Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (15:13): I move:
That this house:
(1) notes that:
(a) Yallourn power station is slated to close by 2028;
(b) Victoria’s largest power station, Loy Yang A, is set to close by 2035;
(2) recognises that the Andrews Labor government:
(a) does not have a plan to deliver reliable and affordable energy to Victorians;
(b) has not identified any projects or funding partners to deliver the State Electricity Commission;
(3) acknowledges the importance of a commonsense plan to:
(a) build new energy generation;
(b) upgrade Victoria’s transmission network so that households and businesses across the state can access clean, affordable and reliable power; and
(4) further notes that Victorians will continue to face higher energy bills at a time when they can least afford it.
I am very pleased today to rise to ask this house to consider and vote in favour of my motion 182 on the notice paper in relation to energy and the cost of living. If we look around the state of Victoria, there are many key and important issues that Victorians face, that families face, that businesses face and that industries face, but the cost of living and the regular, dispatchable, affordable supply of energy are two of the very primary focuses of many, many Victorians. So I want to bring to the house’s attention the very live issues that are occurring not only in my electorate but across Victoria, whether it be in energy production or indeed in many cases the collapse of traditional energy production and also the transmission of new energies.
Let me put on record that I am speaking on behalf of the Liberals and Nationals and that we are cognisant of a transition to new energies and the need for new energies as old energies come offline over time, but it has to be done in a proper transitional way that does not cripple families and does not cripple businesses and so that the infrastructure from the source of the point of the energy production to the end point – to the household or to the business or industry – is there, available and affordable and does not cripple Victorians any more than we are with an estimated future bill and debt of an eye-watering $200 billion, which we hear that Moody’s have been speaking about in the papers.
I will go through the motion in sections because this is a very big topic. The first section states:
That this house:
(1) notes that:
(a) Yallourn power station is slated to close by 2028;
(b) Victoria’s largest power station, Loy Yang A, is set to close by 2035 …
We know that Hazelwood closed following a tripling of the coal royalty tax. The Hazelwood power station was going to close – there is no doubt about it – but it was going to be a staged closure. It was pushed over the edge of the gangplank approximately seven years ago. With that, there was a whole tumble effect of workers losing their jobs and having to find capacity where they could in other power stations or in other employment.
That is on the cards for the Yallourn power station. I have been out there a number of times in recent years and spoken with the proprietors, EnergyAustralia. I want to compliment them on the very proactive work that they have been doing for their workers. They are very focused on their workers and the transition that they need to make. They have put $10 million into retraining, reskilling, financial advice, jobs and skills research and regular communication from the company about what life looks like after that. They have provided a snapshot to their workers of what that really looks like. People overwhelmingly want to stay in the valley, which is good, but they also want to find other jobs. Some of them are more than willing to retrain, and others are not sure about what their life will look like in the future. I commend EnergyAustralia and the unions for working really closely together to have good outcomes for their workers. That is going to be in 2028. That is going to take offline 1200 megawatts of electricity. This state, at the moment through this government, has to be ready and alive to that.
We also know that Loy Yang A a year ago had a restructure and said that they are going to shut down by 2035. They are the largest power station in our state. They pump out electricity that is no doubt keeping the lights in this place illuminated today. But there is a great concern. In fact the government was so concerned only recently that it popped out a media release saying, in effect, that even though it has got this policy of 95 per cent renewables by 2035 – that is a big ask – it is a bit nervous because it needs Loy Yang A to stay open. Why? Because it is supplying the electricity that is keeping our schools, hospitals and industry going. They need it. They are really, I think, quite panicked and they are prepared to underwrite that coal-fired electricity power station in order to keep those lights on. You can see that they are pushing the policy, but there is a nervousness that Loy Yang could go early, and that is something that Victorians could not cope with or afford.
