Legislative Council: Wednesday, November 15, 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 13 September 2023.)

The Hon. S.L. GAME (17:35): I rise to support the honourable member's motion to prevent BlueFloat Energy's offshore wind farm zone from encroaching into South Australian waters. The proposal has met strong resistance from Port MacDonnell residents who will be most affected. Where the local economy relies on commercial fishing and seaside tourism, there is real concern that the proposed area for the wind turbines—eight to 20 kilometres offshore—is where many local fishers catch their lobster.

Locals are anxious that any exclusion zone placed around the turbines would make fishing areas inaccessible. There is also concern about the potential environmental impacts on lobster, and there have been no studies conducted to assess these impacts. Locals need assurances that the large exclusion zones expected to be placed around the turbines will not restrict boat access to lobster grounds and disrupt their habitats.

There are no tangible benefits to South Australia if this proposal drifts into our waters. The Malinauskas government has indicated that it opposes this development, but for this small coastal community in regional South Australia, this may not be enough to stop it going ahead. The Port MacDonnell community needs certainty that this proposed offshore wind farm off the state's South-East coast will not receive federal approval.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:36): I rise to speak briefly on this motion on behalf of the Greens, and make some reflections on the motion, but also tilting at windmills. The world is facing a climate emergency. It is now beyond all doubt that human-induced climate change is having a profound effect on our planet. It is changing the environment irretrievably and it is sending species extinct.

Climate change risks the world's food production capacity. It impacts hardest on the poorest communities with the lowest resilience. Climate change is also increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, which affect us all. Protecting the environment, living more in harmony with nature, caring about social justice and future generations are all universal values, I would hope.

This climate emergency is an existential threat. It is the greatest moral challenge of our time, but thankfully there are things we can do. We have the knowledge, we have the technology, and we have the overwhelming bulk of the community on our side, on the side of climate action. If we have political will, we can take real and effective action to address climate change and to minimise the harm that it will cause to people and the environment on which we all depend.

The climate crisis is caused by mining and burning coal, oil and gas. These elements are heating up our planet and, if we do not phase them out, the world is going to be a more dangerous place to live. By phasing out coal and gas power plants, investing in offshore and onshore wind, solar and energy storage, and rewiring Australia with a 21st century electricity grid, we can repower our economy and society with clean energy.

By shifting to renewable energy and electrifying everything, we not only drive carbon pollution to zero, but we can lower home energy bills and industry costs while creating jobs right around the nation. So I ask those in the chamber today: what practical solutions are they putting forward to ensure that our state is not left behind when it comes to renewable energy?

Indeed, my previous colleague, the Hon. Mark Parnell, an environmental lawyer and a champion of climate action, had a lot to say on this matter previously. For the benefit of the council, and some of the newer members, I will repeat some of his words today. He said back in 2018, in a previous debate on wind farms:

I am yet to meet a single person who does not profess to agree that we need a cleaner, greener, more sustainable and fairer world.

It feels times are a little different right now. Nick Xenophon may be gone, but his anti-wind legacy remains. SA-Best have a long history of misquoting and overexaggerating data on the impacts of wind farms. They moved their latest motion about wind farms after the state government had already made an announcement, and indeed the very World Health Organization report their argument was based on had in fact been misinterpreted.

We know, and research has told us very clearly, that wind farms are currently the cheapest source of large-scale renewable energy. Technological advances in the sector mean that wind turbines are now larger, more efficient and make use of intelligent technology. Wind was Australia's leading source of clean energy in 2020, supplying 35.9 per cent of this country's clean energy and 9.9 per cent of Australia's overall electricity. To quote Kane Thornton, the CEO of the Clean Energy Council:

In South Australia, the wind energy sector currently employs hundreds of people, provides steady income for landholders and local governments, and benefits broader communities through the numerous community enhancement funds in operation.

I spoke earlier about the solutions to climate change—solutions to ocean acidification, sea levels rising, the millions of deaths each year from air pollution, damage to the Great Barrier Reef, increased frequency and seriousness of fires, floods and storms, and thousands or millions of species going extinct. If there is a better solution, I would certainly love to hear it and I am sure many others would too. It is clearly no surprise that the Greens are pro wind farms. However, we do not approve of those private projects steamrolling our regional communities.

We do support this motion; however, we question why it was put up after the issue had already been addressed by the Malinauskas government and why we are even voting on it today. But we want those renewable projects to go through an appropriate and normal process. We want the public to have the right to challenge projects and it is not about whether you like the project or not; it is about having an appropriate decision-making pathway.

