Legislative Council: Wednesday, September 13, 2023


Southern Ocean Wind Farm

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. C. Bonaros:

That this council—

1. Expresses its concern over the extension of the proposed Southern Ocean offshore wind zone off the coast of South Australia following the consultation announcement made by Federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy, the Hon Chris Bowen MP, on 27 June 2023.

2. Notes offshore wind developer BlueFloat Energy has already lodged plans for a 77-turbine wind farm off the coast of Port MacDonnell, South Australia's most southerly town.

3. Recognises the potential for more wind farms should the proposed zone be proclaimed, with no benefit to South Australia.

4. Expresses its concern at the sheer size and footprint of each wind turbine which measures up to 350 metres above sea level and requires about 700 to 1,000 tonnes of concrete and steel to be fixed to the ocean floor.

5. Expresses its concern about the destruction of critical habitat and migrating seabirds and mammals.

6. Notes the proposed BlueFloat Energy windfarm:

(a) will provide no net energy benefit to South Australians;

(b) will result in very few jobs for South Australians;

(c) will exclude recreational and commercial fishing boats from important fishing areas; and

(d) has the potential to decimate Port MacDonnell's fishing and summer tourism industries and cause extensive job and business losses in those industries.

7. Acknowledges the southern zone rock lobster fishery of South Australia generates more than $250 million of economic activity annually and supports at least 1,200 jobs.

8. Recognises the proposed zone exacerbates the stress and anxiety the rock lobster industry has endured in recent years due to trade issues with China.

9. Recognises the overwhelming concern of the Port MacDonnell community that the proposal threatens to wipe out the township and create long-term uncertainty for individuals and businesses.

10. Calls on the Premier and the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development to register South Australia's objection to the wind farm zone encroaching past the Victorian border and advocate this in the strongest possible terms.

11. Calls on the Premier and the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development to personally meet with the federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy to convey this message.

(Continued from 30 August 2023.)

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (16:49): I rise today to support the honourable member's motion, not only as the Leader of the Opposition in this place but as the shadow minister for primary industries and regional development. My team collectively and wholeheartedly oppose the indicated location for the Southern Ocean offshore renewable energy zone.

In mid-2023, the commonwealth Minister for Climate Change and Energy, the Hon. Chris Bowen MP, announced the beginning of community consultation for a 5,100 square kilometre offshore wind zone off the coast of south-east South Australia and south-west Victoria. The proposed offshore wind zone, stretching from Warrnambool in Victoria to Port MacDonnell in South Australia, would enable up to 15 gigawatts of offshore wind to be developed, according to the minister.

The Spanish offshore wind developer, BlueFloat Energy, submitted a plan for a 77-turbine wind energy farm off the coast of Port MacDonnell. At that time, the local fishing community, predominantly the southern zone rock lobster industry, raised significant concerns with local, state and federal representatives, as well as with the broader fishing community, about the proposed offshore wind zone. They cited environmental concerns and communicated that it may hamper, if not end completely, their industry and with it decimate their local economy and community. We believe that these concerns are absolutely valid.

In particular, as shadow minister for primary industries and regional South Australia, I would like to specifically speak to the risks to the fishing industry and to the South-East region and its community more broadly. Communities worldwide rely on fishing for their livelihoods and as a vital source of food and nutrition. More than a third of the global population relies on seafood as a source of protein.

It is well known that the commercial southern rock lobster fisheries contribute around $250 million in landed seafood value to the Australian economy each year. In addition, as the mover of the motion stated, the industry supports at least 1,200 jobs. These are important numbers, not just to the industry but to the economies and the communities which rely on this industry.

The numbers could be at real and significant risk if these wind turbines are allowed to be constructed off the coast of Port MacDonnell. That is potentially 1,200 people at risk of losing income, and still more. The potential for severe disruption to the local commercial fishing industry, due to the limit on the access to traditional fishing grounds, is real. This will result in reduced catch rates and reduced profitability in an industry already doing it tough due to consequences of the trade ban with China.

