Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Bill
Ms WELLS (Lilley) (12:58): In January 2020, the Morrison government promised Australians that our offshore renewable industry would be open for business by mid-2021. Yet here we are, with 2½ months left until the end of the year, debating the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Bill 2021. This bill will establish a regulatory framework to allow for the construction, installation, commissioning, operation, maintenance and decommissioning of offshore electricity infrastructure in Commonwealth areas. Labor has been campaigning for a legislative framework to unlock the benefits of offshore renewables for some time.
There is growing commercial interest in an Australian offshore electricity sector, with a dozen offshore wind prospects currently in the early planning stages around the country. These offshore renewable energy projects tick all of the boxes when you think of bang-for-buck economic investment. Offshore renewable energy has the potential to create a reliable and affordable electricity network that guarantees Australia's future energy security. It will see billions of dollars invested in Australia, creating tens of thousands of jobs while delivering social and economic benefits in our regional communities. It will maximise import and export trade opportunities which leverage our renewable energy resources.
Offshore renewable energy also has the potential to expand our local manufacturing capacity and expand scalable supply chain benefits for small and medium enterprise in Australia, with the Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre estimating that manufacturing components for offshore winds creates eight times more jobs than the construction of projects. This level of investment in the manufacturing sector would be a game changer for my electorate of Lilley, which has a proud manufacturing history but which has struggled under eight years of an LNP government.
In the absence of a regulatory framework, the economic and environmental benefits of offshore wind and other offshore renewables have been delayed by the Morrison government. There are three key areas where this bill could be improved to make it fit for purpose, and these issues were raised by key industry stakeholders during the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee inquiry into the bill. First and foremost, the bill fails to reflect serious concerns that were raised in the Senate inquiry about the work health and safety framework. The inquiry had substantial evidence that the work health and safety provisions of the bill should be fully harmonised with the national work health system, in turn providing consistent and robust protections for workers. Instead of heeding this advice, the Morrison government has amended the work health and safety provisions beyond recognition. As the bill stands, a worker would be subject to one regulatory regime onshore, a second while in transit on a vehicle and a third while working on an offshore renewable project. This patchwork of health and safety regulation poses significant risk and confusion for workers and employers alike. Secondly, this bill fails to create a provision which allows government electricity-planning agencies, developers or state governments to request that the minister commence the process of declaring an offshore electricity area. It also fails to provide a time line for when that process will be complete, and it doesn't provide transparency and certainty as to the matters the minister shall consider in making the declaration. Finally, the bill fails to address evidence received by the Senate inquiry on the importance of legislated merit criteria on socioeconomic benefits for local workers, for business communities and for First Nations people when issuing a feasibility licence, commercial licence or transmission licence. The minister should also be required to consider the potential impacts of offshore renewable energy infrastructure on our precious marine environment, of which my electorate is a beneficiary. The merit based and environmental criteria must be reflected in this legislation to ensure they are reflected in detail in subsequent regulations. These three improvements would provide greater certainty to a future offshore wind industry and ensure that the economic benefits of local supply chains are maximised while providing the highest possible standards for workplace health and safety.
COVID highlighted the fragility of our economy against the impact of disaster. It pulled into focus the value of scientific knowledge in anticipating, preparing for and managing the impact of natural shocks. Most importantly, it weakened the domestic and global standing of political leaders who refused to take science seriously. As our global allies and domestic peak bodies commit to net zero by 2050 to tackle climate change, the Morrison government remains conspicuously outside the tent, refusing to offer real solutions to tackle climate change and protect our environment. And it is quite a big tent. Every state and territory in Australia has signed up to net zero, the Business Council has signed up, the National Farmers Federation has signed up, the Minerals Council has signed up and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association has signed up. Yet somehow, after eight years in government, the Morrison government is still divided on the basic science of climate change and has come up with a PowerPoint plan to reach net zero by 2050 that would fail as a grade 7 science project.
Blindly led by an outdated ethos and held hostage by climate deniers, science doubters and conspiracy theorists, the Morrison government isn't just embarrassing us on the global stage but they're actively hurting our economic success and undermining the environmental and social wellbeing of our great nation. They have no timetable for action and they have no set destination; they're fixated with short-term political acts over long-term vision. Above all, the Morrison government continues to misjudge the time frames in which we must act before irreparable damage is done. Until net emissions fall to zero, global average temperatures will keep increasing. Even if greenhouse emissions fall but remain positive, temperature increases will be slowed but they will not stop. And while we are the ones who are making the decisions today, it is the future generations who will pay the price. The time for action is now.
