I believe that the Government knows this as well.

With planning, compassion and foresight, we can tackle the greatest threat humanity has ever faced while embracing new energy opportunities, looking after workers and breathing new life into regional Australia. But we need this Bill to do it.

I commend this bill to the Senate.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.