In the event of approval of the Southern Ocean offshore renewable energy zone, increased operational costs will also be forced on the industry as many fishers will need to navigate around these exclusion zones. We all know that the cost of doing business in South Australia and the nation is currently high, with fuel prices skyrocketing and increased labour costs. Our fishers cannot afford another added cost in time and fuel expenditure due to the many more miles travelled to avoid large wind turbines measuring up to 350 metres above sea level.

Exclusion zones in restricting navigation also have the potential to introduce safety risks for boat operators, both in terms of overcrowding in the remaining fishing areas and added obstacles for fishers increasing the risk of accidents. The safety of our communities in South Australia has to be a priority for us as a state and is yet another reason why this proposal needs to be blocked.

These turbines also have the risk of ongoing impact to the sustainability of the industry. Sustainable fishing means leaving enough fish in the ocean, respecting habitats and ensuring people who depend on fishing can maintain their livelihoods. The South Australian government itself has created a seafood growth strategy, which was developed by the former Liberal government and which outlines a pathway to driving growth and opportunities for a sustainable seafood sector.

The formation of wind turbines in our ocean amongst fishing habitats and in an area that is prime fishing ground, it could be argued, certainly does not appear to be consistent with the growth and maintenance of a sustainable seafood sector. These uncertainties around negative environmental impacts and future access to fishing grounds could impact investment in the fishing industry, primarily the rock lobster industry, into the future.

Then there is the question of its impact on the wider regional community. There are significant concerns about how this proposal could negatively impact Port MacDonnell's local economy, principally due to the negative consequences foreseen to the fishing industry, which is a primary contributor to the Port MacDonnell community. Should the fishing industry be impacted, the lives and livelihoods of the many community members who are fishers or who rely on fishers would be impaired, and wellbeing could and is likely to be affected. Economic hardship that could result to commercial fishers from the proposal could impact community cohesion and alter the town's identity forever.

We also must not forget the risk this proposal puts on the tourism industry in this region. Those of us who travel around the regions regularly and visit often will absolutely appreciate the uniqueness of Port MacDonnell's tourism sector. This town is picturesque and boasts some of the state's most beautiful coastline. Its cafes, restaurants and other tourist attractions survive and thrive not just on the local economy but on the hundreds and thousands of people who visit the area every single year for both business and pleasure. This, then, has a positive flow-on effect to the town's small and medium business sector. The establishment of these wind turbines, creating an overwhelming negative impact, damaging the visual amenity, has the potential to absolutely decimate the town's tourism sector.

There are also negative consequences for both local and visiting recreational fishers, whose preferred spots may be excluded, resulting in reduced participation and enjoyment from their activities. This will have a further impact as the recreational fishing sector, as we all know, contributes a significant amount of money to coastal communities with regard to tourism. As the mover of the motion, the Hon. Connie Bonaros, pointed out to the chamber, this proposed wind farm has absolutely no net energy benefit to South Australia and will result in very few jobs for people in our state.

I am disappointed it took the government so long to announce their opposition to this proposal, particularly when the pushback was coming quite literally from the minister's own backyard. We call on the Malinauskas government and their ministers to speak to their federal colleagues to ensure that the offshore wind turbine project at Port MacDonnell does not proceed, to protect the future wellbeing of the ocean and the coastline surrounding Port MacDonnell.

In closing, I would like to acknowledge the work of the Southern Coast Ocean Care group under chair Chris Carrison, who have worked tirelessly over the last few months to ensure that the industry, its representatives and the broader community understand the consequences of this project and its proposal. South Australia has many naturally competitive advantages for seafood production, and it is well positioned to be the premium seafood state of the Southern Hemisphere. However, it cannot achieve this status with such uncertainty hanging over its head.

The Hon. B.R. HOOD (16:58): I rise to support the honourable member's motion and to offer my strong objection to the location of the proposed Southern Ocean offshore renewable energy zone as a South-East local. My honourable colleague the Hon. Nicola Centofanti has outlined many good reasons for not doing this, but I want to speak on the fact that the need for more effective public consultation on this project was just one of the concerning aspects of this proposal.