Decarbonising our economy and investing in renewable energy isn't the death knell for the Aussie blue-collar worker that the Morrison government would have us believe. It will not end the Aussie weekend and it will not take away your lawnmower or your ute. Tackling the climate emergency by investing in renewable energy actually presents Australia with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for significant economic growth in our post-pandemic recovery. From a domestic viewpoint, public and private investment in solar and wind generation, energy storage and transmission to link resources to expanding industrial centres has the potential to create new jobs quickly, to lift our employment rate and to increase wages sustainably. From a global stance, embracing the opportunities of a low-carbon world economy would change the structure of the Australian industry for the better by reducing emissions whilst also lowering costs and increasing global competitiveness.
Decarbonising our electricity and embracing renewable energy will also ensure our that our Aussie manufacturing sector is equipped for the future. Aluminium is currently the most electricity-intensive product entering world trade in large volumes, and Australian competitiveness in coal based aluminium smelting has been challenged by rising electricity costs. In the current environment, no mainland Australian smelter is guaranteed long-term survival in the absence of fundamental changes in electricity supply. This will have serious consequences for companies like GJames in my electorate of Lilley, which is a successful family-owned business employing over one thousand local workers to manufacture glass and aluminium. While the Morrison government sits on its hands, Australian industry is stepping up and leading the way in pursuing net zero emissions by 2050. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency has identified the sector as a key target in its strategy to support industry in reducing emissions, and has partnered with Rio Tinto to conduct a feasibility study at the Yarwun refinery in Gladstone to find a way to partially decarbonise refining by using renewable hydrogen in calcination.
I know that the best prospect for Australia in the post-pandemic economic recovery is an accelerated transition to low-cost renewables because I've seen the blueprint for success in my own electorate of Lilley. GEM Energy is a solar power and battery company in Pinkenba, near Brisbane Airport. I had the pleasure of meeting with the CEO of GEM Energy, Jack Hooper and his team—and his dogs!—last week to gain some more insight into the future of the energy landscape in Australia, including our renewable targets and how we can ensure grid stability and cheaper energy prices for all Australians. The growth of the renewable energy industry has enabled GEM Energy to expand from a small operation in regional Emerald to a company which employs over 50 full-time staff, and it has delivered over $160 million worth of solar and battery projects. The story of GEM Energy proves that there's a bright future for Australian workers in renewable energy.
I have also seen the opposite side of this story, where the Liberal led Brisbane City Council decided to outsource the manufacturing of electric buses to a company in China instead of manufacturing them at Volgren in Eagle Farm, risking the jobs of dozens of local workers. I'm glad to report that Volgren is progressing in spite of Mayor Schrinner and his Liberal mates, and has recently announced that it will be doubling its workforce over the next year to prepare itself for the opportunity that manufacturing electric buses will bring.
As the federal member for Lilley, I have a simple, effective and commonsense plan to boost our local economy. First is northside infrastructure projects built, secondly, by northside workers and, thirdly, using equipment and materials manufactured in Australia. In line with this plan, there is no comparable opportunity for nation-building public and private investment on the same scale as renewable energy. As elected representatives tasked with securing Australia's future, we must grab this opportunity with both hands. We cannot stand by and allow our economy and our workers to be unprepared for the global shift in energy supply.
Australia has the opportunity to emerge as a winner in a low-pollution global economy, but only under the right leadership. We need a just transition and investment in the renewable energy sector, and we need an Albanese Labor government to do it. An Albanese Labor government will harness the power of renewables to power our manufacturing, develop our hydrogen industry and create a generation of secure well-paid jobs. We will unleash the power of our solar, hydro and wind power stations by rewiring the nation, building a new transmission line to connect renewables to industry. We will give power back to the people by building community batteries for household solar. And, with our electric car discount, we will cut taxes on electric vehicles, making them cheaper for families to buy. We will join with the rest of the world and adopt a target of net zero emissions by 2050, creating jobs, cutting electricity bills and lowering pollution. We will invest $100 million to support 10,000 new energy apprenticeships and $10 million in a new energy skills program. We will support the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which Labor set up when last in government and which the coalition has spent seven years undermining.
There is a real need for industry policy to ensure that the offshore renewable energy industry achieves its potential. Offshore wind is not one of the technologies prioritised by the government's low-emissions technology road map—another missed opportunity by the Morrison government to harness the power of renewable energy. An Albanese Labor government will prioritise offshore wind regulation to unlock the billions of dollars and thousands of jobs for Australia's regions that the Prime Minister is stalling on. I thank the House.