Offshore wind power welcome but overdue

Published on Wed 27 October 2021 6:16pm

There is not any doubt that Australia needs leadership on climate change and energy, that we need relief from the burdens and the costs of climate change. We need the benefits of lower energy costs, reduced pollution and new jobs from the renewable energy and green tech economy. But all we get is an empty blue pamphlet and slogans.

(18:16): I am glad for the opportunity to speak in support of these bills, particularly the second reading amendment moved by the member for McMahon. The bills, the legislation, are just one small part of the changes needed to enable development of a sensible renewable energy industry in Australia—in this case, offshore wind power—for the first time. As the member for Kingsford Smith noted, it comes terribly late. Deep into the third term, eight years after this government was first elected, that is characteristic of them, a government that does not seem to have any ability to focus on the future, to respond to big challenges by guiding change in the national interest. This is a government that, as Australians will have watched in dismay, over the last couple of weeks has been dragged in the most chaotic and laughable fashion to the most unconvincing and pathetic form of commitment to net zero by 2050.

There is not any doubt that Australia needs leadership on climate change and energy, that we need relief from the burdens and the costs of climate change. We need the benefits of lower energy costs, reduced pollution and new jobs from the renewable energy and green tech economy. But all we get is an empty blue pamphlet and slogans. Unfortunately, the Morrison-Joyce government still thinks it can take Australians for fools, and that’s what we will see more of; we have seen enough already. It thinks it can do nothing under the cover of a glossy pamphlet and a silly slogan, and I think that is really sad. It’s a great trust to be on that side of the parliament and to have the steering and the stewardship of this nation, so it is a great shame when that responsibility is treated so shabbily.

These bills are not perfect. Labor is calling on the government to call up some of the shortcomings in the consultation requirements for declaring areas that will host offshore wind in workplace health and safety, harmonised licensing and a few other things but at least it is finally a step forward in making offshore wind possible as a source of renewable energy in Australia.

It is strange that this week on multiple occasions the Deputy Prime Minister has accused the opposition, this side of the House, of being in favour of legislation. It’s a strange accusation. We would own up to that. We are in favour of legislation as parliamentarians. In other parts of the world, such as in the United States, we are commonly referred to as ‘legislators’. That is actually what people refer to parliamentarians as—legislators. We are in favour of legislation. It is one of the mechanisms of good government, such as it is—or as it isn’t, in the case of those opposite. The principal function of this place is to consider, debate, amend and pass or, sometimes, block legislation, and the idea that legislation is somehow an imposition on the Australian people is a joke. In this case it’s eight years in, three terms in, that the government has finally bothered to pass legislation that enables Australia to take up offshore wind, which provides greater choice in investment, greater diversity in renewable energy, lower costs, lower emissions and new jobs. I’ll say some more about jobs, in particular, later on.

It’s bizarre that a country like Australia is yet to dip its toe in the water of offshore wind. Offshore wind provides 35 gigawatts of energy worldwide. It’s projected to grow to 80 gigawatts by 2030. The US Biden administration has a target of installing 30 gigawatts alone by 2030. The UK gets 10 per cent of its power from offshore wind. It has the most installed capacity of any nation. It has a target of getting to 40 gigawatts of installed capacity by 2040.

Thanks to the policies of the previous Labor government, Australia is a leader in terms of household solar. When we came to government, in 2007, there were only 12,000 household units in the entire country. By the time we left, I think it was 1.3 or 1.4 million. Now, more than 2.8 million households, or something like one in four households, have household solar. That is thanks to the forward-looking vision and approach of the Labor government and its enabling policies. But right now we don’t have a single watt of installed offshore wind capacity.

It is a very reliable and affordable form of renewables. The UK shows that. As an interesting comparison, the strike price of wind power in the UK is half the price set under the power purchase agreement for the new Hinkley C reactor. I say ‘new’, but it hasn’t been delivered yet. It’s 10 years past its delivery date. It’s four or five times over budget, but, if it ever gets delivered, it will be based on a 35-year power purchase agreement, the strike price of which is twice the price of wind power in the UK market as a whole. It’s bizarre and sad that people on the government side, especially the members of the National Party, pour scorn on renewable energy while they are in this unending—and happily, at this stage, unrequited—dewy-eyed love affair with nuclear power, which is the slowest, most expensive and most inflexible form of power generation.

It’s an industry that, after 70 years, still hasn’t figured out how to store its own highly toxic waste. We have uranium mines in this country that appear incapable of being properly decommissioned, with radioactive material leaking into the environment and no funds left to clean up the mess. At the same time, we have an industry, worldwide, that has still not, after 70 years, delivered a single facility capable of storing high-level nuclear waste. But the Nationals and the Liberals are deeply in love with this redundant technology. Maybe they could have put their atomic crush aside for five minutes over the last eight years and get on with a proven, cheap, renewable, clean energy technology, like offshore wind, which this legislation finally opens the door to.

Australia’s wind resources have been assessed as being comparable to the North Sea, which is presently the world’s leading offshore wind generation zone. We, Labor, have been pushing for years for the creation of a regulatory framework that would allow offshore wind. It’s not surprising that there are already 12 proponents just waiting for this door to be opened. If that doesn’t show you not only the potential in offshore wind but also the quite unbelievable obstructive capacity of those opposite, I don’t know what does. We hear this bleating all the time about ‘technology, not taxes’. Here’s a proven technology, which is the largest source of renewable power for a number of countries—particularly in the northern hemisphere—and we haven’t even been able to have a go at it, because of the failures of those opposite.

I want to take the opportunity to talk about the jobs potential that Australia could tap into if we had a government that took climate change seriously and if we had a government that was prepared to lean in on renewable energy and clean, low-carbon, net zero technology. To go back to the UK example: currently, offshore wind employs 26,000 people in the UK, and industry estimates predict that will rise to 70,000, on the basis of their present offshore wind targets.

Why is there no jobs transition planning under this government? If you go to the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources website there’s literally nothing on this topic under the heading ‘Australia’s climate change strategies’. There’s not one thing on that website that goes to the questions of job creation, skills development, transferability and all the things that a responsible government would do as we go through the energy transformation that the globe is experiencing and which we are experiencing, and which will only increase and gather pace in time to come. If we look at the government’s 2021-2022 budget, the skills and training section is entitled ‘Building skills for the future’. There’s nothing in it—nothing—about the transition of Australian workers into the new low-carbon jobs of the future.

The Climate Council has estimated that there could be 8,000 jobs in Australia in offshore wind by 2030. We can add that to the estimation by Accentia Technologies in the report commissioned by the Future Battery Industry, Cooperative Research Centre, a CRC which the government funds. That report estimates that by 2030 Australia could develop an energy, metal and battery related industry worth $7.4 billion and employing nearly 35,000 people. That’s despite the government; when it signed up to the Paris agreement, it signed up to an obligation which states that countries must take:

… into account the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities, …

There is no sign of any such work being done by this government—none! We know that there has been no national energy policy and we know that there’s no comprehensive climate policy, so maybe it shouldn’t come as a shock that there’s no energy and climate job strategy. The UK has one and the American jobs plan has six separate initiatives that are directed at new clean energy, electrification, zero-carbon manufacturing and the associated jobs that they will all involve. They look at all the things that we would want; they look at skills gaps and needs; training requirements; and transferability—all those kinds of things.

The UK’s Green Jobs Taskforce, as part of Prime Minister Johnson’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, has put out a report which states:

As we look ahead to publishing our comprehensive net zero strategy and hosting COP26 in the autumn, we must focus on how we invest in the UK’s most important asset—our workforce—so that people have the right skills to deliver the net zero transition and thrive in the jobs it will create.

…   …   …

… we are taking the first steps to ensure that green jobs are good quality, that they can be accessed by people of all backgrounds and in all parts of the country, and that workers in sectors and industries undergoing change can reapply their skills and expertise towards this new challenge.

Hear, hear! Imagine that? Imagine a government being sensible enough, responsible enough and forward-looking enough to get on with a bit of serious work like that, to prepare young Australians and existing workers for the change that’s happening? But not under this government.

The UK approach is focused on building pathways into the new energy sector. They have a Green Careers Launchpad and they’re doing what we would expect: collaborative work between industry, unions, government itself and the education and training sector to identify skill needs and gaps to assess transferable skills. In terms of the potential for workers to transition and draw on transferable skills, I’ll point out that the World Economic Forum has identified that of the top 10 skill sets required in the net zero carbon economy only three are industry specific. So the potential to achieve that kind of transferability and to support that is pretty significant.

In relation to offshore wind: some of these skills include asset and project management, and engineering and technical skills. These cover disciplines like mechanical and electrical; control instrumentation; and blade and turbine technicians. There’s the full range of scientific qualifications: marine biology, geophysics, hydrology and oceanography, not to mention a range of maritime and seafaring roles. Australia has a fantastic offshore workforce as it stands—a maritime and offshore resource workforce that’s well-suited and should be adapted to these kinds of opportunities as they come on stream.

As we pass these bills we’ll finally open the way for Australia to leverage our enormous advantages when it comes to offshore wind. We should have, but we don’t have, a framework in place to make sure that young Australians are geared up for the jobs of the future. We have no framework to support workers who want to move into these industries. In fact, vocational training has gone backwards under this government. After eight years and three terms, having tripled government debt and having put $100 billion of new spending on the tick, there are 150,000 fewer apprenticeships today than when Labor was in government. We know one of the greatest opportunities for job creation is the net zero economy, which includes not only offshore wind but also large-scale and household solar, hydropower, geothermal and wave energy, hydrogen technology and the full suite of activities within the battery industry, from energy mineral development to manufacture and system design. That’s why we’ve announced the New Energy Apprenticeships program, to ensure that Australians, especially young Australians, take these opportunities. That’s why we’ve committed $100 million to create 10,000 New Energy Apprenticeships over four years, starting in 2022-23. That’s why we’ve announced a Buy Australia policy that will further support new Australian enterprises engaged in the clean energy transformation.

Australians watching this debate will wonder why it has taken us so long, and the answer is pretty simple: because when you have a government that only sees climate change as the altar on which to commit internal sacrifices of whoever they want to get rid of next, you’re not going to get sensible policy, and that is a great shame for this country.

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