STANDING COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PLANNING
STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE ENVIRONMENT AND PLANNING
Wednesday, 20 September 2017
Ms SHING (Eastern Victoria) — I am going to, without needing to comb through the entrails of a seagull in the way that the seers did in ancient Roman times, have a crack at trying to predict how things might go in the event that there is a further inquiry into the subject matter which is set out in this motion. Here goes.
I predict that in the event that there is a further inquiry, the reports might almost already have been written. They will come down as such: the coalition members of the committee to which it has been proposed to send this inquiry will come back and say lines that have been recycled in a way that might in fact give them green credentials if they were to try to apply them beyond this place and beyond the rhetoric that comes out whenever the question of energy supply and energy resourcing is raised, whether in this place or whether in Canberra. They will come out with a report that says that in fact Victoria needs to sustain investment in coal fired power generation; that it needs to in fact maximise the policy levers and all opportunities to secure further opportunities for coal fired power now and into the future; that in the event that this is not done, in fact we will face some sort of apocalyptic consequence which will mean that homes will be plunged into darkness, that Whyalla or its equivalent on the Victorian map will be wiped off the map — we have all heard and seen the songs about the Whyalla wipe out — and that in fact lamb roasts will go beyond $100 each, and we know that from the discussion and the debate on the carbon tax; and that in fact without the coalition supporting baseload and backup energy requirements through coal we will see the standard of living drop and old people freezing in their homes over winter and sweating into heat exhaustion in the summer because they are unable to in fact afford the peak and off peak requirements associated with energy supply.
That is my prediction. I am pleased to have been able to pop that onto the record, and in fact what the coalition members will probably also report on is the fact that the closure of Hazelwood was occasioned through an increase in the coal royalty and that in fact this has led to a state government led response to energy needs in Victoria that has significantly increased unemployment, that has left the Latrobe Valley with no future and that has resulted in massive increases to the costs of doing business and to the costs in relation to infrastructure and services and program delivery across essential services and through our frontline workplaces, such as hospitals and health services, with these services grappling with such costs as things get more dire without any level of support being provided. That is the report that I can imagine that the coalition would come up with.
If you are after any sort of —
Mr Mulino — Sounds pretty boring.
Ms SHING — It sounds boring, to pick up the interjection. You are right, Mr Mulino, but it is also really predictable. It is predictable because it is a script that has been rolled out a thousand times before.
Mrs Peulich — Because it’s fact.
Ms SHING — I will take up Mrs Peulich’s interjection. She said, ‘Because it’s fact’. It is nice, in fact, to have confirmation from a member of the opposition that this is their position — ‘We already know the answer’ — because the very mover of the motion has come out and said that everything that I have just described in relation to the coalition’s position is fact. It is very good to know, and it is also very good to have that popped onto the record today too.
What I would also like to do, for the sake of expediting any process that might require extensive resources being used in yet another inquiry, is to have a think about what it is that The Nationals side of the coalition might want to say about this particular issue. I note that the Leader of The Nationals has in fact recently issued a press release that has called upon, again, the relevant policy levers and assistance to be provided by the government here in Victoria, the Andrews government, alongside support from Canberra, to create a new coal fired power plant in the Latrobe Valley, and in fact for this to happen we will require everyone to work together, but it will provide a significant solution to the costs associated with energy, the energy supply issue and the jobs component of what is claimed to be a glaring abyss for this part of the world, being the valley, which it is facing at present as a consequence of what no doubt The Nationals will continue to describe as Labor’s responsibility, that being due to the closure of Hazelwood.
We will see The Nationals also attempt to walk along the top of the fence without falling off and without coming away splintered to say that on the one hand they have nothing against renewables — and that is something which the member for Gippsland South in the Assembly, Danny O’Brien, says repeatedly — whilst on the other hand listening to old mate Mr Joyce in Canberra refer to the fact that he and The Nationals will, as per their recent vote at their conference, cease all subsidies for renewables in five years within their party’s platform and that their policy in this regard would be in fact to not have anything against renewables but to do everything possible to disallow any investment to take place or get up around renewable energy generation and transmission.