Wind energy generation investment in South Australia must progress within the context of a mature planning regime that aligns with international standards, and an industry that observes responsible community engagement practices and lets South Australia set the standard. With that, I question why we have this motion today, but we will support it while wondering what the true motivations are.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (17:41): The government will also be supporting this motion. The state government has made a submission to the federal Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) consultation process, outlining its concerns regarding the proposed declaration of an offshore energy zone off the coast of Victoria and South Australia, with the western portion of the proposed zone situated off the coast of Port MacDonnell.

The proposed offshore wind zone generated significant concern for communities across the Limestone Coast, where the southern rock lobster industry supports over 1,000 jobs and, on average, over the past 10 years has contributed $187.5 million annually to the state's economy. In its submission, our government indicated that it considers the risk of the proposed offshore energy zone and installation of over 70 wind turbines of the coast of South Australia as being too great to established industries in the region as well as to biodiversity, ecosystems and wildlife.

The risks to the rock lobster sector include impacts of noise and vibration, loss of habitat, disruption to spawning and the loss of highly productive fishing grounds within marine fishing area No. 58, where the wind farm is proposed in its entirety within waters off the coast of South Australia. All of those potential risks are of great concern. If the proposal were to go ahead, it could potentially lead to increased fishing pressure in other fishing areas to compensate for the loss of fishing grounds and lead to increased difficulty for the government to manage the fishery effectively.

Risks have also been highlighted for a range of species which either call this area home or migrate through the area, as well as impacts on the important Bonney Upwelling, which sustains a number of marine species and is one of only 12 well-known areas worldwide where blue whales come in relatively high numbers to feed.

Limestone Coast communities have been very clear that they do not want to see this occurring and cannot accept the risk that it presents to some of their key industries that support jobs and the local economy. Indeed, South-East residents are rightly concerned about whether a project proposal such as this one can have any direct benefits for their communities.

While it is the case there is an indirect benefit in terms of increased renewable energy to the National Electricity Market, the direct benefits for impacted communities are difficult to quantify. They are rightly very proud of their iconic southern rock lobster industry and the numerous other fisheries operating in the area, as well as the rich natural biodiversity and picturesque beauty of the region that draws tourists in from near and far, further supporting the local economy and way of life.

I am pleased that our government has taken action on this important issue and note that many of the items called for within the motion have either already been actioned or are currently being actioned through the course of the state government's submission to the DCCEEW process and follow-up. We support renewable energy, but we cannot support something that puts at risk existing industries and environmental considerations.

The Hon. J.E. HANSON (17:45): I have a couple of amendments that I would like to move standing in my name:

Paragraph VI.:

'Leave out subparagraph (a).

After paragraph XI insert new paragraph as follows:

'XII. Supports the decarbonisation of Australia's electricity sector.'

Obviously, the first amendment is in regard to 'no net energy benefit to South Australians'. The sorts of projects that we are talking about here may have high levels of support within local communities as such if they directly provide benefits to that community, such as, for instance, obviously electricity supply, as has been recently pointed out. There are, of course, indirect benefits, in terms of the National Electricity Market, hence the reason for the amendment in order for it to be, if you like, 100 per cent accurate.

In regard to the second amendment, each year the commonwealth government provides a South Australian greenhouse gas inventory, which includes a dataset dating back to the 1990 financial year. The most recently released data shows that our state currently emits around 21.5 million tonnes of greenhouse emissions every year. This means our emissions have reduced by 42 per cent since 2005.

Over the next about seven years, we will need another 8 per cent drop to achieve our state's target of at least a 50 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 from its 2005 levels. To set us on track to a net zero by 2050, we need to act as a result to achieve this target, as well as lay the foundations, if you like, for longer term reductions.

The South Australian government declared the climate emergency, as I have previously said, in May 2022. This signalled our intention to take the action and now it is about reaffirming the state's commitment to building science-based policies that can prepare South Australia for the realities of what we are going to see, which is extreme weather climate shifts and increased global warming.

South Australia continues to be committed to building the world-first hydrogen plant this year. Our government is going to keep on moving and these amendments are directed in that regard.

The Hon. C. BONAROS (17:47): At the outset, I thank all honourable speakers on this motion: the Hon. Nicola Centofanti, the Hon. Ben Hood, the Hon. Sarah Game, the Hon. Tammy Franks, the minister and the Hon. Justin Hanson. I thank everybody for their contributions, and I would like to echo many of the sentiments that have just been expressed. I would also take this opportunity, very briefly, to address some of the points that were just made by the Hon. Tammy Franks.

I, for one, enjoyed my previous debates in this place with Mark Parnell on the issue of wind farms and I, for one, am exceptionally proud of every Xenophon legacy I have pursued in this place, especially given that I was here working for him when he pursued those issues. For me it has been a continuation from my days as a staffer.