Also, there is a very important discussion around where to for those people, where to for our community. I know – I am Nostradamus; I can tell – privatisation is going to get a run from the opposite side, from the government benches. They are going to say, ‘Hang on a minute, Jeff Kennett used privatisation’ and talk about the impacts. We are going to hear that because that is all they have got these days. There were efficiencies made post that. With the Andrews government, we see the rhetoric and we see some spin, but they do not have a plan. This state does not have a plan, an investment strategy.
I am so disappointed. We look at the history and what has happened. The LVA was set up in 2016. It has had $300 million, or a bit more now, to develop a strategic plan where it can identify to the community, to Victorians, what this is going to do to attract investment to – and I am being parochial – the Latrobe Valley, to the heartland where these closures are going to happen, what it is going to do, how it is going to measure those time lines for investment, what those time lines and what that investment will look like and what are the targeted programs for investment. And what we have seen unfortunately, and it brings me no joy to say this, is that over the past decade the Latrobe LGA, specifically the Latrobe LGA, workforce has declined by over 4000 jobs, while in other areas – and I am pleased for other areas in regional Victoria – we see Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Mildura, Shepparton and Wodonga, six LGAs, have over that period of time indeed increased their jobs to around the tune of 10,000. So the Latrobe Valley LGA is contracting. What this government does, and I am sure we will hear it today, is it says Latrobe Gippsland is growing jobs. Well, Latrobe Gippsland is six LGAs altogether, and indeed there is a great diversity of jobs in that area, including agriculture and many, many others, but you want to refocus the debate away from the very epicentre of change, and these are people that deserve not only lip-service but a definite quantifiable commitment.
We see that the government does not have a plan. We recognise that the Andrews Labor government does not have a plan for Victorians to deliver reliable and affordable energy, and it does not identify any projects or funding partners to deliver the SEC – and let us get onto that topic shortly. We see unfortunately that – and I will finish off on the Latrobe Valley Authority – it put out the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland Transition Plan Discussion Paper, a nice document. It had a focus, it had aspirations, but it had no absolute plan, and this is such a disappointment and a loss for our region. It is a playbook and it is a disappointment, but it is a missed opportunity. When we have the township of Morwell with 11.5 per cent unemployed, the highest rate in regional Victoria, and we see a national unemployment of 3.5 per cent, all the talk does not bring those people jobs unless it actually brings people out and into new industries.
We also know that there was a Hazelwood worker transition scheme and a worker transfer scheme and transition service. These had limited success. We also know that there has been a disastrous government policy about the closure of the native timber industry. We have seen Opal white paper – we are now importing white paper from overseas. How environmentally friendly is that, that they have closed the white paper mill in transition and we are importing that from overseas?
This is such –
Melina BATH: You will have your turn. We understand on this side that it is important to have a plan, and we also want to see that there is affordable and dispatchable electricity. We have seen energy prices have risen 25 per cent from 1 July. It is approximately a $426 increase per family.
The Essential Services Commission in March released its draft Victorian default offer, which shows the average bill rise is 31 per cent. These are facts. These are not suppositions; these are facts from an independent commission. We see that 400,000 residential customers can expect to pay an increase of $1400 to $1800 a year come the end of this year. We see that impact on businesses and the struggle there is for everyday businesses to keep their doors open, to make a buck and pay their staff, and certainly to keep tax flowing too. And we see that this government is also putting, over its term, 50 new or increased taxes. This is a burden that we really do not want to have to cope with, but indeed Victorians are coping with it.
In relation to the SEC, it certainly was a great thought bubble during an election campaign, but what does it mean? We see that Alan Finkel – a very, very respected gentleman and a scientist – has resigned from the advisory board of the SEC. I think he could see the cards on the wall – that it is really not working for people. They have not identified any projects or funding partners, and that was borne out certainly during the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee and the teasing apart of those documents. They have got the vision but they do not have the partners. They do not want overseas investment, yet it is open to overseas investment. It is a bit like the two-step: they are going two steps forward and one step back. It is very critical. We look at that, and we see that Marion Terrill, head of transport and city programs at the Grattan Institute, said that the proposed revival of the SEC should be avoided. It is unwise, she said:
… because governments cannot be relied upon not to interfere with government business.