In addition to this, what we will also see from The Nationals — and again to put my speculative hat on and comb through the entrails of what I suspect might well end up being a Nationals contribution to the report in the event that this inquiry goes ahead in the terms proposed — is another discussion around why coal is so important and why in fact it is important that we subsidise and invest in this particular resource.
Just for the sake of clarity let us be very, very specific about the differences between the ideological obsession with coal on the one hand — around Adani, around tax breaks and around enticements being offered at a federal level — and the way in which this will fail to actually have any translatable relevance to Victoria. For those of us here who have not gotten themselves acquainted with the coal supply, the resource and the quality of our commodity here in Victoria, let me spell it out thus. Here we have brown coal. This is not the same as black coal. It is a different standard and a different commodity to that which is exported. We have a different type of commodity, which means that the brown coal here is like coffee grounds. It is not the black lumps that we see immortalised in cartoons that show Mr Joyce and Mr Turnbull talking to the value of this particular commodity. It is not the thing which was brought into the commonwealth chamber as a prop and placed ceremoniously upon the tables of the chamber to illustrate its importance in the course of that debate and in the course of the Finkel report and the government’s response on the proposed clean energy target. It is a very wet product. It is a product which is like coffee grounds. It is a product which requires significant treatment in order to be able to generate power.
For many generations in fact we have seen that the Latrobe Valley has been able to do this. It has done this, however, at great cost — not just economic cost but environmental cost, community cost and health related cost — for those of us who live in the region. We have seen in the recent release of the primary data around health information that we have a greater incidence of respiratory challenge in the Latrobe Valley region, which has a causal link to aspirated coal and PM2.5 particulate in the area. We also have significant evidence as borne out by the second tranche of the inquiry after the mine fire in Hazelwood, which burnt for weeks before anybody in the then coalition government had any sort of plan that did not involve suggesting that people borrow others’ holiday houses in the event that they wanted to breathe some clean air. In fact there were deaths that occurred and were hastened and/or contributed to by the mine fire itself.
It is very, very easy for those opposite to say that in the terms of the motion that has been proposed we should look into the availability of coal in terms of higher energy prices in Victoria for households, business, community, not for profits, hospitals, schools, aged care facilities, government et cetera following the closure of the Hazelwood power station but we should not consider this in the broader context in which it arises for those of us who live and work in Gippsland. Those who would seek to engage in a further investment in coal fired power are ignoring a number of key facts.
Firstly, there is no global appetite from those who can finance large scale coal fired power projects to put their hands in their pockets in a form that would enable $1 billion to be allocated to coal fired power in Victoria. In fact this is not something which is particular to this state. We have seen just recently that the Liddell plant in New South Wales has become a bit of a hot potato politically for Mr Joyce, despite the fact that it is nowhere near New Zealand, and for the current Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, in his discussions with Andy Vesey and AGL around continuing the operation of Liddell or opening it up for potential expressions of interest and/or sale.
We see in fact that AGL is like a number of other generators working to move along the same lines as global energy producers in many other countries — away from coal fired power and into renewables. We see that organisations such as AGL are continuing to understand and acknowledge the importance of coal fired power as part of delivering on baseload energy requirements but that this needs to be done against the backdrop of improving and increasing the technology that is available through renewables, of a better mix of energy sources to meet supply and demand and of the importance of investing in technology, research and development for better transmission, for better storage and for better availability.
This has resulted in a number of considerations at a corporate level and within the private sector that show that industry is in a significantly different place to those from the coalition, who remain ideologically wedded to the 1950s in so many ways, but in relation to energy supply in particular, and we see that this obsession continues at the expense of being open to considering — beyond saying that they have nothing against renewables — in a real, practical and resourced sense what might be done to in fact solve the challenges around supply, around demand and around transmission.
We see that energy companies are now spending millions in the way that they diversify their production and supply. We see that there is capacity for research and development in how we might innovate using our existing commodities, including coal, and we see that there are advantages to continuing investment in opportunities for generation and for coal fired power technology that might reduce emissions, that might make the footprint less significant and that might in fact enable savings to be made on carbon as it is released into the atmosphere to in fact then provide greater supply into the future through that diversified mix of sources. But on the other hand what we also see is that the coalition is knee locked against doing anything in substantive, practical or resource terms that will enable energy to be provided, generated and secured through other means.
