HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 27 OCTOBER 2021
On New Year's Day 2020, this city, my beloved home city of Canberra, had the worst air quality in the world. Bushfire smoke had blanketed the city, and what being outdoors did for your lungs was the same as what smoking a pack of cigarettes a day would do. Increased severe weather events had been warned about since Ross Garnaut's work commissioned by the Rudd and Gillard governments. Yet Prime Minister Morrison denied that there was any link between bushfires and climate change. It led to countries around the world shaking their heads at the inaction from the Morrison government on climate change. In 2020, the Climate Change Performance Index put Australia dead last for our climate policies.
We've seen from the Morrison government inaction and denial. The former Prime Malcolm Turnbull has said he puts it down to the 'toxic combination of the fossil fuel lobby, right-wing partisan media, and right-wing sentiment'. He was so outraged by his former party having been captured by the climate denialists that he supported an independent candidate for the New South Wales Upper Hunter by-election over a National Party candidate.
As has been pointed out by economist Nicki Hutley, when other countries put in place their COVID response packages they used that as a chance to accelerate the shift towards renewables. Nicki Hutley's analysis suggests that the average national spending from COVID recovery packages on clean energy was 20 per cent. In Australia, it wasn't 20 per cent. It wasn't two per cent. It wasn't even 0.2 per cent. It was 0.02 per cent. That's how little the Australian government grabbed the opportunity to use COVID fiscal stimulus in order to encourage the shift towards renewables. As Ms Hutley noted, the word ‘renewables’ didn't even appear in the government's policy documents. The former prime minister, Malcom Turnbull, has noted that there hasn't been new major infrastructure investment in long-term storage projects since he announced Snowy Hydro 2.0 and the Basslink plan. So it's not just this side of the House that is deeply disappointed with the lack of action on climate change; it is former prime minister Malcom Turnbull, who, as history records, lost his job not once but twice because he wanted to drag his party into acting on climate change.
Acting on climate change is what we've seen from sensible conservatives in Britain, Germany and New Zealand, to name just a few countries. But, in Australia, the Liberal and National parties have taken the Trumpist path, choosing not to act. We heard from the resources minister the other day that solar panels do not work at night. This is a bloke who must be surprised every time he has a shower on a day when it's not raining outside.
We've even had the member for Mallee saying that wind farms don't work at night, which I'm sure would be extraordinary news to some of those in the wind industry.
This Smart Energy Council today launched its election campaign, aiming to vote out the Morrison government for their inaction on climate change. They say: 'Scott Morrison claimed credit for programs like the renewable energy target that he tried to axe. He banked emissions reductions from policies that don't work or won't happen.' The Smart Energy Council is aiming to vote out the Morrison government in order not only to stop the blockers of climate action but to get the jobs in renewables. They point out that there are another potential 45,000 jobs in renewables by 2025.
Many of those jobs will be in offshore wind—technology which has been adopted by many other countries around the world, yet it is where Australia has been slow to act. We have one of the longest coastlines in the world, and work by Blue Economy indicates that feasible wind resources are 2,233 gigawatts of offshore wind. That is for an energy market which totals only 55 gigawatts, and it would allow Australia to be a major energy exporter. This is an opportunity which has been taken up by Britain and by many other countries.
An important thing to remember about the benefits of offshore wind is that it can tap into areas that have in the past supported coal-fired power stations that either have closed or are scheduled to close in the future—Gippsland, Latrobe, Newcastle, the Hunter Valley, the Illawarra, Gladstone, Central Queensland—where we've got electricity grid infrastructure and the ports, railways and populations that can benefit from new energy and new industry. There are jobs there as well. Those turbines need maintenance, and there's a network of ships and ports required for that maintenance. There are some 26,000 people who work in the offshore wind industry in Britain, and by 2026 there will be another 70,000 people working in that industry. We also have projects that are ready to go. Green Energy Partners have two projects they're looking to start exploratory work on, off the Illawarra and off Newcastle, and they are aiming to use Port Kembla as a construction hub.
These bills are inadequate. There is meant to be three bills. We are only debating two of them today, as the Deputy Speaker has noted. As Labor has raised and previous Labor speakers have noted, there are concerns over the way in which worker safety is addressed in these bills. The inquiry by the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee into these bills heard concerns that the government hasn't adopted the harmonised national work health and safety laws in this bill. That could potentially lead to confusion, and it poses risks for both employees and employees. It's critical that we get this right. Labor is also concerned that in the merit criteria for licences the bill doesn't require local benefits to be included. We believe that the minister should be required to consider the benefits for local workers, businesses, communities and First Nations people.
We welcome the bills, but they have come very late in an environment in which many other countries have done far more to accelerate the uptake of offshore wind and in which there are more than a dozen offshore wind proposals in Australia. Labor supports clean energy, unlike the Prime Minister, who has compared a large battery to the big prawn or the big banana; unlike the Prime Minister, who has said that electric vehicles will end the weekend; and unlike the Prime Minister, who has presented slideshows and sideshows modelling a so-called plan that is nothing of the sort and that has net zero modelling, net zero legislation and net zero ambition for Australia.
If only Australia had a prime minister who was as ambitious for Australia as he is for himself. If only we had a prime minister who was going to Glasgow with strong targets to create renewables jobs in Australia and turn the nation into a clean-energy superpower.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra