SPEECH - Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Bill

27 October 2021

I rise to speak on the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Bill 2021. Offshore wind is booming globally. As an island nation, Australia has a coastline of more than 60,000 kilometres, with very high wind resources indeed. And with that comes so much potential now for offshore wind energy. Already there are over 10 offshore wind proposals in Australia just waiting for legislation to be passed by this parliament now in order for their projects to be given the green light.

One of those is off the coast of my home city of Newcastle. These projects promise enormous generation capacity, with tens of thousands of jobs in the construction phase—thousands of good, ongoing jobs and billions in investment. Importantly, most of these proposals, which have been waiting for this government to act for some time now, are sitting alongside our traditional energy regions, where we already have very strong infrastructure in place because of the electricity grids we have in our regions. It's regions, indeed, like Newcastle and the Hunter which have the most to gain from a thriving offshore wind industry. One single turn of an offshore wind turbine can provide as much energy as a whole day's worth of rooftop solar, and these turbines can turn 15 times per minute. Around the world, more than 35 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity are already in operation, with expected increases up to 80 gigawatts by 2030 and 2,000 gigawatts by 2050. Currently, Australia's entire National Energy Market is around 55 gigawatts, so that's the enormous potential that awaits us all.

We have more offshore wind resources than we could ever possibly use ourselves, and that means there's a lot of potential for exporting globally—exporting potential that regions like Newcastle and the Hunter could benefit from. It's deeply regrettable that all of those benefits have been on delay for so long because of the inaction of this government. Credible offshore wind projects have been waiting now for more than five years for this legislation. This is a government that has been in power for eight long years and they have spent those years fighting each other to figure out how they get onto a pathway to net zero. Eight years in government, and all they can deliver for regional Australia is a $31,000 promotion for one of their mates who doesn't believe the wind blows at night

This government is more interested in its own self interest than what is in the national interest and, as a result, cities like Newcastle have missed out on job opportunities because this government has dragged its feet to bring critical legislation like this before the House. Now this government is trying to play catch-up so that communities like mine don't miss out, hopefully, on some of the great opportunities for jobs and industry in our lifetimes—opportunities for new traineeships and apprenticeships; for our local manufacturing and supply chains; for our seafarers; for the blue economy workers; and for those currently working in traditional resources industries.

Newcastle can be a renewable energy powerhouse. Not only do we have the capacity to manufacture the parts needed for those wind turbines but we also have the deepwater port to export wind turbines. You cannot find many places in the world where you have the rail infrastructure, the manufacturing capacity and the deepwater port to produce and export offshore electricity. Investors have been waiting and waiting for this government to get its act together, to legislate for offshore electricity. That is seriously ironic, given the Morrison government's obsession with 'technology, not taxes'. Now that the legislation has been introduced, it is time for us to move fast. We don't have a moment to waste. Several of the submissions from the business community to the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee have already made clear that the government must move quickly to declare wind zones and to award licences so that investors and industry can get on with the job.

But let's not kid ourselves. There are some issues with this legislation that we on this side of the chamber feel have not been adequately addressed. In particular, Labor has concerns over the bills' work health and safety arrangements. The committee heard substantial evidence that the government has not adopted the harmonised national workplace health and safety laws in these bills. Instead, the government has opted to amend those laws to the point that they are actually no longer recognisable. Without harmonisation of the WHS frameworks, we may end up with a situation where a worker could be subject to one regulatory regime onshore, a second while in transit on a vessel and a third while working on an offshore renewable project. That will lead to confusion and pose a risk to both workers and employers. To be fair, there is disagreement on these points, including between the department, the regulator and stakeholders representing both employers and workers in the industry. Given the significant difference of opinion, Labor urges the government to urgently undertake further consultation on both the content of the WHS provisions and their coverage. Australia has some years to get this right during the feasibility period before construction begins, and it is crucial that we do that.