And indeed that is what we are seeing. We are seeing that the Andrews government has set up the transmission authority called VicGrid, whether it is in parallel with or whether it is in conflict with, in our patch in Eastern Victoria Region, AusNet Services, who are looking to provide those transmission lines for renewable energy – onshore wind energy. We know that Star of the South have been really canvassing people and promoting their vision and the work that goes behind that to get a feasibility study and plan and then get the green light from the federal government. They are just one of about, I think, 30 different proponents who are looking at that offshore wind, and that is a very important component. We know that it is windy in Gippsland. It is one of the windiest places in the world.
There are great opportunities for jobs in the region, and I will come back to that. But once that energy is produced, you have got to have these poles and wires, potentially coming off around Gifford and going through the central part of Gippsland and into the switching station in the Latrobe Valley. Now, that is sensible, but what we are seeing is that VicGrid is actually going to go into competition with AusNet. And is that realistic? Is that important? Is that helpful in the long run? These are some of the questions that are being explored. What you want is a government to support investment in renewables and new energy, and I will get to that too. But what you do not want is them to end up dragging the system down and delaying this production of energy so that what you are actually getting is a cliff, where you are going to have these coal-fired power stations closing – slated closures, going to close – and in the end you are not going to have the renewables online, not because the proponents and developers are not absolutely working to the max but because government bureaucracy and red tape will be slowing them down.
Now, this is a topic of great depth and I have 4 minutes left, so I just want to cover off on a couple of other things. First of all, there are huge opportunities for jobs in our region – jobs out to sea – but they are limited.
It is going to be a different format of jobs with offshore wind. We want, or I want and I am sure many people in my electorate also want, there to be that transition, that opportunity for people that were working in coal-fired power stations to transition and use some of their skills but be reskilled to work in the renewable energy sectors. We also know that there are opportunities in Gippsland in Barry Beach and Port Anthony for that, and there will be in Hastings as well. But this government needs to look at the Latrobe Valley and what is happening there, because jobs in Hastings and Barry Beach do not equate to jobs sitting in the centre of the Latrobe Valley.
What the government seems to be very quiet on, and it is just so frustrating, is the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain. We have got a Japanese government and associated consortium who are ready, willing and able to invest $2 billion into establishing blue hydrogen. This is hydrogen made from coal that will be producing the hydrogen, and then it will be shipped – now piped – to the Port of Hastings and then over to the Japanese economy. There will be zero emissions eventually from the combustion of hydrogen, water and oxygen, but what has to happen is carbon capture and storage.
Now, I am going to hear from the Greens going ‘No, no, it doesn’t happen.’ Well, it does and it can happen. I have been to the Otways; I have seen the work that they are doing there and that they have been doing for 15 to 20 years safely capturing carbon dioxide and storing it inertly in geological deposits. My colleague Danny O’Brien has just come back from a very short – about a week – trip to Britain and Denmark to look at a whole raft of renewables and renewable projects. He said the first carbon capture and storage occurred in Denmark in 1991, and Britain is fast-tracking their developments. He also went to fantastic towns that had been coal towns that are now retooling in a massive way for wind turbine manufacturing and wind blade manufacturing and that also will be looking at hydrogen, I think in that case from gas, with carbon capture and storage.
There are many more things to say. There is nothing more important than safe, affordable, dispatchable electricity, and I have not even got on to gas. The shutting down of gas for new builds is just ludicrous. We know also from Danny going over there that they are looking at hydrogen pumped into or replacing traditional gas and putting hydrogen into homes. If you negate that now, you are missing an opportunity into the future. The other thing that is so very, very important is transmission lines, and I know that there was a rally here only last sitting week at Parliament on the VNI West program and how there need to be other opportunities – a very sensible proposal put through by Mr Bruce Mountain et al. This government needs to listen to that. I encourage everyone to have a fulsome debate. We need electricity, we need gas and we need affordable energy supply in this state.