What we have here is a policy vacuum. We have in fact nothing from the opposition as far as an energy policy is concerned. If you think for a moment that the National Party media release calling for relevant policy levers to be put into place to create an environment whereby $1 billion might in fact be spent on a new high efficiency, low emissions energy coal fired power plant for the Latrobe Valley is an energy policy, then you are kidding yourselves. If you think that is in fact something that is available or accessible or something that is more than pie in the sky, more than snake oil sales or more than in fact false hope for a series of communities within the valley and within regional Victoria more broadly that have been sold these ideas time after time, without any translation into jobs or into economic prosperity, then again you are kidding yourselves.
We have in fact an effort by the opposition, and in particular by those who are speaking in support of it, to use parliamentary resources to create a policy for themselves where in fact they have none. You have got to admire the strategy behind it. It is a good way perhaps to require a committee of the Parliament to do the heavy lifting, but what it does do is it speaks to the fact that those opposite have no plan, they have no policy and they have no strategy other than saying, ‘We’ll send it off to a committee, we’ll get the committee to do the work, from that we’ll come up with probably a cute set of three word slogans and from there we’ll roll on to the election’.
Oh, I am sorry. Did people not realise that perhaps this was a proposed inquiry that has a particular lead up to the state election next year? In fact if you needed any assistance in understanding that chronology, then I should probably also spell that out too for the sake of completeness. Bottom line: requiring the committee to report, as is proposed by this motion, no later than 1 August 2018 would in fact mean that there would be a series of hearings. Based on my previous experience on this particular committee as the deputy chair, we have had a series of hearings in metropolitan areas, a series of hearings in regional areas and then deliberations which have often extended over a period of months and have often necessitated requests for extensions of time after submissions numbering in their hundreds, and in a couple of cases thousands, have been received by this particular committee.
I can again predict that in the event that this inquiry does proceed we will receive hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions on this, and it would probably be a cut and paste job from those who have already provided submissions to previous inquiries undertaken — including at a state level; including as part of the Finkel report and review process; including as part of the way in which federal policy and energy discussions have taken place to date; including as part of the way in which the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has conducted its inquiries and fined retailers; including as part of the way in which the bipartisan approach to energy pricing and retailing opportunities and options in Victoria has been undertaken and the review done by Mr Mulder and Mr Thwaites into the way in which retailers are in fact inflating prices for consumers within the state; including as part of the development of the Energy Watch site, which has enabled Victorian consumers within moments of accessing this online material to be able to find an array of options that reduce the cost of their energy bills; including as part of the coalition’s scrapping of the Greener Government Buildings initiatives; and including as part of the federal government’s ongoing refusal to acknowledge unanimously that climate change is having a real and substantive effect and impact on the policy settings which it refuses to evolve to meet these challenges.
We have here, though, a process which would take us, dear listener, up to 1 August 2018, and there is a good possibility that in the event that the committee were not in a position to issue a final report — and I can suggest that that might in fact be the case — the time frame might be pushed out. Quelle surprise! We would see then that this would coincide probably rather neatly with the commencement of the caretaker period and the campaign for the next state election.
While we are on the subject of the use of parliamentary resources, let us have a think about that. It would be a parliamentary committee that would be charged with looking at this particular reference — which again, as I have indicated extensively, has been the subject of enormous, substantive and detailed contemplation and consideration across the state and at a federal level — and its report being released just before a caretaker period.
Does that not make for an interesting set of campaigning opportunities for those opposite? Does that not make for a significant set of opportunities for those who currently have no policy other than to say of renewables, ‘Yeah, sure, they’re not bad, but they’re not all that good, and we’re not going to put any money into them’. They say a renewable energy target, which they will oppose, should be wound back, that the moratorium on onshore conventional gas should be wound back — because that is what Canberra says and that is what Melbourne says — and that this is a sensible course of action.
