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Marinus Link

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 29 September 2022

Tags: Marinus Link

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, the flooding of a third of Pakistan, which we have all been witness to, has occurred at just 1.2 degrees of global heating. We are on track now to increase more than three degrees. All countries and Tasmania have been given very clear directions from Antonio Gueterres, the head of the United Nations, to race toward decarbonisation with urgency.

We have substantial carbon dioxide emissions from transport and industry in Tasmania and electrifying these industries is the first order of business for our Government. It will take money, it will take electrons, and it will take planning. So, the Greens are deeply concerned at the Liberals' push to build a very expensive Marinus Link project, the second and third interconnectors, to export renewable windfarm generated electricity to mainland states and doing this without a plan to electrify Tasmania. It is also without an open cost-benefit analysis that has ever been released; without details of who will pay; without any explanation of how a far-flung interconnector away from markets ostensibly to provide firming in the wind generated National Electricity Market, can compete with the overwhelming take-up of very large storage batteries by most state governments.

For the past five years, Guy Barnett as Energy minister has been pushing Marinus Link on behalf of TasNetworks but he has never come clean with Tasmanians about the central issue of who will pay the $3.5 billion project. That figure is five years old now, so we can all expect it to be in the order $5 billion for starters.

The independent news organisation Tasmanian Inquirer has uncovered that TasNetworks has also been secretly spending more than $1 million on lobbyists, to 'subtly activate influencers, including politicians, in support of the project'. TasNetworks hired political lobbyists in Canberra, Victoria and Tasmania as part of a two-year campaign to attempt to win support for this incredibly costly new interconnector. They have refused to disclose the original cost of the contract, but RTI documents from the Tasmanian Inquirer showed the contract was increased to $1 075 000 before Christmas last year.

Tas Networks signed a two-year contract in March 2021 with the Canberra-based firm 89 Degrees East, which heads a consortium of two lobbying firms in Canberra: DPG Advisory Solutions, owned by David Gazzard, a former News Corp journalist with ties to the Liberal Party who was an advisor to ex-prime minister John Howard, and in Tasmania, our dear friends Font PR, including three partners at the time in Hobart, Becher Townsend, Brad Stansfield - who of course was the Liberal chief of staff and architect of the 2018 election - and then Brad Nowland.

The lobbyist brief, the spin brief, was an influencer engagement strategy followed by a stage of influencer activation to promote this controversial electricity transmission project. Their winning pitch of 89 Degrees East was to 'craft a dedicated government relations strategy, including navigating upcoming federal and state elections to best advantage'. They said they 'initiate positive advocacy' to 'improve public sentiment in north-west Tasmania and Gippsland in Victoria'.

TasNetworks has been secretly spending public money in an attempt to counter media coverage of criticism of Marinus Link from Tasmanians who are questioning the cost, and communities in the north and north-west who are freaking out at the industrialisation of their landscape.

TasNetworks should have listed the contract in its last annual report or issued a media release, but it did not do either. The only reason it has come to light is because the register of lobbyists shows TasNetworks hired Font PR, but when Bob Burton asked them to confirm the contract related to Marinus, TasNetworks refused, but later buckled under the RTI request and confirmed it had.

Mr Speaker, if Marinus Link is such a good project and lobbyists are benignly engaging with key stakeholders nationwide, as TasNetworks would propend, why all the secrecy? Why has TasNetworks not published the records of the contract, the minutes of the steering committee meetings on the website? Why can we not see what TasNetworks is spending our million dollars on at a time of soaring electricity prices, when Tasmanians are scrimping and saving.

Tasmanians have been paying for a PR machine that is tasked to promote a product that does not have any substance to back up its claims. Who are the 'influencers' these highly paid PR groups are going to subtly activate? What do they do? Would they ever disclose the work they do for TasNetworks? Why does a government-owned company need influencers to sell an idea to communities and other politicians? When did Guy Barnett as shareholder minister hear about this campaign? Bob Burton is spot-on when he called it a stealth campaign to dominate the public debate on controversial projects and drown out dissenting voices.

Hydro and TasNetworks are desperate to remain on a footing with the big mainland energy payers in this coming renewable century. Millions of dollars are sloshing around. The Liberals have never presented the cost/benefit case for Marinus, but someone has to pay the bills, and it is very unlikely to be Victoria, because they have just thrown their hat behind constructing the Kerang Link between north-east Victoria and New South Wales. This week they have also announced their own massive pumped hydro project.

The current energy market rules for infrastructure asset contributions, by our best 'back of the envelope' guess, is that mainland states would pay 10 per cent of the cost of the Marinus Link. Tasmanians would pay the rest.

Guy Barnett, as the Energy minister, needs to tell Tasmanians - who are rightly concerned - how much it is going to cost them for future power bills, and where is the plan to electrify Tasmanians with the wind energy that we are generating?