That said, I have also always made it very clear, particularly during my debates with the Hon. Mark Parnell in this place, that my position has never been to oppose wind farms per se. I have always acknowledged the valuable role they play in terms of our renewable energy and the valuable role they play more broadly. There are more than 2,000 megawatts in stored capacity in onshore wind farms in South Australia across the state and we have proposals now for offshore wind farms.

If you were to ask me about offshore wind farms, I would say I think they are still a bit of a pipe dream. Notwithstanding that, I have certainly never criticised wind farms in terms of the important role they play. What I have criticised, and what I will continue to criticise, is where they are placed and the impacts they have on, in this instance, local communities. If we want to talk about existential threats, the township of Port MacDonnell as we know it stands to be decimated if this proposal were to go ahead.

The Hon. Tammy Franks also raised the question, somewhat curiously, as to why I moved this motion despite the fact that the government had issued the statement it had. My lobbying with the government preceded that statement. Everybody knew that motion was coming here, regardless of the fact that that statement was released on date it was released.

I had been doing my lobbying directly with the government on this issue prior to the day they introduced that statement in this place, so I was exceptionally happy when that statement came to this place, but that was not going to stop me from moving this motion. The reason it was not going to stop me from moving the motion was that the statement, in and of itself, was not enough.

That is one point. I wanted to ensure that the Malinauskas government was bound by what it said in that statement and would take active steps, which is what the motion calls for. It calls on the Malinauskas government to continue to take active steps to meet with the federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy and to convey that message to them in terms of where we stand on this issue.

It was also important for the people of Port MacDonnell—because they are the ones I gave my word to—that I continue to pursue this motion here, notwithstanding that they also knew at that time, after that lobbying, that that statement was released, that they wanted a position from this parliament because, regardless of what the Malinauskas government has done, the decision federally is yet to be made.

They wanted to ensure there was a strong message sent not just from the government but from this parliament to our federal minister that we were not going to stand idly by as the township of Port MacDonnell was decimated in the process of an approval for offshore wind, and that we all now know—as the minister herself has acknowledged, in her hometown—what the impacts would be. Those are the reasons this motion was moved.

I am not going to suggest for one moment that I know what the opposition's motivations were in terms of this. I know they support the motion, and I am very grateful for that support. However, the work that I, for one, was doing on this predated the government's position, and certainly was intended not only to ensure they continued that lobbying of the federal government but, as I said, on behalf of the township of Port MacDonnell and everybody impacted by this proposal, to ensure that a loud and clear message was sent by the South Australian parliament as a whole to our federal counterparts, who are yet to make a decision with respect to this proposal.

On that issue—I note we will be dealing with this, and I asked some questions on this earlier today—one of the points of contention that has been raised time and time again by me on this issue, again with the Hon. Mark Parnell, is not only the locality of these wind farms, which we all accept are good, and we all accept—

The Hon. C.M. Scriven interjecting:

The Hon. C. BONAROS: Wind farm proposals—not this one, this one is bad, but wind farm proposals in general, which we all accept are good. There is also the archaic nature of the approval process when it comes to those wind farms. When it comes to onshore wind farms, one of the issues has always been that we traditionally—historically, up until now—place them close to infrastructure, which inevitably means they are close to townships and inevitably means there are impacts on those townships.

I advocated on the wind farm in the Flinders Ranges, which was a topic of contention with the Hon. Mark Parnell at the time, because nobody wanted a 250-metre tower 500 metres from their front door. It is not the issue of whether we support wind farms or not: the issue is our laws simply have not kept up with the technology of wind farms.

These things, we know, are monsters in size. They are huge. In this instance, when we are talking about protecting our natural environment, we are also talking about pouring up to 1,000 tonnes of concrete into the seabed for each turbine that would be proposed. How that does not impact our pristine waters at Port MacDonnell and our environment at Port MacDonnell, never mind the impact that it has on the fishing industry, to be fair, is absolutely beyond my comprehension.

It is for those reasons that this motion was moved. I have had feedback from the community of Port MacDonnell, letting them know that this was going to a vote today. In that, I let them know what the government's position was and certainly what the opposition's position was, and they intend to use that when they go back to the federal government, waiting for that response in terms of what the outcome will be for their township. This is critical for them, so there was every reason to ensure that this parliament showed its clear intent when it came to opposing this wind farm for all the right reasons.

With all that said, I am very glad that the Hon. Tammy Franks on behalf of the Greens has supported the motion. I understand the differences of opinion we have had with respect to wind farms, but there was nothing mischievous about this motion. It was designed to do the things that I have just outlined, and I thank everybody for their support on that motion. I have indicated to the government already that there are two amendments, wrapped into one I think, that have just been proposed by the Hon. Justin Hanson. It is my intention to support both of those amendments.

Amendments carried; motion as amended carried.