Inquiry into Tackling Climate Change in Victorian Communities

Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (10:06): I am pleased to rise to speak a little on the November 2020 inquiry into tackling climate change in Victorian communities by the Legislative Assembly’s Environment and Planning Committee. There are some 72 recommendations in this report, mostly relating to community action on climate change. While most of them that I have had a quick look at seem sensible, there are some that I have some concerns with. But I want to talk more broadly about the issues of climate change and how they need to be tackled in Victoria and things that were touched on in this report but not necessarily gone into in great detail.

I appreciate the need for a transition to a cleaner energy future, but that needs to be balanced by energy reliability and affordability. We saw the people of Australia speak on the weekend in large part about issues of concern to them like climate change. Indeed there was not a clear message, if you like, in that people like my colleague the federal member for Gippsland, Darren Chester, who I think has a very moderate position on climate change but also backs our gas, coal and electricity-producing industries in Gippsland, achieved a 5 per cent swing to him on a two-party preferred basis. Whilst there was concern about the issue in some of the inner-city seats, there is a growing divide. What we need to do, I believe, is to actually bring that divide together and bring the climate change debate back to a sensible centre to stop the extremes on both ends of the debate: to stop people saying every time there is a storm that it is climate change, to stop people saying that if you support wind energy then you are a raving green leftie. We need to actually bring this back to a sensible debate.

What I want to talk about briefly today is the importance of that orderly transition, particularly in electorates like mine. Gippsland South is the home of the Longford gas plant, which produces about 90 per cent of Victoria’s natural gas supplies. Of course, I am right on the edge of the Latrobe Valley’s brown coal mine, which still produces a huge amount of our electricity. I mentioned the need to balance both energy reliability and affordability, and it is pertinent given this morning the front page of the Herald Sun has a story about the Essential Services Commission approving a rise in electricity prices of 5 per cent this year. That is a $60 per year increase for most residential households, and this is something that I think is overlooked, particularly by those Greens members who sit to my left. They proclaim regularly the need for social justice, the need for addressing the cost of living, but they also want us to shut down brown coal tomorrow. They want us to shut down gas tomorrow. We saw that yesterday with the member for Melbourne asking the Premier to literally stop all gas exploration and cancel those permits that have already been issued.

That would be disastrous. For a couple of the reasons I will just go to the March 2022 Australian Energy Market Operator gas statement of opportunities, which highlights that there will be a need for gas for a long time. It says that in the short term we are going to have shortfalls as soon as winter next year, which will be a significant issue, and in the longer term there will be a need for gas to continue in peaking situations to deal with what they call VRE, variable renewable energy. Until we have things like Snowy 2.0 and until we have additional supplies from Tasmania, we are going to still have that issue of variable renewable energy, and we will need both baseload power production and gas peaking opportunities.

In my own electorate of Gippsland South, with the Bass Coast oil and gas deal, the oil is just about gone and the gas is getting harder and more expensive to get, but there is still a significant supply there and a significant amount of interest in investment in exploration as well. Likewise we have the Golden Beach energy project, which will provide gas production briefly but will then be used as natural storage under the sea. That is a project that I support and that needs to be looked at.

We have great opportunities in hydrogen coming forward too, including from cold hydrogen projects. Yes, we need a transition, but we do not need government, state or federal—and a warning to the new federal government—intervening on ideological grounds to shut down industries in our regions.

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