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Tuesday, 4 November 2003
Page: 21972


Mr ZAHRA (6:56 PM) —My electorate is a particularly important one in the context of talking about energy. As many people in this place would know—and I am sure the parliamentary secretary at the table, the member for McEwen, as a Victorian, would understand—the Latrobe Valley is central to providing energy to the people of Victoria. Any consideration about national energy policy or an approach to greenhouse gas reduction is by extension a policy consideration about the Latrobe Valley.

Since the development of the brown coal fields in the Latrobe Valley, we have seen a massive leap forward in the development of the state of Victoria. There is no doubt at all that the prosperity that has been built in Victoria around manufacturing has been built largely on Victoria's high-quality, reliable energy supply which comes overwhelmingly from my electorate in the Latrobe Valley. I saw this close up a couple of years back when I swapped electorates for a week with my colleague and friend Nicola Roxon, the member for Gellibrand. During that time I had the opportunity to go and visit the Smorgon steel mill in Altona North, where they use every day an equivalent amount of electricity to that used by the city of Ballarat. You cannot have a Smorgon steel mill plant which employs the 400 or 500 people who are employed in Altona North, in the western suburbs, unless you have a high-quality, reliable energy supply like the energy supply that people get in Victoria from the Latrobe Valley.

You cannot talk about Australia's GDP, our national wealth, our prosperity and our commitment to improved living standards for people without recognising that that wealth and prosperity, chiefly in manufacturing, does depend very heavily indeed on the high-quality energy supply that comes from the power producers in each of the states and territories in Australia. It is particularly important in those key manufacturing states like New South Wales and Victoria.

In the Latrobe Valley we have seen a number of very big changes in the power industry over the course of the last eight or nine years. These have chiefly been associated with the privatisation of the SECV by the Kennett government. This has caused enormous social upheaval and the loss of many thousands of jobs in the Latrobe Valley. This is not to say that the brown coal sector will continue to be associated with declining job levels. On the contrary, there is a very vibrant future for the brown coal sector as it will continue to be an important part of any national energy strategy well into the future.

I want to quote from a document called Combating climate change: Labor's policy framework for a sustainable future—with quality of life and a healthy environment, which was put out in July last year. On page 7, the policy document says:

Fossil fuels will continue to be a major energy source in Australia and globally into the foreseeable future. In addition to new technologies, effective emission reductions must involve investment in emission reduction for existing electricity generation, and methane capture in coal mining as well.

In pursuing a less carbon intensive energy sector, more efficient coal use will be a part of our future competitive advantage. A revitalised approach to cleaner technologies can bring long-term job security to traditional energy producing regions such as the La Trobe Valley in Victoria and the Hunter Valley in NSW.

Of course, that is dead right. People sometimes do not understand the size and the scale of the brown coal reserves in the Latrobe Valley, and fair enough. Not everyone is a student of this and not everyone has grown up in the Latrobe Valley. But it is important to place on the record in this discussion about the bills that we are considering today that there is enough brown coal in the Latrobe Valley to continue at existing levels of usage for around 400 years. This is an incredible global scale asset that the people of Australia and, in particular, the people of Victoria have. We would be crazy to turn our backs on something which has provided so much prosperity and so much economic opportunity for people in Victoria and in Australia for so long.

There are a number of very large developments that are being considered in the Latrobe Valley, which, if you group them all together, would amount to around $10 billion worth of investment and which would be entirely associated with the brown coal sector. It is a different application of that technology though. We are not talking about building power stations using technology identical to the technology that was used when Yallourn or Hazelwood were built or, even more recently when Loy Yang was built in the 1980s. We are talking about technology which will lead to a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. I think that everyone in our community would welcome that and would welcome the opportunity for those developments to take place in the Latrobe Valley—to create the jobs and opportunity in that district that would be associated with those developments.

So brown coal in the Latrobe Valley is an important part of any national energy policy, and it is incredibly important at a regional economic level as it stands to be a particularly important asset for the community as we look to opportunities for job growth in the years ahead. We are fortunate to have it and we will endeavour to work hard to pursue opportunities to continue to use that brown coal resource in a sensible way into the future.

