In Parliament

Bill - Energy and Public Land Legislation Amendment (Enabling Offshore Wind Energy) Bill 2024



Wednesday, 20 March 2024.

James NEWBURY (Brighton) (10:46):

I rise to speak on the Energy and Public Land Legislation Amendment (Enabling Offshore Wind Energy) Bill 2024.

Victorians and Australians want to see energy that is reliable, secure, affordable and clean. That is what Australians want. That is what Victorians want.

So, two weeks ago, when the Government brought to the Parliament and considered the Climate Change and Energy Legislation Amendment (Renewable Energy and Storage Targets) Bill 2023, the Coalition did not oppose it. Part of that Bill was a commitment to introducing offshore wind energy targets of not less than 2 gigawatts by 2032, 4 gigawatts by 2035 and 9 gigawatts by 2040. The Bill set out those targets, and that Bill passed the Parliament. Yesterday the Parliament considered an amendment that went through the Council, and that Bill was passed and now will go for royal assent. So, this Parliament has come together and said that we do need to ensure that as Victoria transitions in terms of its energy production we have a plan in place which sets out where our energy generation will go – how much energy we will have in each form of energy production over what period of time – and do it in a responsible way.

The Coalition made the point during the debate that as that transition occurs, we need to see energy produced that is, as I said, reliable, secure, affordable and clean. That means we need to make sure that we do not see ongoing blackouts, and many members raised the recent blackout that saw 530,000 Victorians lose power to their homes, the biggest blackout in our State’s history, and blackouts since – not of the same magnitude but blackouts since.

What this Bill does is take it an element further in relation to that first Bill, as the Minister has pointed out herself, as it relates to offshore wind. The Bill is quite a simple Bill in that it creates a Victorian licence system that enables feasibility of offshore wind projects on Crown land. So, this Bill creates a system whereby 21- year licences can be provided to allow feasibility and works to be done in the private sector to enable the construction of offshore wind.

This is the Victorian licensing component, if you want to put it that way, for offshore wind.

What this Bill does not do and what this Government has not done is explain the plan for offshore wind. That matters for two reasons: firstly, because we need to ensure that we have enough energy supply, and when offshore wind is a central component to your future energy supply you would want the Government to have a plan to ensure that we have it; but secondly, because the Bill that I spoke to earlier, which we passed only, finally, yesterday, sets out how quickly we need to generate energy supply more generally and specifically in relation to wind.

What we have seen over primarily the last few months is a collapse of the government’s offshore wind policy. The offshore wind policy in Victoria has become, sadly, a national laughingstock, and I will get into the detail of that issue throughout the debate.

I spoke earlier about the recent blackout, and for mums, dads, families and Victorians the idea that we are now in a circumstance where our energy is not secure has been made patently obvious, with more than half a million people recently suffering in that blackout. So, Victorians have started to speak very, very strongly about the concerns they have about energy security in this state, as they should. Energy security is a must. But so too have business started to be far more outspoken about the government’s net zero target, the offshore wind component and the lack of a plan to get there.

Recently the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry held an event on the journey to net zero, and the chamber chief executive Paul Guerra spoke at length about some of these issues. He said:

The fragility of our existing system was exposed. We can’t get to net zero on a hope and a prayer.

And he was talking about that historic blackout. Further:

… the concern lies in how are we actually going to get there?


We cannot let energy security be the casualty of the transition to net zero.

And finally:

Call out the bullshit and call out the ideology. This isn’t a game. This is our future. Reliable energy at affordable prices must be aligned.

And I do apologise, but that was a direct quote from the Chief Executive.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! Just to pick the Member up, unparliamentary language is not excusable because it is in a quote. I caution the Member.

James NEWBURY: Thank you, Deputy Speaker. The Chief Executive was making the point that we need to have more than a target and we need to have more than ideology; we need to have a plan of how to get there, and what this Bill does not do is set out that plan.

