BILLS: Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Bill 2021

27 October 2021

I rise in support of these bills and the amendment moved by my colleague the member for McMahon. The bills establish a regulatory framework for electricity infrastructure in the Commonwealth offshore area beyond three nautical miles. This framework will finally allow the construction, installation, operation and maintenance of offshore wind and other electricity infrastructure. These bills allow the energy minister to declare suitable areas for offshore electricity infrastructure and they establish a licensing system for offshore electricity activities and put in place various regulatory measures around the management and compliance of these activities.

We will be supporting these bills because, despite the Deputy Prime Minister saying we shouldn't be making laws about climate change and despite the Prime Minister saying laws aren't what's needed to drive clean energy and despite the minister for energy and emissions reduction saying—I'm not quite sure what he says—here we have the perfect example of why we need laws to encourage investment and to allow investment that will drive clean energy. That side of the House doesn't seem to grasp this. Either they want clean energy or they don't. Either they want laws to drive a clean-energy future or they don't. I hate to tell them, but right now, by debating these bills, we are making laws that will enable a clean future. That's what governments do. And isn't it about time these bills were before the House? We've been calling for these bills for years.

It seems that now the COP is just around the corner the Morrison government has realised their homework is due and they're rushing to get it in on time. These regulations are vital to unlocking Australia's potential as a renewables superpower. Offshore wind will play an important role in Australia meeting its climate obligations and getting to net zero by 2050. Australia is uniquely placed in this regard. Our potential for offshore wind is huge. We have the environmental advantage, the skilled workforce and resources, and business and industry keen to take advantage of it right now. In fact, they've been calling for these regulations for some time.

There are projects lined up that have been sitting on desks, collecting dust, for years, and these aren't small projects. The Star of the South, for example, a project proposed off the coast of Victoria, is huge. It will create around 2,000 direct jobs for workers from along the Victorian eastern coastline—workers from communities that have been involved in traditional energy industries, whose economies are changing with the closure of coal-fired power, workers whose skills are able to be deployed into the offshore electricity industry. They should take up the opportunity, because they will enter secure well-paying jobs in an industry providing massive amounts of clean energy to the state of Victoria.

The clean energy output figures projected for these sites are enormous. The Star of the South is predicted to be able to produce up to 20 per cent of the energy needed to power Victoria. When the minister stands up and says, 'We need more power, we need cheaper power and we need reliable power,' this is it. The Star of the South project will invest around $8.7 billion into Victoria over its lifetime, including an estimated $6.4 billion directly into the Gippsland economy. The good people of the Latrobe Valley have been screaming for this kind of economic diversification, and those on that side of the chamber might be surprised to know the Latrobe Valley is regional. It is a rural community and they love this project, and it's about renewables. Go figure. These sorts of renewable projects, we know, will work and they need to be unlocked now.

For years the minister has sat on his hands, refusing to bring this legislation forward. Maybe he didn't know that laws work and are needed to make these things happen. Well may we say, 'Well done, Angus.' The fact is, I wrote to the minister in October 2019 requesting that he move, get this legislation onboard, get these laws going. Did we get a response? Did I get a response? Nope. Not a word. But here we are, with a net zero credibility government, a net zero credibility minister, rushing around like chooks without heads trying to do something credible. So well done, Minister. On listening at least to the calls of industry and those of us on this side of the House, finally the legislation is coming forward. He certainly hasn't heard the cries of workers in the Latrobe Valley. He certainly hasn't heeded the calls of small businesses in Gippsland, all desperate for this massive project to get going years ago. But at least, and at last, industry can get on with the job of delivering clean energy for Australia, because the Star of the South will power around 1.2 million homes. It will be cleaner, it will be cheaper. Who'd have thunk it? It's all because we're here today making laws.

I will note that the Senate inquiry into these bills did raise a number of concerns regarding its drafting. Really, can those opposite get anything right? The first was around inadequate requirements for consultation with the minister for the environment, their own minister, and consultation with state and territory governments, and with energy authorities. We know the government has a shoddy track record when it comes to environmental consultation, particularly in the area of energy—and particularly when the energy is offshore—so it's important that proper consultation and approval frameworks are built into these regulations.

The second area is in relation to transmission and export of energy generated offshore. We know that with the natural advantages Australia has for offshore wind, and with industry and a workforce ready to go, opportunities will arise for Australia to export the energy we're producing offshore. The legislation, as it is proposed, inadequately addresses exports—and it's critical that we get this right if we're going to take true advantage of these opportunities.

The final issue I'd like to draw attention to is regarding workplace health and safety provisions in this legislation. There's nothing more important than making workplace safety a top priority. We know that this will be dangerous work—some aspects of it—and that this work requires a highly skilled workforce which understands the risks and which has conditions and protections that reduce the risks and keep them safe. I know that the unions for these workforces—predominantly the Maritime Union of Australia, the Electrical Trades Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union—are doing all they can in preparation for these offshore wind projects. That's to make sure that standards are up to scratch and that they're ready to protect their members.

