ENERGY POLICY

Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (15:58): I am very pleased to rise to speak on this motion moved by the government and to speak on the biggest political con job that has been delivered since 2014, when someone said that a contract was not worth the paper it was written on. I am reminded through this debate so far of Anna Bligh’s comment about the debate on fracking, saying it was the worst debate ever. Well, Anna, I have got news for you: it has been superseded. It has been superseded by the absolute political and policy rubbish that comes from this government when it comes to the commitment to bring back the SEC – which, if you actually knew anything, you would know never went away. It has been there for a long time. It still exists.

Richard Riordan: They don’t even own the logo.

Danny O’BRIEN: They do not even own the logo. But why this is a con is because the government sold the SEC to Victorians who remembered it as being a government-owned system, a system where the government produces all the power, where the government owns the distribution, where the government owns the transmission and where the government owns the retail. But that is not what this government is going to deliver. That is not what the SEC policy of this government is. The SEC policy of this government is to dabble a little bit in some generation. It is an absolute con. We actually heard the minister in Parliament yesterday talking about how private investment was flocking here because we have got such great policies. We heard the member for Northcote just now talking about how there are these great offshore wind farms, none of which require the state to invest.

So I ask the question: why does the taxpayer need to have a single cent invested in this when the private sector is already doing it? The member for Northcote outlined the offshore wind projects, and it is interesting to note how many people are claiming offshore wind. The minister will actually tell you about ‘our offshore wind projects’. I have got news for her: I first met with Star of the South in 2017. There was not a press release from the government about Star of the South, the offshore wind farm, until 2021, and now they are claiming it as their own. The point is, though, there is Star of the South, there is Corio, owned by Macquarie, there is Greater Gippsland offshore, there is Seadragon, owned by Flotation, there is Shell, there is Esso – there are about 20 or 30 companies that have just put in a bid for offshore wind acreage in Bass Strait, all of it, pretty much, off my electorate, and not one of them has said, ‘We wouldn’t be able to do this unless the state government invested with us’. They are doing it anyway, and we do not need the state government to risk taxpayers dollars, because we know that is what would happen. Can you imagine this government giving its dollars, taxpayers dollars, across to the private sector? It is going to be a disaster.

While I am on it, unfortunately the member for Northcote has now gone out, but she did me a favour because she once again mentioned the fallacy that the previous Liberal–National government banned windfarms onshore by its exclusion zones. So I just want to point out to all of those members opposite – and I will not be as cruel as the member for Croydon, who referred to them as mushrooms; I will not do that – that the current planning guidelines for onshore wind farms in Victoria, as established by the current Labor government, prohibit wind farms in the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges, the Bellarine and Mornington peninsulas, the Great Ocean Road area within 5 kilometres of the high-water mark, the Macedon and McHarg ranges –

Wayne Farnham: No!

Danny O’BRIEN: I think someone behind me has picked up that there is a political theme happening here – the land within 5 kilometres of the high-water mark of the Bass Coast west of Wilsons Promontory –

Wayne Farnham: Another Labor seat.

Danny O’BRIEN: it is a Labor seat, member for Narracan – but not east of Wilsons Promontory, all land west of the Hume Freeway and Goulburn Valley Highway and all land within 5 kilometres of the high-water mark of the coast east of the urban area of Warrnambool. I mean, to say that we have banned wind farms – if they are so good, why have you banned them in all the areas that you live, work or play in? It is such a Melbourne-centric policy to say, ‘We can have wind farms everywhere except where we live and where we like it.’ So that is a scam, for a start.

We have got the government’s hypocrisy, the absolute hypocrisy, on privatisation. We heard very clearly from the member for Croydon about how it was in fact the Kirner government that started the privatisation of the power industry. The member for Narracan is on the list. I suspect he’s not going to get a go, but he has already belled the cat on the fact that – you were actually at the SEC? He was actually at the SEC when that privatisation began. I am a valley boy; I grew up in the Latrobe Valley, and I know that the numbers that were reduced in the SEC started in 1989. If you do not believe me, have a listen to Tony Wood from the Grattan Institute, who wrote on 28 November 2022 about the SEC policy:

The SEC’s restructuring meant that the numbers employed in electricity production in the valley fell by more than 50 per cent between 1989 and 1995 … before the SEC was privatised.

From 1989 to 1992 – who was in government then? Does anyone remember?

Wayne Farnham: Joan Kirner.

Danny O’BRIEN: Joan Kirner was in government, and I remember it. Do not tell me that all the job losses in the Latrobe Valley were caused by the Liberals and Nationals. Have a look at Joan Kirner and the mess that that government made of the state and the power industry.

I want to just pick up a couple of other things on that: as I said, the hypocrisy of a government that hates privatisation in the energy sector but is very happy with it with the Port of Melbourne sale, with the land titles office, with the VicRoads registration division, with Snowy Hydro. And when we talk about Labor – I mean, Qantas, Commonwealth Bank – they are a bunch of hypocrites, they are an absolute bunch of hypocrites. Speaking of hypocrites, we heard from the minister again the absolute fallacy, the absolute untruth, that she ran time and time again in the election campaign about fracking. She might actually have to go and talk to her colleague Natasha Fyles in the Northern Territory, who approved it yesterday. There is no unity ticket from the Labor Party nationally on this. We were told this despite our policy, as the member for Croydon has outlined, on opportunities for us to develop our onshore gas reserves in Victoria and help with the transition to renewable energy. Again I place on the record that I support the transition to renewable energy in a considered fashion.

You can actually look up the government’s media releases. Here is one from 16 June 2020. It is from the Honourable Jaclyn Symes, the former Minister for Resources. The headline is ‘Onshore Conventional Gas Restart a Green Light for Jobs’. Well, the minister does not want to talk about that. She does not want to look at it. She says it is wrong and factually incorrect. Well, here is the Minister for Resources in 2020, and there are several more media releases, including one from 2021, where the government talks about the opportunities for gas.

It has gone very quiet over there. They do not want to hear the facts. It is very inconvenient to look at the facts from the past, whether it is Joan Kirner starting the privatisation, whether it is Paul Keating privatising Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank or whether it is your own government talking about the opportunities in gas production. It is just extraordinary that this government cannot do that. While I am on hypocrisy, we know there is a transition. We know the Minister for the State Electricity Commission is very committed to that transition, but why won’t she tell the public what her deal is with Yallourn and EnergyAustralia? She knows that there is a risk that we are going to run out of power, the lights are going to go off, if there is a problem at Yallourn energy. So she has got a very commercial deal with Yallourn and EnergyAustralia, but she will not tell anyone what that deal is. I suspect it is because she knows the power system is a risk under this government’s policies and they are going to have to step in and underwrite Yallourn if it does go off.

The SEC policy is a sham. Yes, it was politically successful, but I want to point out to you – I mentioned I grew up in the Latrobe Valley; so did a bloke I know – the people who knew the SEC the best did not fall for it. That is why the bloke over there by the name of Martin Cameron is actually sitting there as the member for Morwell, because the people in the valley did not fall for it; they understood it was a sham, because they understand the power industry better than anyone. The SEC policy is not what Victorians were sold. It will be, in the long-term, a failure, and it will be Victorians that will pay the cost.

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