What this Bill does is create a licensing regime, effectively. It does not do any more than that. It creates a licensing regime. It says that companies can come to the Government in relation to Crown land and they can be licensed to do feasibility work. That is really what the guts of the Bill are about. What it does not do is it does not say how this government is going to ensure that we have the projects that we need, the build we need in terms of energy supply, the wind turbines we need and the offshore wind projects we need. How are we going to do that? That should be a concern to all Victorians.

The Chamber has done a power of work on these issues. Paul Guerra further said – and I will refer to a recent survey of 500 of their members – at that event that if the Government:

… cannot guarantee that the lights remain on in this state, then I can guarantee that many businesses will find places other than Victoria to set up.

The survey conducted of their members – and I will read in some of the findings of that survey – found that energy policies were the top concern for 65 per cent of Victorian businesses, so two out of three. Eighty-six per cent said they believed the move to renewables would impact their output – concerning: 86 per cent, so five out of six. Seventy-three per cent said Victoria’s February power blackout had forced them to close. Three out of four were forced to close throughout that blackout – extraordinary, with the impact, as we know, of the loss of stock and the loss of capacity. Eighty-one per cent cited cost as a main barrier to switching from gas to electricity. I think that the case is being made very, very strongly.

When we speak about the concerns from business about the Government’s ideological push over practicality, the Government’s gas ban is a deep, deep concern to all Victorians but also all Victorian businesses. It is an ideological ban and a ban that is going to affect all Victorians, both business and otherwise.

Mr Guerra further said:

We want to get behind that –

as in the renewable energy reforms –

… but it relies on having a clear plan to signal to businesses that access for reliable energy will also be affordable.

That is not unreasonable. And finally:

Specifically on gas, if we don’t have a clear plan which also includes affordable pricing, and if we get out of step with the other states in Australia by becoming more expensive for energy, that increases the operational risk for business.

What are some of the themes that industry is talking about? They are recognising the need for a plan, but they are also making it clear that that plan cannot be purely around ideology and that there has to be a practical element, a practical plan, and that is where the Government has fallen short and been exposed on a national stage.

You only have to look at the point raised by Mr Guerra in relation to affordability and some of the reported data that the Victorian Government has produced on things like wind energy. The Government’s estimated cost of offshore wind is $94 a megawatt hour, whereas in Britain the Government recently auctioned at $139 and in the US at $230. So, the Government has set out a plan or an estimate which is in no way in line with what is actually happening in markets around the world where these projects exist, and that should be a concern and goes straight to the affordability question.

We have also seen projects in total disarray in terms of offshore wind. Over the last three months we have seen effectively a total collapse of the Government’s offshore wind policy. We see reports of multiple companies making applications that are in dispute – tens of applications with the federal government that are in dispute over borders of where the projects will occur – and concerns as to how those disputes will be resolved. We have not even got to the point of them being built, but the level of disputation, clearly because of the management of the Government strategy, both State and Federal, has led to, clearly, a collapse of our Victorian offshore wind policy.

We saw that no more clearly than at the start of the year with the Port of Hastings. To remind the house, the Port of Hastings was a project that was reportedly 146 hectares in size, including reclaimed land, the clearing of vegetation and the dredging of 92 hectares for a 600-metre long, 100-metre wide wharf which the federal minister for the environment, as we now all know, rejected because:

… large areas of the –

bay’s wetland –

will be destroyed or substantially modified as a result of direct impacts of
the proposed action.

The Minister further stated it would cause:

… irreversible damage to the habitat of waterbirds and migratory birds and marine invertebrates and fish …

Finally, in terms of impact on the food webs of the mudflats and coastal area, pollution is a significant risk and could result from oil and chemical spills, discharge of ballast water, shipping accidents, marinas and launching ramps, sewage and bilge water and other debris.