But it's really important that this House does its part too, by legislating proper workplace health and safety standards and making sure they're consistent with existing standards in the industry. I understand that current consultations on the standards included in this bill have not reached their conclusion and that agreement hasn't yet been found. In fact, it's the understanding of the unions that the provisions currently in the bill will lead to differences in the provisions for onshore and offshore workplaces. As my colleague the member for McMahon rightly pointed out, a worker could be subject to one regulatory regime onshore, another while in a transit vessel and another again when they reach the offshore renewable platform. As a former union official, I know that this will undoubtedly lead to confusion and mistakes—and all it takes is one mistake for things to go horribly wrong, particularly in high-risk industries. So we call on the government to continue their consultations in this area and to listen to the concerns of workers and their unions to get this right. If this isn't resolved properly before an election, an Albanese Labor government will resolve this upon taking office—because an Albanese Labor government won't risk the lives of workers.

The job opportunities that flow from these projects will make a big difference for workers in traditional energy industries and for their communities because these jobs are overwhelmingly union jobs. They have decent wages and decent conditions, and they're secure jobs. They're jobs in an industry which is booming and has a bright future—one which, if we get this right; if we get the legislation right in this place, and fast—can turn into a lucrative export industry for decades to come.

Australia can and should be a renewables superpower. There's no reason, other than the government's consistent and persistent reluctance to act, that Australia should not be at the forefront of renewable energy technologies, harnessing the natural advantages and exporting clean, cheap energy to the world. That, as my colleague the member for McMahon put so well, is the opportunity for Australia in the world's climate emergency.

We've seen some crazy rhetoric from the government, particularly over the last fortnight, when it comes to climate change. We heard the Minister for Resources and Water claim that solar panels don't work in the dark. We've heard the Nats say that they are moving forward on moving forward to somewhere, with one of their own actively campaigning against that moving forward—presumably to move backwards to somewhere else. Oh, and we have the Prime Minister's plan—a plan, a plan!—of graphs, gloss and glitzy slogans but very little substance at all. And yesterday on Sky News I was personally mentioned by the Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction as wanting to rip gas barbecues out of people's homes. Really; where does this absurdity end! In fact, Deputy Speaker, you might be pleased to know that I'll be having a barbeque this Friday with my family for my birthday. I'll be 58 on Friday. I'll be sure to send the minister a snap, because there will be plenty of burnt sausages in a low-emissions technology—I promise him!

Australia should be at the forefront of clean energy technologies. We in the Labor Party want Australia to lead the world in the expertise, the technology and the experts for clean energy. In doing so, we will see jobs—jobs that we know come with climate action. There is no good reason why we haven't already seen these jobs. As I have said throughout this speech, we are uniquely placed to become a superpower.

We know—it has been playing out front and centre over the last fortnight—that the government has climate deniers right throughout their ranks and climate deniers now in the cabinet room. We know that, contrary to the claims of the Prime Minister in this place, that this is a government bitterly divided when it comes to climate action, and that the division and the infighting we have seen play out over the last fortnight has culminated in an empty plan. It's a plan in name only, with little policy, little ambition and no real action—and no wonder; after all, this is a government frozen by their division. We saw the trade-off that the Prime Minister had to make in order to get a deal—if you can call it that—with The Nationals on net zero: the Minister for Resources and Water is back in cabinet. That shows so plainly what we all know to be true: they don't really care about regional Australia or about jobs for anyone else; they care about a pay rise for themselves—and, all the while, they sell regional Australia and the rest of us down the river.

We've heard the media constantly calling for the cost of the government's plan. Well, I've got an exclusive on that. I can tell you that the cost of their plan—their hollow, policy-free plan—is jobs. Jobs will be lost. That is the cost—jobs in rural and regional Australia, in mining communities and in our export industries. But they don't care; they've got a minister in the cabinet room with a pay rise—well done! They played out their pantomime of consultation and the Deputy Prime Minster has been able to trot out to the media all week to pretend that he's acting in his constituency's best interests.

It's not a coincidence that it has taken until days before the Prime Minister flies out to COP that we've seen anything resembling climate action from the government. They have been dragged kicking and screaming to this position, for things that we've been calling action on for many years now. It's not just us on this side of the House and it's not just the many climate activists who have been calling for action—and I want to give a big shout-out to all of the wonderful activists, particularly in my seat of Cooper, who have never given up on good policy on climate change; our closest trading partners and our captains of industry and businesses, small and medium, have also been screaming for this. It is embarrassing to see a government scramble now to dress up glossy brochures with meaningless graphs and slogans.

But, unlike this government, Labor has a plan. We have a plan to get to net zero, to make Australia a renewables superpower. We have a plan to invest $20 billion to rewire the grid, enabling a massive uptake of renewable energy and creating thousands of jobs. We'll make electric vehicles cheaper, cutting taxes, and incentivising the uptake of EVs across the country. We'll support 10,000 new apprenticeships in the energy trades of the future, skilling up Australian workers to work in renewable jobs. We will have 400 community batteries constructed that will power 100,000 households with cheaper renewable energy. And we'll make sure regions are at the centre of Australia's shift to becoming a renewable superpower. We will invest $15 billion in a national reconstruction fund, creating jobs, jobs, jobs, and we'll cut emissions in the process.