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Estimates Reply – Barnett

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 21 June 2023

Tags: Stadium, Renewable Energy, Marinus Link, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - I want to clarify, for the record, that I had an unsurprisingly very frustrating time trying to get some straight answers out of this minister about the debt that he is walking Tasmania into in relation to Marinus Link. It was almost an exercise in futility, but fortunately, the minister was saved by other staff at the table who were not as slippery with the truth as the minister was. It started off with the usual gross hyperbole and the sort of statements that the Liberals like to make and have made for years about Marinus Link that involve things like unlocking the $7 billion of investment, increasing jobs for 1400 people, several thousand jobs ongoing, further energy security for Tasmania, et cetera. I spent the rest of the next hour of Estimates trying to get some real numbers. For the people who are watching, and I doubt anyone is watching at 10.55 p.m., but people might be reading and they should understand that this state is currently in uproar at the Liberals' determination to proceed to effectively give away an enormous amount, at least $1 billion, probably $1.5 billion, of money in a pipe dream to fulfil everything that the AFL would ever want in a stadium at the great expense of Tasmanian taxpayers. It is a hopeless exercise that is doomed to failure because none of it is possible.

The more we find out about the stadium, the more we realise it does not stack up. It cannot be built in that time frame. Even if it were to be built in that time frame, nothing else in Tasmania could be built in that time frame. The minister before was talking about over 4000 people in construction jobs. You have to be kidding. Everybody is tied up on the Bridgewater Bridge and anyone else who is not doing that is building houses. I know for a fact that the Bridgewater Bridge is sucking all of the trade expertise in Tasmania and supplies into that bridge and it is slowing down a lot of other projects. That bridge is not due to be finished for some time yet, so the idea that we could have completion of the Bridgewater Bridge and an expansion of housing construction at the same time as we divert everybody into one spot at Macquarie Point, it just cannot be done. It cannot be done in a time frame of some four years because we know that with the Bicheno Ambulance Station it has been years now and they do not even have the block finalised to do the build. We have a long way to travel. The point is, we are talking about between $1 billion and $1.5 billion minimum of money on a stadium.

When it comes to Marinus Link, the minister is throwing around numbers like $7 billion as though it is funny money. When I drilled down into it and truly tried to find out some hard figures here, what is clear is that it is still incredibly rubbery. I asked whether we had determination from the cost allocation methodology between the Commonwealth, state and Victorian governments about what the actual cost would be for Tasmanians. The minister maintained that he had signed a deal that was 15 per cent only that would be paid for Tasmanians but then he conceded later it has to go through a regulated process by the Australian Energy Regulator. They determine what those costs are for operating the project and then share those with consumers across the country. Then he went on to say it has not happened. It has to happen going forward. It is subject to the financial investment decision by end of next year. It is subject to getting costs on the tenders that went out towards the end of last year.

All of that, in plain language, means despite the minister saying it repeatedly, a final decision has not been made. It is not made by the Tasmanian Government, it is made by the Australian Energy Regular. The actual cost we do not know yet because we do not have tenders back. Those prices could vary. The minister is saying $7 billion of investment, but what Mr Voss confirmed later on at the table that the North West Transmission Line part of the debt would be around $800 million, and he said the Marinus Link part of the debt:

It will be what the procurement comes out to be, but for the combined projects - $3.8 billion for the two of them. I just haven't got the breakdown with me.

You would have thought Mr Voss would have brought the cost of Marinus Link and the North West Transmission Line in hard numbers with him to the table - but no, he did not seem to think that was important enough. He said:

I think it is around $3 billion for Marinus Link and around $800 million for the North West Transmission Line.

It would be tempting to just put all of this aside. I mean, it is so speculative and so ludicrous. Our concern is that we have heard - and the minister did not deny it - that a pre payment commitment is required on an undersea cable, because they are in short supply. Only a handful, about three companies internationally, produce undersea cables, and there is a years long pipeline of orders. You have to get on the waiting list - and in order to get on the waiting list, you have to pay a down payment. That down payment, we understand, is about $2 billion.

We are very concerned that this minister and this Government are rushing headlong towards making a decision of putting a $2 billion commitment on a cable without having gone through a final investment decision process from the Australian Economic Regulator, and without having been clear to Tasmanians what the total debt will be and where it will lie.

There are so many questions here. I have been sitting opposite minister Barnett for years now in Estimates and I have never got a straight answer from him. In response to my question about whether they would be quietly slipping a commitment of $2 billion to an international company without making it available to Tasmanians, and without making it public, his answer was, repeatedly: 'We will do what is best for Tasmania.'

He said that three times. That is not an answer. That is prevarication. That is obfuscation. That is being slippery, and that is deliberately avoiding to answer. Given this minister's record, I am concerned it means he is quite prepared to make a deal that would suit the politics of this Government, to proceed with essentially signing us up to something that we have not had a chance to look at.

This makes the stadium issue and our concerns about transparency over the stadium deal look like preschool. This is actually the big game. This is high school. We are talking billions of more dollars of fiscal risk than the stadium represents. It is really clear that we do not know at this point how much Marinus Link will cost. We do not know whether the Government is proceeding with a pre-commitment on a cable, putting some money down on that. We do not know where the loan will sit, although I did manage to find out, from Mr Voss, that the North West Transmission Line would be 100 per cent on TasNetworks' balance sheet.

There are so many questions. We needed a lot more time, and a minister who is prepared to answer straight questions.