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Energy Co-Ordination and Planning Amendment (Tasmanian Renewable Energy Target) Bill 2020

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Tags: Native Forest Logging, Biomass, Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, the first thing I want to do is commend my excellent colleague, Dr Woodruff, on her thorough second reading speech contribution and examination of this bill and agree with everything that Dr Woodruff has said.

My second point relates to what Mr Street just said where he had a swipe at us about getting political about renewable energy. The issue is there is actual renewable energy, which is verified by science and common sense; then there is the political interpretation of what renewable energy might be, which is why we are having a discussion in this place now about the Government's apparent will to burn native forests for energy.

We are in this position as a country where we are playing catch-up on tackling climate change because we have two parties at the national level who have been in lockstep on backing the fossil fuel industries. It probably has something to do with the massive donations that have gone from fossil fuel interests into the Liberal and Labor parties. Last year, in the Electoral Commission returns, about $1.3 million was donated by fossil fuel interests to the Liberal Party, the party of Government, and about $700 000 to the Australian Labor Party. That is why this nation is an international laggard and a disgrace on climate inaction.

All over the world right now there are young people who are, for the first time in about four years, feeling much more optimistic about the future because come 20 January the adults will be back in the room in Washington. In all likelihood will have a United States administration that is reinvigorated on the need to take urgent climate action. It means that young people are more hopeful now about world leadership on tackling climate change.

I hope we see some real shifts in Australia from both the major parties, who need to recognise you cannot, in a time of climate and biodiversity emergency, have a gaslit recovery. You cannot, like the Labor Party has done repeatedly out of one side of its face, back Adani and coal mining and coal exports, and then on the other signal, particularly to young people, that they take climate change seriously.

I note the passing out of the shadow cabinet today of one of the true dinosaurs of the Australian Labor Party, Joel Fitzgibbon. I will read into Hansard what the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union had to say on the departure from the shadow cabinet of Mr Fitzgibbon, one of the greatest cheerleaders for the coal industry this country has ever known and who established the parliamentary Friends of Coal -

'Australia needs an urgent worker-led COVID jobs recovery, including a proper response to climate change, putting to bed irresponsible gas-led COVID recovery plans,' says the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union.

The resignation of Labor Party frontbencher and Hunter MP, Joel Fitzgibbon, signals a time for the ALP to get serious about climate change and creating safe, secure and well-paid jobs.

The national secretary of the AMWU, Steve Murphy, said, 'As Joel Fitzgibbon transitions to the backbench, my mind is with the thousands of workers who have been damaged by his lack of ambition and honesty. Our economy and energy needs are changing fast, we need to face these challenges with workers front and centre.'

I could not agree more. While we are talking about the similarities between the two major parties nationally and at a state level, I need to highlight that Labor's primary industries and resources shadow minister, Dr Broad, supports burning of native forests to produce energy, despite the fact that increasingly scientists around the world are saying the burning of native forests for energy is a climate catastrophe in the making and that we are liquifying our beautiful carbon-bank forests to produce energy instead of protecting them and restoring those areas which have been deforested in the past.

The federal Labor Party does not support native forest biomass. The Victorian Labor Government does not support native forest biomass. In fact Victoria's minister for climate change, Lily D'Ambrosio, has issued a very clear directive that in the renewable energy target legislation they passed in 2017-18 - and she has done this by a declaration in the Gazette, but for the removal of doubts, Lily D'Ambrosio has made it clear - wood and wood products from native forest are not renewable energy. That is what common sense tells us too.

I will be completely unsurprised if, when we move our amendment to make it really clear that native forest biomass is not renewable energy, the Labor Party does not support that amendment, even though it would substantially provide some integrity to the bill. Before the Government agreed to include the disallowable instrument that requires the minister to come into this place should he believe or want to declare another energy source to be renewable energy, the bill until that point would have allowed Mr Barnett to wake up one morning and decide that a particular source of energy was renewable energy and make an order that would go into the Gazette, but there would be no recourse to parliament. Part 2 of the bill is really clear that it allows for the minister to declare another source of energy beyond solar, wind and water as renewable energy.

We have to move past the cultural and ideological paralysis that we have in Tasmania where the two major parties will bend over backwards to support the continuation of deforestation. We have to move past this. I do not know how many people here have seen David Attenborough's documentary. There is also a short version of the five things that humanity can do in order to rein in our emissions and begin the process of cooling the planet a little rather than accelerating its heating. I think number three in his list of five things we must do is stop deforestation and start reforestation. We need to protect the carbon stores we have, our forests, and we need to plant more forests in order to draw down more carbon. But in this place we have a government and an opposition who not only back in native forest logging which is heavily subsidised but would clearly back in a forest furnace, the burning of trees, to produce energy. If Dr Broad does not agree with my summation of their position I look forward to him getting up in this place and explaining what their position is, because I read The Advocate too, Dr Broad, and I saw your comments in The Advocate.

