Offshore Electricity Infrastructure

October 27, 2021

[by video link] I'm happy to speak on the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Bill 2021 and the two associated bills in this cognate debate. I do so from Sunnybank on Turrbal and Yuggera lands, and I commend the member for Chifley for his passionate contribution as always.

My attitude to these bills can be summed up by the phrase 'better late than never'. For some time now, as earlier speakers have indicated, Labor has been calling for legislation to unlock the benefit of offshore renewable energy, particularly offshore wind generation. It's a pity that the benefits of harvesting offshore energy have been delayed due to the inaction of the Morrison government. Don't forget that it's the coalition government that set up and still funds a national windfarm commission. Remember that? It's now called the Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner, someone who can now take complaints not only about wind but also about solar energy—if the wind doesn't blow at night, perhaps, or if the sun stops shining after it goes down. Maybe the wind can't find the turbines in the dark. That's a job that's still being funded by Mr Morrison at more than $200,000 per year. It's hardly surprising, given that inaction is this government's default position when it comes to renewable energy.

Offshore energy generation is already happening in other parts of the world, and we are way behind. More than 35 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity is being generated right now. By 2030 it will be around 80 gigawatts, and by 2050 it's expected to increase to 2,000 gigawatts. For those non-electricians out there, a gigawatt is a billion watts. That's about 17 million 60-watt lightbulbs, to put it in the old speak. To put that amount of energy generation into a broader context, Australia's entire national energy market is around 55 gigawatts.

Australia as a continent and an island nation has one of the longest coastlines in the world. The potential for offshore wind generation is more than we could ever use ourselves, even if we expand our domestic manufacturing as Labor plans to do. Offshore energy generation is an export opportunity, particularly in terms of South-East Asia and the billions of people moving into the middle class in that part of the world. As we see, time and time again, with this government they are always playing catch-up.

Remember back in 2019 when Prime Minister Morrison said during the election campaign that electric vehicles would 'end the weekend'? Just this week, the Hertz CEO said electric vehicles are now mainstream. Two years on, things have changed. Hertz Global has just purchased 100,000 electric vehicles for its rental car fleet. Business all around the world is ignoring the out-of-touch Liberals and getting on with the job of being in the 21st century.

The Prime Minister's vision for the future doesn't extend beyond his next meeting with his Deputy Prime Minister, the Leader of the Nationals. He couldn't see the potential for electric vehicles just two years ago, and now he's being held to ransom by the Nationals. Over the past week we've heard government members say—I kid you not—that solar doesn't work in the dark. And the resources minister, in defending his anti-renewables stance, said it was a fundamental fact that solo doesn't work without the sun, completely forgetting the role that modern batteries play in modern grids. It's hard to take this lot seriously but, unfortunately, they are currently running our nation—and they will be representing our nation's interests in Glasgow, on that world stage.

How can any of these government ministers in 2021—and I note that the resources minister has just been elevated to the cabinet—seriously talk about solar energy generation or wind generation being reliant on the sun and not mention batteries? Prime Minister Morrison once said of the South Australia-Elon Musk joint battery:

It is so at the margin it barely is worthy of a mention.

He then compared it to the Big Banana and the Big Prawn—putting politicking before jobs; putting The Nationals before the nation. Does this government think that the 100,000 electric vehicles that Hertz has just bought will stop working when it rains? Will cars stop in the middle of the road because there is no sun? Seriously; do these people go around with their heads in the sand? Newsflash for the coalition: batteries store the energy from solar panels and batteries store the energy from wind generation. Yes, you need the sun and you need wind to make the energy, and then it is stored in the battery or pumped hydro and other options when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing.

To be technical, experts say that Africa and Australia have the same amount of global horizontal radiation, which is one measure of solar coverage, and Australia has the greatest amount of direct normal irradiance, the other measure of solar coverage. In other words, Australia actually has more solar coverage than any other continent on earth. We have more than enough sunshine to make, store, use and export solar energy. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency says wind energy is one of the lowest-cost sources of new electricity supply in Australia along with utility-scale solar PV. We have sun and wind in abundance in this country, and that equals an amazing opportunity and it equals jobs, especially here in Queensland where we have some good steady winds at night—something to complement the Roaring 40s wind turbines down in South Australia, Melbourne and Tasmania.