I can tell you, having been involved in the inquiry into onshore unconventional gas and conventional gas, which was the subject of an extensive inquiry by this very committee of which I am a member, that it revealed the absolute lack of social licence — of any permission from the communities within the Otway and Gippsland basins — for any form of onshore unconventional gas. We heard from farmers who had taken dozens of politicians around their farms to show them changes to the aquifer and the impact of changes to the landscape occasioned by flare pits and by wells that had been sunk and to explain the time spent in understanding the impact of a licence on their land and the way in which that may well pose significant risks for the clean and green value of the livestock and horticultural product that they produce. We have seen this, and we have seen it loud and clear.
We have had legislation that has in fact made its way through the chamber in the first instance in the lower house with a position from The Nationals that seemed to change on the moratorium between its passage from the Assembly through to the Council. Now we see, despite the fact that this legislation is up and despite the fact that we have just recently celebrated the one year anniversary of the Andrews government’s confirmation of a ban on fracking — making us a world leader in this regard and giving so much certainty and so much comfort to those primary producers — that those opposite actually want to wind this back in the context of the moratorium, that those opposite are not wedded to the legislation in the form that it currently sits and that in fact they believe there is scope for this to be dismantled.
Against the backdrop of the absence of any meaningful or detailed policy that sets out a rationale for meeting supply and demand, we have an opposition that is prepared to put anything back on the table for the sake of a three word slogan and for the sake of a campaign that it intends to run that is based not in fact, as was claimed by the mover of the motion earlier, but on concerns that are not borne out in reality.
In fact let us have a look at where we are at now in relation to the work that is being done. We have got a shadow minister who is all too keen to talk at rallies, tweet and pose for photos alongside solar panels while being prepared to tear up any commitment to renewable energy policies. We have got a shadow minister for energy and resources who on the steps of Parliament House on 9 February 2016 addressed the rally in relation to banning onshore gas and growing renewables. I am going to quote this because again it is really important to pop it onto the record. He said:
Victoria and Australia are experiencing a renewables revolution, and it is a revolution that is led by the people because the people want it. The voters want it. The community want it, and that’s what we need to be focused on.
That is the shadow minister for energy. So what we see is the shadow minister for energy saying one thing while the rest of the opposition say something completely different. While everything in fact is up for grabs as we head into a period wherein the scaremongering will reach epic proportions and —
Mrs Peulich — Heading for blackouts.
Ms SHING — I will just pick you up on that point, Mrs Peulich, ‘Heading for blackouts’. There we go again. I cannot wait for people to talk about South Australia and to say that this is in fact where we are heading. Again this speaks to the abject ignorance of those opposite as to how the system actually works, as to how the national grid actually works and as to how it is that Victoria in fact contributes to exporting energy — as we did last summer to New South Wales — within the national grid. Members opposite are conveniently and blissfully in denial about this, and it is a shame that their rhetoric, as renewable as it is, is not able to be used to generate anything productive, because if it could, perhaps we could include that in the mix of options that is available to meet supply requirements into the future.
The shadow minister for energy also went on to say on the steps of Parliament House on 9 February 2016:
If the Andrews government is serious, they will release the plan, show a vision and show how they are going to manage to get to that plan and ensure that more people are able to take up clean energy for the future.
Mrs Peulich — You’re so silly. You’re just being silly.
Ms SHING — I will take up the interjection from Mrs Peulich, who said, ‘You’re just being silly’. In fact these were the words of the shadow minister for energy, so it is unfortunate that in fact Mrs Peulich is at such ardent points of difference with the shadow minister for energy. Perhaps that speaks to the deep rifts and division within the opposition in failing to be able to come up with any cohesive narrative whatsoever around the importance of securing energy supply into the future. Just a few months later the shadow minister announced that the Liberal Nationals would scrap the ‘unrealistic’ Victorian renewable energy target (VRET) scheme.
