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Motion on North West Transmission Project

Vica Bayley MP

Vica Bayley MP  -  Wednesday, 15 November 2023

Tags: Renewable Energy

Mr BAYLEY (Clark) - Mr Speaker, I will speak quickly to the motion and address the amendment to the motion. I will leave plenty of time for the Opposition to speak to the proposed amendment to the motion.

The Greens are strong supporters of renewable energy. That goes without saying. Two things must happen. It must be the right proposal in the right place and assessed and consulted through the right process. It also has to be married with other actions to address climate change. It has to be married with actions that actively reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, actively reduce our emissions from industrial activities, and reduce emissions from the transport sector and other domestic outputs.

Federally, there is bipartisan support for renewable energy between the Liberal and Labor parties - and that is very welcome. There is tripartisan support with the Greens. There is bipartisan support between Liberal and Labor for opening new fossil fuel developments for more gas, for more coal mines, for a range of other destructive new fossil fuel activities. Sadly in this state, there is still bipartisan support for native forest logging, one of our biggest emitting industries that we have.

It is very interesting to hear the Treasurer talk about the Tasmanian forest agreement process, having been involved in that at one level. I remind the Treasurer that that process came on the back of the global financial crisis. That process came on the back of the collapse of markets for Tasmanian timber for woodchips. It was the industry that was wanting to come to the table to negotiate an outcome and so that process rolled though. It was an indictment on the Liberal Party at the time that it chose to play base party politics with the issue, despite the consensus around the table. When it got into government it tore up the agreement with many grandiose promises around rebuilding the industry. Treasurer, despite your contribution now in the House, despite tearing up that agreement, despite throwing out the goodwill and the collaboration that came behind it, you still have not given the industry one single stick of forest back to log. You still have not honoured the promise that you made at the time that you would not subsidise the industry going forward.

It is important to note, given this conversation is about TasNetworks, that the year you were elected to government - the year you made the promise that there would be no more subsidies - you made an equity transfer from TasNetworks to the coffers of Forestry Tasmania to prop up native forest logging. When you look at the billions of dollars of debt that TasNetworks holds today, remember that $30 million of that is because you propped up native forest logging through Forestry Tasmania from a direct equity transfer.

We support a renewable energy economy but it has to be the right proposal in the right place and the right process. When it comes to process, we are concerned with the wind rush that is going on in regard to energy - the infatuation with our wind resources. We have a government that has instructed the Parks agency - the agency responsible for managing the natural and cultural heritage values of this state and its reserves - to do audits about where those wind developments could be built, to farm off some of that public reserve land to a multinational wind corporation, many owned by interests in China linked to the communist party, and build massive wind developments.

That is an indictment on our approach when it comes to natural assets and cultural value assets and it is one of the key concerns we have when it comes to planning around these developments.

Not every renewable energy proposal is going to be in the right place. I want to talk briefly about one that we recognise is a very good proposal, the Connorville solar farm proposal for 400 hectares of panels. It is going to be generating 300 megawatts of energy, double what Granville Harbor and Cattle Hill put out together. There are opportunities here to do these kinds of renewable energy developments in the right place. It is on cleared land already, does not require clearance of further vegetation and is in proximity to the Palmerston substation and can be connected directly up. We do not need the long transmission lines that are associated with the Marinus Link project and the Robbins Island wind farm.

On Robbins Island, I want to make the point that has been made over and over in this place and we have debated it numerous times, but it is clearly the wrong place for an industrial wind farm development such as this. We had this conversation earlier in the day in many ways and Mr Winter clearly misunderstands the threatened species that are at risk here. There are migratory shore birds that live around the mudflats around Robbins Island and they are one of the key species that scientists are deeply concerned about. That is why you have groups like Birdlife Tasmania opposing the development and why you have environment groups in the courts opposing this development and why you have the EPA itself imposing specific conditions because of the parrot.

