Legislative Council: Tuesday, August 29, 2023


Wind Farms

The Hon. C. BONAROS (15:35): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development a question around the Southern Ocean offshore wind farm zone.

Leave granted.

The Hon. C. BONAROS: Thankfully, the state government has today announced that it has recommended that South Australia not be included in the commonwealth’s proposed offshore wind farm zone that runs from Warrnambool in Victoria to Port MacDonnell. In its submission and according to the media release to the commonwealth, the state government says it has expressed concerns about the potential impact that construction of an offshore wind farm in that area could have on South Australia's southern fisheries and marine environment. The state government's submission apparently recommends that the commonwealth moves or reduces the size of the proposed area to remove any waters adjacent to the South Australian coast, which also is in close proximity to existing marine parks and sanctuary zones.

To suggest that local Port MacDonnell residents and businesses are concerned about the proposed wind farm zone and wind farm to be built off the coast of the town—which has the potential to wipe out the region's $187 million rock lobster industry, with a capital value of $1.5 billion to $2 billion, threaten hundreds of jobs and completely obliterate some of Australia’s most pristine waters—is, according to many, the understatement of the year. Not only would the zone open the floodgates to more wind farm proposals in the South-East, with zero benefits to South Australia, but it will tie communities in knots for years to come and have wide-reaching impacts on conservation environment mammals and migrating birds. My questions to the minister are:

What level of advocacy has the minister engaged in, and did she or any of her colleagues attend the community forums that took place in Mount Gambier and Port MacDonnell earlier this month?

Does she accept that wind farms would decimate her home town of Port MacDonnell if changes to the proposed zones are not adopted?

What will the minister be doing hereon in, post that submission, to ensure the proposed zone doesn't extend into SA waters?

What, if any, discussions have taken place with the conservation sector around their concerns for this proposed zone?

What commitments will the minister give to Port MacDonnell community residents directly to stop this proposal from creeping into her home town?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (15:38): I thank the honourable member for her question. For those of us who live down in the South-East, this issue has been bubbling away for some months. We are aware, of course, of the process, which I can touch on shortly, that the commonwealth government goes through for this type of declaration of a zone. For regional residents, and particularly for people involved in the industries that would potentially be impacted by such a wind farm zone, those processes are of great concern.

Nonetheless, I am very pleased to hear that Minister Chris Bowen in the federal government has been very open about the process, indicating to those who have been to see him that this is a very sincere consultation and that he is keen to listen to the feedback that is received.

The state government has indeed recommended that the federal government remove waters off the coast of South Australia from the proposed declared area. That is because, based on the evidence we have before us, the state government considers that the risk is too great to established industries in the South-East, as well as to biodiversity, ecosystems and wildlife within the region, particularly that which migrates through the region.

Our submission does express significant concerns of the potential impact to the state's southern zone rock lobster fishery. Over the last 10 years, on average, it has contributed $187,500 million to the state's economy. Some of those significant concerns include the potential displacement of fishing effort and the disruption of biomass and juvenile recruitment of rock lobster. There are also potential impacts through noise and vibration which can potentially impact on the future of the fishery.

The submission also highlights concerns for biodiversity, ecosystems and migratory wildlife, marine animals and seabirds. The proposed declared area also directly overlaps with an area of what is of biological and oceanographic significance, not only at a national level but at an international level: namely, the area well known for the Bonney coast upwelling. Our government certainly supports renewable energy projects, particularly where they improve South Australia's energy security, but this proposal has risks for South Australia that the commonwealth needs to be aware of in addition to providing no benefit for South Australians.

It was in August last year that the commonwealth Minister for Energy announced Australia's first declared offshore wind energy zone in Bass Strait off Gippsland, Victoria. The commonwealth government also identified multiple coastal regions around Australia as priority areas to be assessed for suitability for offshore renewable energy, including offshore wind farms. On 28 June this year, the federal minister announced a notice of proposal to declare an area in the Southern Ocean region off Victoria and South Australia. That area proposed is in commonwealth waters, with the western end commencing in South Australia adjacent to Port McDonnell and extending east to near Warrnambool in Victoria.

Commercial fishing industry members have voiced concerns regarding the proposed declaration and associated project through my department, PIRSA, as well as through local councils and members of parliament. We have particular concerns around rock lobster but it is also worth mentioning some of the others, around tuna and aquaculture, for example. Our submission raises concern for the zone being in the path of the annual migration of southern bluefin tuna, therefore also potentially having flow-on impacts to aquaculture.

Currently, southern bluefin tuna are not sourced from the area directly due to the species being migratory but the population migrates through the area and that could be connected to where they are currently caught and subsequently farmed, and the proposed area certainly could be fished in the future depending on appropriateness at that time. The southern bluefin tuna aquaculture industry is the most valuable aquaculture sector within South Australia, worth more than $325 million and employing more than 1,100 FTEs, direct and indirect. Southern zone abalone also has the potential to be impacted, as does recreational fishing and the marine scalefish fishery.

In terms of the environmental concerns, they are many. I have mentioned a couple of them already, but I think when we put all of that together—which we are able to do through having some work done by my department, PIRSA, and SARDI, to be able to look at what evidence is currently in place—it was important that we went through that process so that we could present a comprehensive argument to the commonwealth on why they should not proceed in South Australian waters. Again, as I mentioned, we certainly support renewable energy but it cannot be at the expense—it cannot be at the expense—of local industries or local communities.