We know that wood energy produced from both hardwood native forest and some softwood plantations in the European Union is going gangbusters and that has meant there has been massive deforestation in order to feed the growing EU demand for wood products and wood pellets to feed into its bioenergy plants. There is a wood plant in the United Kingdom which was a former coal plant called the Drax plant. It was once Britain's biggest coal plant but now burns millions of tonnes of wood pellets each year sourced primarily from North America, which is devastating hardwood forests. Drax soaks up hundreds of millions of dollars in so-called green subsidies per year, meaning the expensive energy produced is largely subsidised by taxpayers under the guise of taking action on climate change. Without subsidies, the industry is not viable.

Here in Tasmania we have a long, sorry and extremely expensive to taxpayers history of subsidising the native forest logging industry and cosying it along every step of the way, unless you are in the situation where you have Greens in government and an industry because of a global downturn that comes to government on its knees looking for help as it did in 2010 14.

The subsidies going into the native forest logging industry continue. The subsidies that would be required in order to make any kind of forest furnace viable would be substantial, but we know that politically in this state, both the major parties would stump up in order to throw the mendicant native forest logging industry yet another lifeline. Not only is it unjustifiable on the science to continue to log our native forests because of the impacts on a climate and biodiversity, it is totally unjustifiable, unscientific and uneconomical to even contemplate liquifying our native forests and putting them into a forest furnace.

The European Parliament's science advisory council only two months ago called on EU lawmakers to introduce a radically new standard to recognise that biomass burning is not carbon-neutral but instead has 'massive climate effects'. The consensus statement from scientists of the 28 EU countries advises that 'swapping coal with biomass often increases net emissions to the atmosphere when the whole life cycle is properly accounted for'. They say the current carbon emissions calculations do not reflect the reality of climate heating or the urgency to stop adding more emissions.

As Dr Woodruff pointed out, we have had an exchange of letters with Government where we initially detailed our concern to the Premier and Minister for Climate Change and requested that a specific clause be put in the bill that rules out the use of native forests for energy. We received a letter not from the Minister for Climate Change, but from the Minister for Energy and Resources. First of all, it was rather cowardly of the Premier and Minister for Climate Change not to respond to our letter which was written to him through the context of climate, not energy. This is an issue about forests, it is not an energy question, which is why we wrote to the Minister for Climate Change, yet we got back a letter from Mr Barnett. In that letter Mr Barnett points out that we requested in our letter to the Premier that -

1. the Government declare that native forest wood products, waste, sawmill residue or biomass should not be counted as renewable energy sources towards Tasmanian renewable energy target; and

2. that any new sources of renewable energy to be declared by the minister are made through a disallowable instrument instead of a ministerial order.

We now have a disallowable instrument that will be inserted into the legislation, and that is a bare minimum of what this bill needed. We were not giving all power to a Minister for Resources who is 100 percent behind the accelerating deforestation of Tasmania's landscape. We have the disallowed instrument, but we do not have any commitment from Government not to promote, subsidise or facilitate a native forest biomass plant in Tasmania. Mr Barnett makes it clear, as we move through the rebuilding of a Tasmanian economy, it is critical that we remain open to adopting sustainable practices that minimise waste, and turn underutilised by-products into value-add propositions.

A standing native forest with 300- or 400-year-old regnans and an incredible complexity of flora and fauna, is not a place that delivers by-products. It is an intact ecosystem, that even while we debating here today, is drawing CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequestering it. It is an insanity for a Government to contemplate turning native forests into energy, in a time of climate and biodiversity crisis but, State Growth - good old State Growth; where would we be without them - the State Growth website on renewable energy is very clear that this Government would, if it could, establish native forest biomass in Tasmania. A government department has already jumped ahead of the minister in announcing that native forest, that biomass for wood, is a renewable energy source. The website front page says -

Priorities for the renewable energy sector include facilitating developments of distributed, embedded generation projects including wind many hydro and biomass technologies in particular. Harnessing renewable energy based on Tasmania's endowment of residues from the agriculture and forestry industries.

We are used to being gaslit in this place. We are used to having the Premier and Government ministers tell us something is true when it is not, or is not true when it is. The Premier said in this place this morning that native forest biomass - and I am paraphrasing him here - but words to the effect that it is not part of the Government's plans. In that case, why is the Department of State Growth - which is engaging with businesses, corporations and rent seekers - advertising forest biomass as a renewable energy source, if it is not part of the Government's plan?

Dr Woodruff earlier had the results of the right to information application that we made to the Department of State Growth on the issue of biomass. It is about two centimetres thick, most of it is redacted and there are a whole lot of black pages, but it is very clear: there are people working in the Department of State Growth on establishing native forest biomass in Tasmania. I ask the Premier and Minister for Climate Change, first of all to have the guts to answer his own correspondence, but not to treat us like fools, because the Department of State Growth has let the cat out of the bag. The right to information documents does the same. The minister's letter to us does the same.

What did they do in Victoria? I will read from Hansard from the Victorian minister for climate change, who was asked this question by our wonderful colleague in the Victorian parliament, Ellen Sandell [OK] -

The definition of renewable energy in the bill, and it was a renewable energy target bill, does not explicitly rule out counting as renewable energy the burning of native forests as biomass. Does the minister anticipate the burning of native forests as biomass, does the minister anticipate that burning native forests as biomass would be classed as renewable energy under the Victorian renewable energy target?