The other thing is Aboriginal Heritage. We had a long debate yesterday about the Aboriginal Lands Act and I took some time to unpack the challenges with the Aboriginal Heritage Act, but there is no development that speaks more to the fundamental failures of the Aboriginal heritage protection legislation in Tasmania than the Robbins Island development. This is a cultural landscape of the palawa people and has stories of occupation that go back thousands of generations. Here we have an industrial wind farm that has been approved, gone through the process, and against the Aboriginal Heritage Act it has not even triggered a proper assessment. It had an earlier assessment that showed there are no stone tools or ancestral graves under the very footprint of the development and that is good enough for the Aboriginal Heritage Act. Nothing to see here, nothing to do. No matter that it is a cultural landscape of millennia old. No matter that the Aboriginal community are pushing back and raising concerns about what it means.

That is why we need to have proper planning processes around these developments. We need to have the impacts detailed. We need to have detailed assessments published and we need to have comprehensive community consultation so that we understand the communities' views on the developments.

On the motion itself, we are supportive. The additional transparency on these issues is very welcome and I certainly will not reflect on the vote of the last debate but I make the point that TasNetworks is now in the GBE scrutiny schedule, or is likely to be going forward.

Mr Winter - Already was.

Mr BAYLEY - No it was not, Mr Winter. There is now going to be an opportunity to scrutinise that further. We support the motion because it adds transparency and because there are outstanding incredible levels of debt in TasNetworks. I will read from the Tasmanian Audit Office report released this recently in relation to TasNetworks and it talks about our working capital and finance facilities. We have been over some of this a little bit earlier in the debate but I want to read directly from this because it tells us a stark picture of the absolutely astounding levels of debt held by this agency.

At 30 June 2023, TasNetworks working capital, other than short-term debt maturities, was a $5.54 million deficit. In 2022 it was $22 million in deficit. Short-term debt maturities of $260 million - and in 2022 that was $220.5 million - will be refinanced in line with TasNetworks' Treasury risk management policy and within the TASCORP master loan facility agreement limits and covenants. On 26 July 2023, TASCORP approved an increase in the borrowing facility limit under the master facility loan agreement from $2.2 billion to $2.5 billion.

The Treasurer has unpacked some of that for the House in terms of what that means for its capacity to borrow money, but from a Greens perspective we are going to support this motion because we think, given those levels of debt that are held, given the controversy and contention that is held around the projects that are anchored to these transmission lines, and given the nature of the companies involved - massive multinational corporations that are looking to invest here in Tasmania - we think there needs to be additional transparency around the relationships and agreements between those companies and the Tasmanian Government. There is nothing in this motion that is of concern; all of the information is only going to add to the picture in relation to these developments and we are certainly supportive.

Just quickly on the Treasurer's amendment, we will not be supporting it because we think the motion as it stands is sound. We note of course the fact that there is the joint committee that has been established and it will consider a whole lot of information, but tabling this information by tomorrow does not preclude the workings of that committee. In fact, it enhances it. It will give members of that committee additional time to digest that information and understand the linkages and levels of debt. It will help that committee do its business and will save it having to order the Government to bring forward that information to the committee.

We have seen, in the past, how hard it is to tyre-lever information out of this Government when the House orders it. We have done it on a range of issues, including Marinus Link, the North West Transmission Developments, Hydro and Battery of the Nation. Unfortunately there are now proceedings in other committees in relation to that. We think this motion is sound. It asks for logical information that should not be too hard to find. We note that the Treasurer has tabled several documents already that we will also need to have a look at and digest. We will be supporting the motion.

I heard a long conversation just then around a future investment decision around the sort of preparatory work you have to do to get to the point where you can make a future investment decision, with concerns around debt and so forth. It is worth pointing out the stark contrast between the attitude to this kind of development and the attitude to an AFL stadium on Macquarie Point, a decision that is being made entirely at the behest of the AFL. It has had zero consultation and is completely contrary to the planning process that was already in place, yet seemingly there has already been a financial investment decision for that development, despite the fact that we know $715 million is a back-of-the-envelope number. We know it is going to cost well over $1 billion and that, added to these other billions of dollars we are talking about in terms of these renewable energy facilitating developments, is of serious concern.

We need some clarity on the information. We need some clarity on the investment decisions and the information that is being prepared by Government agencies. We need some transparency around the conversations that are going on between this Government and the major international companies and corporations that are looking to set up shop here in Tasmania. On that basis, we will not be supporting the Treasurer's motion. We are happy to support the Opposition Leader's motion, as read.