Because the world is hungry for new sources of energy, this climate emergency is Australia's jobs opportunity. The coalition's chaos and division on energy over the past eight years has seen too many Australians miss out. Under Prime Minister Morrison's watch, 2,700 clean energy jobs have disappeared. Workers who have powered Australia for generations are getting left behind by a Prime Minister who won't lift a finger when it comes to their rights at work and won't do anything for their future.

When it comes to net zero emissions, we are still not sure what the Liberal and National parties are committed to, because they are not going to introduce any legislation to test the commitment of their party rooms—their very divided party rooms—and they won't release their modelling. But Labor are committed to net zero emissions by 2050, as are all of the states and territories, leading businesses and industry and agriculture groups, and 130 countries share the same and goal. So what do we need to do? We need to look after this planet and we need to care for our country.

The Liberal and Nationals' inaction has left Australia exposed to environmental threats and economic risks like international carbon tariffs. The net zero emissions PowerPoint display trotted out yesterday is like a cheap card trick, or a delaying tactic. There was zero new policy. There was zero actual plan in the announcement and no modelling released—just more of the same denial, delay and obfuscation. They are asking the Australian people to trust them because they have technology—and that will save us. They don't explain what the technology is, how it will reduce emissions or who will pay for it—what taxpayer dollars will go into it.

They forget that they are responsible for the cuts to the CSIRO budget, of hundreds of millions dollars, and that we've lost almost 40,000 university jobs in the last two years. They are asking us to trust them because they already have policies. Look at their great renewable policies like Snowy 2.0, which isn't even plugged into the grid yet. They are asking us to trust them to reduce emissions, without any new policy at all. It sounds like a line from The Flim-Flam Man to me—somehow emissions will be magically reduced without changing anything, via technology and offshore offsets that they railed against for years and years. Remember that offshore offsets means that somebody else will have to do the work—not unusual territory for this Prime Minister. If we want to achieve net zero by 2050 we can't begin reducing emissions in 2049; we need to get working now. We are in a climate emergency. It will take leadership and vision to turn this ship around. Both of these things are currently lacking in this government.

Labour has already engaged in policy development to get the ship right. We've already made announcements like: making electric cars cheaper by slashing inefficient taxes; cutting bills and supporting the grid with community batteries for up to 100,000 solar households; supporting 10,000 apprentices in the new energy trades of the future; our rewiring the nation policy, where Labor will invest $20 billion to upgrade our grid using Australian expertise, steel and workers to provide affordable, reliable and clean electricity to Australian businesses and households; and Labour's $15 billion national reconstruction fund, which will create secure jobs for Australian workers, drive regional economic element, boost our sovereign capability and diversify the nation's economy. It will partner with the private sector on investment that will grow the economy and jobs, including in renewables and low-emissions technologies like wind turbines, batteries and solar panels; modernising steel and aluminium; hydrogen electrolysers; and so much more. And we will continue that process. What is clear is that an Albanese Labor government will create jobs, cut power prices and reduce emissions.

I welcome these bills before the House today, because Labor called for these bills. After much delay by the coalition, they have been introduced, but the bills are far from perfect. We have concerns about the work health and safety framework. There was substantial evidence presented to the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee that the government has not adopted the harmonised national work health and safety law in the bills. Harmonisation of the laws is important, because, if not harmonised, a worker could be subject to one regulatory regime on shore, a second while in transit on a vessel and a third while working on an offshore renewable project. However, there is some disagreement between the department, the regulator and stakeholders on this. Labour urges the coalition government to undertake further consultation on these provisions. Labor is committed to improving and harmonising the workplace health and safety regulatory framework covering workers in offshore clean energy. It's actually in our national platform. If the government does not fix this, which is most likely, an Albanese Labor government will.

Both government and non-government members of the senate committee suggested some amendments to this bill in their report. The member for McMahon has moved an amendment to the bill to incorporate those amendments. I support the amendment moved by the member for McMahon.