Ms D'Ambrosio says -

I thank the member for Melbourne for her question. The Labor Party has always been very consistent in its position in terms of refusing to use native wood for renewable energy target schemes. That has been the case federally and it has been the case in Victoria. That will continue. Providing this bill is passed there is a power in here for the minister to declare a whole range of other renewable energy sources but also to define what potentially may be excluded from that. I have been very clear with anyone who has asked me this question over the journey that we have been in Government that native timber would be excluded from the Victorian renewable energy target options.

They can do it in Victoria. Why can we not do it here? We should be able to rule it out. Labor, in this parliament, should be consistent with their federal and Victorian colleagues and the scientists, and have enough backbone to say they do not stand with the burning of native forests for energy, that it would be a crime against the climate, it would be a crime against the forest and intrinsic values, the extraordinary diversity of life that they sustain. It would be a crime against young people, who would see a government burning forests to produce power when there is abundant hydro, solar and wind resources.

It would most certainly damage our brand. Our brand is imperfectly upheld by some of the practices here in Tasmania, but it is of enormous value to our producers and exporters. It gives them the edge in markets all over the world, and we must do everything we can to protect the brand and to make sure it has integrity - because a brand without integrity is meaningless.

In closing, the Greens will not be opposing this legislation. We recognise there is a strong desire in the community for climate action and for a rapid investment in renewables and uptake of renewables. We also believe that people increasingly want to see an end to native forest logging.

As Dr Woodruff has pointed out, this bill has significant deficiencies in that it provides no pathway to reaching 200 per cent renewables by 2040. There are also enduring questions about Marinus Link itself and Battery of the Nation, and who will pay for it. We are already looking at somewhere in the order of $7.1 billion as the price tag that has been put on Marinus Link and Battery of the Nation. Tasmanians are rightly asking - what would be in it for them? Will they have to pay for it either upfront or through their power bills over the journey, as they do now for Basslink? The question of who would pay for Marinus Link still has not been answered by Government. The House should also hear the minister answer those questions that were put by Dr Woodruff about the changing scene on the mainland, the new battery technologies that are being taken up, the move, for example, in Victoria - they are investing in a 300 megawatt, I understand it is a $84 million big battery near Geelong.. They want that in place by next summer. New South Wales announced yesterday that they would be going out to auction for 12 000 megawatts of renewables and 2000 megawatts of storage to replace coal.

If you just step back from this issue and look at it objectively, it is hard to escape the conclusion that we are already being left behind by the technologies that are coming online and increasingly being taken up by governments. It was the South Australian government that led the way with the big Tesla Battery. Is Marinus Link a real prospect? A number of us have our doubts. Particularly in how rapidly we are seeing governments move. Is it not amazing how after decades of inaction we can see such sudden and sharp and positive shifts in the right direction? It is almost like as a species we have to be confronted with annihilation before we get off our backsides and are able to act collectively in the collective public interest, in the interests of humanity and life on this earth.

There are questions around Marinus Link. I am an Australian first. We all are. My heart is in Tasmania. We need to look after this island's energy needs. We need to look after this island. Should we have surplus that we are able to sustainably generate and ship north, I believe that we should, that we have a responsibility to do that. We need to have the conversation as a community about what cost are we prepared to bear.

I do not think most Tasmanians want to see the north of this island turned into an industrial park. Most Tasmanians would like to think that our energy generation assets here will be largely Tasmanian owned. There is a huge question over who would own our energy assets should we meet the 200 per cent renewable target and be pumping across Bass Strait the equivalent, or thereabouts, of what we are using now. About 60 per cent of the energy infrastructure across the country is owned by a Chinese company.

Did I hear you scoff, Dr Broad? Do you think that -

Dr Broad - Yes, I did not think you were going to get to the Chinese this time, but you have, so that is -

Ms O'CONNOR - I am sorry you are not interested in matters of sovereignty, or the security of our infrastructure.

Mr O'Byrne - Which company are you talking about?

Ms O'CONNOR - I said, 60 per cent of our assets across the country are owned by Chinese companies, and they are. It is a legitimate question to ask who would be owning our energy infrastructure in the future? We believe it should be owned by Tasmanians. We believe that farmers should be able to generate their own power through small-scale renewables on farms and trade their surplus across to other farms.

We have to stop, in Tasmania, being this cargo-cult state where we just love the big thing. We can achieve a substantially increased level of renewable generation without turning Tasmania into an industrial park. We should have much more focus on distributed generation. Small-scale solar farms. We need some windfarms too. I am not one of these people who finds them unattractive, I find them rather beautiful, but they should be in places where there is no other significant impact on the environment or on a community. There is one windfarm proposed for Tasmania that sticks out like the proverbial and that is the Robbins Island windfarm. That proposed windfarm, which would be the largest windfarm in the southern hemisphere, is on a wetland that should have had Ramsar listing. It is an incredibly significant and sensitive site. We need to be able to plan in Tasmania for where we put our wind farms and we should have a renewable energy mapping process in place.