Our plan is in fact out there. Those opposite have a number of colleagues in the other place who are in the process of discussing this in the Assembly, and on that basis I look forward to seeing the contributions that they have made in that place and seeing how they match up when this bill comes before the house. That will enable us to see just how ideologically opposed they are. Our legislation is in fact going to be debated in this place in the coming weeks.
I cannot wait for those opposite to bang on about how it is that the state will be plunged into darkness, that we are going to have blackouts, that this is just a whole set of fictions around climate change being man made, that the data has all been manipulated, that there is no problem and that we should just persist with what we have been doing, whilst on the other hand not having any plan to meet future energy needs for the state. Although they do say, and they are happy to say on social media — maybe it is the hip thing to do — that they have nothing against renewables.
You know what? You should start doing something that gives you credibility in this space, because at the moment your stock is not trading high. You would think that if you were going to enter into a debate around this particular issue you would be able to have something on the table that represented more than just saying, ‘Yeah, but nah’, but in fact that is all you have got. All you have got is a ‘Yeah, but nah’ argument. You know what? It is kind of comical, because at least it is a three word slogan and those opposite have released their energy policy, which as it stands comprises nothing more than the three words ‘Yeah, but nah’.
What we should do is have a think about how you can pop that onto bumper stickers, get a nice little set of DLs and then get them out to constituents and say, ‘Yeah, but nah. We don’t support anything to do with providing a greater mix of energy resource other than to say, “We have nothing against renewables”. But, nah, we’re actually going to be supportive of any wind back of subsidies on renewables, because that’s what Uncle Barnaby Joyce up in Canberra has to say about it, and we’re all really, really happy with the current Leader of the Opposition winding back the VRET and not providing any support for initiatives such as Greener Government Buildings’, which those opposite scrapped. So they did do something; they scrapped the Greener Government Buildings project.
It was fascinating just last week to see the current Leader of the Opposition, Mr Guy, the man who currently wants to be Premier, come to Gippsland and talk about the cost of energy prices for hospitals. I know that this is part of the motion being moved in this place today, on the same day that the Andrews government confirmed that we are putting more than $3.9 million into Gippsland hospitals and health services to enable them to run without any energy cost after five years and run to a profit for the 10 years after that particular job has been completed.
What we have here is a situation of those opposite being obsessed with a three word slogan — and, just for the sake of clarity and reminder, ‘Yeah, but nah’ is the coalition’s policy on energy. We have a situation where Mr Guy, the current leader, was in the process of saying, ‘This is going to cost Victorian hospitals so much’. He was in Gippsland. The Wonthaggi health service is going to be feeding power back into the grid once it has neutralised the cost of solar panels, which we are investing in.
Let us have a think about what those solar panels actually do. Well, they are solar panels which are linked up to provide security and certainty of energy. Those opposite probably stopped talking about solar technology and stopped listening to the advances in solar technology 10 years ago, because the phrase ‘Where the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, renewables aren’t reliable’ in fact entirely misses the point. I would invite those opposite to go to a solar organisation. For example, Gippsland Solar is a small organisation that began in Mirboo North and has expanded to new digs because the demand is extraordinary. It has a range of options that have it run off its feet in relation to residential, commercial, light industrial and industrial solar, and in fact it pays for itself and then puts money back into the grid.
We have got a situation where if those opposite are interested in doing anything other than having a policy that comprises the cute little three word slogan ‘Yeah, but nah’ they should in fact head along to Gippsland Solar or to an equivalent solar power generating company that has the technology so they can understand just how far it has come, because — you know what? — those opposite, stuck in the 1950s in so many policy areas, have an opportunity now to see just how far the world has come.
This may be news to those opposite, and it may be news to those who are busy screeching down the VRET in the other place at the moment. Those opposite do not have information that is current about just how far we have come. To that end I cannot wait to see how they might be enlightened if they choose to actually do any work in creating a policy setting that does not rely upon sending a motion off to a committee to do its heavy lifting and to extend the reporting date just before caretaker begins next year. I cannot wait to see those opposite do some homework that does not involve getting Labor Party members to do their work for them and to see them come along and assist with writing the sort of report that I indicated at the outset the government is moments away from issuing.
Business interrupted pursuant to sessional orders.