When the Federal Government announced its findings on the project, effectively rejecting the project, it sent a spear through the Victorian Government’s offshore wind strategy, this project which was central to early generation in order to meet the Government’s targets, but it also exposed the hollowness of the Victorian Government’s plan to actually deliver on its targets. As I said earlier, you need more than a target – you need a plan to deliver on it.

We know the Federal Minister for Climate Change has said on the record that there is:
… a long lead-up for offshore wind.

He further said:

… we don’t expect much offshore wind to be operating by 2030 in Australia … setting up a new industry from scratch takes time. And we envisage most of the projects will be generating power post-2030.

If I can read that quote again from the Minister:

… setting up a new industry from scratch takes time. And we envisage most of the projects will be generating power post-2030.

That is why earlier this year when the Federal Government knocked down the Port of Hastings proposal, not only Victoria but Australia could see quite clearly that the Victorian Government did not have the capacity to deliver on the projects that they needed to, not only because of the supply we need in Victoria but because of now the law which requires them to do it. I should state that should the Government not reach that target, there is no penalty. There is simply no penalty. It is a target in law without a single penalty or any downside for the Minister who does not achieve it. I mean, the Minister can just snub her nose. She can amend the target. She can ignore the target.

What concerns I think business, but also Victorians more broadly, in relation to offshore wind is watching projects like Hastings go down primarily because of a lack of responsible governing in terms of this Government and the way they manage projects. We know that that particular project was warned about the risk of proceeding with that proposal. Infrastructure Victoria in 2017 was asked to assess whether Hastings or Bay West in Werribee would be best placed for future projects, and it talked about at that time the wetland risks at the Port of Hastings.

So, in 2017 the Government was paying one of its own Departments to provide advice, which they did, and yet another part of Government, which taxpayers are paying for, were proceeding with a project which they had received advice would be of concern. The issues that were raised were all of the issues which ended up being on the table when the Federal Minister provided her decision on the project. The Government could have simply dusted off the report, which taxpayers had paid for, and received the insight several years earlier, but they did not.

What was I think so concerning for Victorians was not only to see the policy of wind unravel but to see the Government unravel during press conferences that week on the actual project – unravel before our eyes day by day. It started with the Premier stating multiple times that the Port of Hastings proposal had passed through State Government environmental approval processes. Confidently the Premier stepped out and said, ‘No, this has all gone through our environmental work, it’s all been ticked off.’ I recall the Premier saying that the Government would start to lobby the Federal Government to change their mind. The Premier would change their mind. Embarrassingly, later that same day, we found out that the Environment Minister had not approved the project. Just for anybody who was not listening to the first point: contrary to what the Premier had gone out in the press conference with gusto to say, the Environment Minister had referred the project off for an environmental effects assessment in October the year before, several months earlier. All of that assessment was noted on the Minister’s Department’s website, so someone was not reading the Government’s website.

But the Premier was not the only one not reading the Government’s website, because then we saw the Minister for Environment come out next – so the Premier came out on Tuesday of that week, then the Minister for Environment came out on Thursday – and, when asked about this project, said, ‘We can’t talk about the federal government’s decision yet.’ ‘Why can’t you?’ the media asked. Fairquestion – ‘Why can’t you?’ Because the Minister had only received a summary. He said:

My understanding is that we have … effectively a summary of the decision. We don’t have the full decision yet, so it’s hard to give you an answer to that question without having the actual details of the reasons the federal government said no

Let’s understand what the decision is before we then commit to whether we stay on that site. But your question is, how do we mitigate it? Well, we need to find out what they’re concerned about in detail, before I can give you an answer on how to mitigate it …

It was on the Federal Government’s website the week before – a week earlier, on Friday the week before.

So, we have got the Premier saying the State Government have approved it on the State website, the State Environment Minister saying, ‘I can’t speak in detail to the matter, because the decision hasn’t been made public’ – it was on the Federal Government’s website. Is it any wonder Victorians are saying, ‘What is the Government’s offshore wind plan?’ The Government needs to do more than come to this place with this Bill. It does provide a licensing regime for feasibility work; it does do that. But that is all that it does. In substance it provides a feasibility licensing regime for Crown land; that is the substance of the Bill.