From the outset, community sessions and forums had been disorganised and completely ignorant of the strong interest shown by the Port MacDonnell community. The overwhelming demand to be heard should not come as any surprise, as 400 Port MacDonnell local community members packed into the footy club for the sole drop-in information session offered to that town. As the only member of parliament present at both the Mount Gambier and Port MacDonnell meetings, I heard the community raise many concerns that simply could not be answered. They spoke about their serious concerns for their town, their businesses, local industries and the marine environment that this proposal will negatively impact.

Port MacDonnell is the coastal community proudly dubbed the southern rock lobster capital of Australia and it will have its status threatened, should this proposal proceed. Australian southern rock lobster fishers were the first to implement third-party auditing certification systems, setting up minimum standards for environmental management, work health and safety, food safety quality, animal welfare and sustainability. They do a fantastic job down in our region and it is beyond disappointing to see the efforts of hardworking regional community members disregarded without considerable community consultation.

To maintain the sustainability of our rock lobster resource, fishers have invested tens of millions of dollars in research to understand the impacts of fishing. The unknown outcomes stemming from the proposed location in a high conservation and highly productive fishing zone demand a cautious and conservative approach when considering all the implications of this proposal. They just do not seem to have been taken into account by the federal government.

One thing we know for sure is that South Australia will see zero benefit from this proposal. The disadvantages and negative impacts on the health of our ocean and on this regional township will be long-lasting. Preserving the unique marine environment at Port MacDonnell must be the primary focus when the federal government considers this proposal.

Notably, the proposed zone is home to the Bonney Upwelling, one of only two known major feeding sites for blue whales in Australia. This proposal will directly impact marine life, threatening natural habitats and disrupting feeding and breeding cycles. As the honourable member points out in her motion, some 700 to 1,000 tonnes of concrete will be required for each plinth on which to put these gigantic turbines, which will do immeasurable damage to our natural environment off the coast of Port MacDonnell.

The Bonney Upwelling is a nationally significant location. It sustains the economically critical commercial fisheries and South Australia's most sustainable and essential food resource, the southern rock lobster. Consequently, the $250 million industry and the 1,200 jobs it supports will be at serious risk. The anticipated negative impacts of the proposal have already caused significant anxiety and concern amongst the local community, and this angst will only continue to progress where uncertainty remains.

Public discussions on the proposal have triggered a petition to oppose the offshore wind zone location at Port MacDonnell, which will have detrimental effects on industry, environment and community. The petition calls on the federal House of Representatives to reject any proposal to create a designated area or to allow wind turbines to be installed off the Port MacDonnell coast for renewable energy projects.

While better late than never, I am glad that the Premier and the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development have heard the community's outcry at the proposed development and have submitted to the federal government against this proposal. I would note that three weeks before the government finally saw sense, opposition leader David Speirs, the Hon. Nicola Centofanti MLC and myself wrote a joint letter of support to the grassroots-led Southern Coast Ocean Care group.

The Southern Coast Ocean Care group has been at the coalface of this issue, working tirelessly to protect the future wellbeing of the ocean and coastline off their town. The group's chair, Chris Carrison, a local abalone diver and electrician, initially believed the proposal to generate more green energy could only be a good thing. It was not until he sought more information that he then took a firm view that he was 100 per cent against the proposed location of this wind farm. As an electrician and an abalone diver with 30 years and over 8,000 hours spent underwater, Chris is a respected voice who should be listened to in this debate.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the community of Port MacDonnell, especially Chris, who has passionately chaired the Southern Coast Ocean Care group; secretary Kacee Driver, with whom I have worked on the petition; community member Lisa Edwards for her advocacy; and, of course, all of the community members and committee members in Port MacDonnell who have raised their voices against this absolutely terrible idea coming from the federal government.

I would also like to extend my thanks to the federal member for Barker, Tony Pasin, for his advocacy on this issue, having led a delegation to federal parliament to speak to Minister Bowen. Of course, I do thank the original mover of this motion, the Hon. Connie Bonaros, for her interest in a region that I call home and a region that I love. I commend this motion to the chamber.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon I.K. Hunter.