The committee also heard consistent evidence that the merit criteria for licences should ensure benefits for local workers, businesses, communities and First Nations people. The committee heard that it was important for this requirement to be reflected broadly in legislation in order to allow those benefits and ensure they are reflected in detailed regulations. Labor encourages the government to consider a legislative amendment to ensure benefits for local communities where these new energy industries will be situated. Already we have seen countries across the world include local procurement targets for offshore electricity within their local supply chain, development strategies and procurement policies. For example, in March 2021, the US Biden administration announced three coordinated steps to support rapid offshore wind deployment and job creation. The first was to advance ambitious offshore wind energy projects to create well-paying jobs, the second was to invest in infrastructure to strengthen the domestic supply chain and deploy offshore wind energy and the third was to support critical research and development and data-sharing. Offshore wind can develop into a single significant source of employment in the maritime blue economy.

Australia's share of manufacturing and supply chain activity in most renewable energy sectors is low, but it does not have to be that way. Workers in Newcastle and the Hunter Region have seen what this government has done already to our manufacturing industry. In the last 10 years we have lost 8½ thousand manufacturing jobs in Newcastle and another 5,000 in the Hunter. That's over 10,000 families who have lost opportunities in the good jobs that manufacturing provides. After years of manufacturing decline, imagine the jobs we can create locally by creating new energy sources, like offshore wind, adding those to our current mix. Offshore wind also offers immense opportunity for the production of green hydrogen for export. Hydrogen produced by offshore wind directly or through the supply of electrolysis located in port facilities could be a real game changer. If we produce hydrogen from renewable energy, then Australia could forge a multibillion-dollar green industry with tens of thousands of new well-paid jobs. Newcastle in particular has the energy smarts, the industrial experience and the infrastructure needed to be a key player, but first the policy settings have to be right. There are opportunities now that can begin investment, create jobs and build confidence in the future of our regions, but only with the right leadership. If we do not start that work today, I am very worried that we will be playing catch-up and be left increasingly vulnerable on the world stage, because this Prime Minister and this government have left Australia and carbon-intensive regions like Newcastle and the Hunter hanging out to dry.

We have the Glasgow climate summit in less than two weeks. Only now are the government trying to cobble together a strong enough statement to say they are going to commit to net zero emissions by 2050. Newcastle and the Hunter have got a lot at stake in any kind of energy transition in this nation, which is why we should be leading those discussions, ensuring that no-one is left behind as we take full advantage of every new energy opportunity ahead. There are important, very important, renewable energy opportunities that are ripe for the picking.

But the Morrison government's announcement just yesterday was all slides and slogans. They only have one plan for the region, and that's a big scam. They have offered zero modelling, zero legislation and zero new policy. The Prime Minister has just removed the word 'preferably' from in front of the word '2050' but has announced no new policy to get there; nor has he shown the public any modelling. It's a question that the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, has put consistently to government, as we saw in question time yesterday—begging the Prime Minister to share that modelling with the Australian people. 'Bring the Australian people into your confidence. If you believe that the trajectory that you are about to set us on is the best one possible, share that information with the people.' But, no, that modelling has not been forthcoming.

There are those deals that have been done with The Nationals. We know there are deals that have been done, but they are being kept secret and hidden as well, although we do know that one regional job has been secured—that of the climate-denying new federal minister for resources, which has been promoted back into cabinet, I understand. So his job is secure. But what I want to see is a plan that's going to make secure the jobs of tens of thousands of families in Newcastle and the Hunter. No more hiding your head in the sand, pretending that everyone can just go along the same as always and that this is the way it's going to be forevermore. Nobody believes that anymore. Everybody sees the lack of authenticity when the Prime Minister and, indeed, most of the government members stand up and try to say that we can just continue as is. No-one's wearing that. Their radar can detect that blatant, shameless lying going on among some government members.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Wallace): Order! I'll ask the honourable member to withdraw that comment about lying. It's unparliamentary language.

Ms CLAYDON: I will withdraw the word 'lying' and suggest, then, that I have had visits to my region from government members who have not spoken the truth. They have not spoken the truth. They like to rub a little bit of coal on their face and pretend they are at one with the mining community, but they do not tell them the truth.

I think a change in rhetoric may be all that the Deputy Prime Minister allowed the current Prime Minister to get away with. But it's not enough for investors, it's not enough to bring energy prices down and it's not enough to create new jobs and new industries in my region.