What the projects are, where they are – there is no plan. The Government has not made it clear to Victorians, and when you are seeing hundreds of thousands of people suffer blackouts, when you are seeing business saying to you in the strongest possible terms, so strongly – you might recall that the Deputy Speaker, who was in the chair earlier, noted a word that they had used and cautioned me when that word was used. That was the head of one of the biggest business organisations in the state, who had used strong language in saying how strong the concerns were.

Finally, I should mention the Minister for Energy and Resources in that week in relation to Hastings. Just when you thought the Premier and the Minister for Environment had embarrassed Victoria enough, no, here comes the Minister for Energy, who had a dummy spit. There is no other way to say it. The Minister for Energy had a dummy spit and railed against the Federal Government, just railed against them: ‘It’s not the State Government’s fault; it’s not the State Government’s fault.’ I presume what actually happened is by the end of that week the entire Cabinet, Government and Premier were saying, ‘Minister for Energy, what’s going on here?’ and so the Minister came out and gave one big almighty whack and said, ‘It’s all the feds’ fault.’ I mean, that is the standard go-to line for this Government: ‘It’s all the feds’ fault.’ Well, it was. ‘It’s someone else’s fault.’ It is starting –

A member interjected.

James NEWBURY: Well, they are. Everything is the feds’ fault.

Danny O’Brien: Even the Labor feds.

James NEWBURY: That is right, and that is what we saw that week. We saw the Minister in a very unedifying dummy spit blame the feds for a project they had been warned years before would be a problem – years before. It is extraordinary. It was very, very unedifying.

We have seen only earlier this week with the Portland decision a project – and I am not in any way reflecting on the decision, but I would note for the record the decision that the Energy Minister Chris Bowen announced. The Southern Ocean offshore wind zone, which originally was meant to span 5132 square kilometres, is now a fifth of the size. The approval is for a fifth of the size. In no way is the Coalition reflecting on the decision; we are just noting that in terms of how we actually deliver offshore wind it has not been made clear to Victorians, because in that project the new size will generate 2.9 gigawatts, from the originally estimated 14.6 gigawatts. I do note that the Coalition will be circulating amendments, and under Standing Orders I wish to advise the house of amendments to the bill and request that they be circulated.

Amendments circulated under Standing Orders.

Those amendments go to two things. Firstly, they go to social licence and ensuring that throughout the processes of this Bill there is a social licence component, a consultation with the community component, because we know that the Government is not in any way ensuring that communities are part of these decisions.

In fact, the Government is ripping away the rights of the community to have a say over decisions, which is appalling. Only last week the Government confirmed that they would extend their planning powers further in the assessment of development facilitation program projects and add renewable energy. Under that program, effectively, the Government has absolutely no say, so we will be moving amendments that go to community consultation but also go to ensuring that these projects are undertaken by people who are fit and proper persons. Those two amendments are fair and reasonable: community consultation and the fit and proper person.

In terms of community consultation, I do note the Government’s previous report from March 2022, which suggests that up to 70 per cent of agricultural land will need to be renewable. I have spoken to the Government about that estimate, and they have set out that that was the, I suppose, ‘impossible scenario’, in their terms, and to produce the most gigawatts possible, whereas their estimate is that to achieve the target we will need to produce just under half of what that scenario was. So that still says that almost 30 per cent of ag land could be covered.

The Government needs to ensure that we have reliable, affordable, secure and clean energy, and that is what the Coalition has been speaking about. We have been speaking about ensuring that we do. We will not be opposing this Bill. We will be moving amendments. But we are calling on the government to do more than set targets. We are calling on the Government to set out a plan to achieve them and also let Victorians know that we will have reliable, secure, affordable energy and how that will be delivered, because that is what Victorians deserve and this Government has not set out that plan.