One of the other issues in relation to energy that is important in my electoral district is that of wind turbines. This has been an important issue along the South Gippsland coastline for some years. I have met with a number of the groups and people who have been affected. Often the stories that people tell you about a wind farm being proposed next door and the impact that that would have on their quality of life are quite heartbreaking to hear. I think in particular of Frank and Maureen Cardamone, who are having wind turbines installed on a property adjacent to theirs. I will make the point here that if it is good enough for the Commonwealth parliament to pass the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 which allowed all these wind farm developers to go out into places like South Gippsland and put these developments in these areas then it should be good enough for the Commonwealth parliament to have some regard for how these developers conduct themselves. That is why it is my view that there should be some provision in Commonwealth legislation to make sure that the local community supports any of these wind farm developments.

In some places they are obviously very well supported and well received by local communities and are a very important addition to local communities in terms of the opportunities that they provide for those farmers and landholders on whose land those developments get proposed. In other areas, such as in my electoral district, there are some very real problems with some of the sites that have been proposed for wind farm developments. It is for that reason that I make the point that, if it is good enough for the Commonwealth parliament to put in place this framework which creates the development, it should be good enough for the Commonwealth parliament to have some regard to making sure that local communities have a say in relation to these developments.

When they think about energy a lot of people have the view that, if we make a decision here in the Commonwealth parliament, we can swap over tomorrow from energy based around brown coal in Victoria and black coal in New South Wales—we can somehow flick the switch and we will all be running our power supplies from wind turbines and other sources of renewable energy. That is not the case. It is important for people to understand the type of energy that we need to supply the industries in the western suburbs of Melbourne—high electricity using industries that create so many jobs and so much prosperity in Australia—and to understand that you cannot drive those industries on wind power or solar cells. You need the type of high-quality, reliable energy supply that you get from energy production like that which we have in the Latrobe Valley.

That is an important point to make because I think sometimes people run an argument that says: build wind farms or build wind turbines and shut down the Latrobe Valley. But of course you cannot do that. Not only is it an awful intent in terms of shutting down a regional community but it is also not realistic. People need to understand that the investments that are made in power station infrastructure in those power stations in the Latrobe Valley run to between $10 billion and $15 billion, and it is likely that those power stations will have a lifespan which will run to another 30 or 40 years. That is the reality and that is something that people, when they are talking about renewable energy, need to have at the front of their minds rather than as an afterthought. We cannot simply switch over to the types of energy which are often held up as being the alternatives—namely, wind turbines or other forms of renewable energy. We need a mix, we need a balance and we need to make sure that everything that we do has consideration for the outcomes of those policies.

I, like a number of other Labor members in this place, can recall well the 2001 general election when the Labor Party announced that a Labor government would commit to ratifying the Kyoto protocol. The Liberal Party sent minister after minister to the Latrobe Valley to mislead people and to make up horrendous stories about massive job losses in the power stations that would be associated with any ratification of the Kyoto protocol. It was all complete nonsense. It was completely untrue, completely false, and the ministers who made those claims should all be ashamed of themselves.

Of course, everyone understands that you will always need the workers in the Latrobe Valley who work at the power stations. You simply cannot shut down the power stations and expect the state of Victoria, or even Australia as a nation, to function. They will always be needed; they will always have to be there. For this reason people in the Latrobe Valley did not believe the nonsense, the lies, that were being told by people from the government who came down and tried to scare people into voting Liberal. In fact we won, I think, every single booth in the Latrobe Valley and had a good swing to us right across the Latrobe Valley despite that attempt.

It just goes to show the government's dishonesty in relation to the Kyoto protocol, because on the one hand they send people to the electorate of McMillan, to the Hunter Valley and to the electorate of Capricornia in Queensland and tell people that if the Labor Party wins office and they ratify the Kyoto protocol there will be massive job losses, but on the other they commit to meeting all of their Kyoto obligations and all of the Kyoto targets. It is really a case of six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. The government has been involved here in a very disgraceful fear campaign which, fortunately in my electorate, people were very easily able to see through. It just underscores the point that, in relation to matters about greenhouse gas reduction and the environment, the government really likes to try and run two separate messages to two separate constituencies and does not have too much policy honesty in relation to these important matters.

In considering the effect that policies relating to greenhouse gas reduction might have, and in particular things like renewable energy developments, it is also important to understand these things within a context. In general terms, about half of the greenhouse gas emissions from Victoria come from the Latrobe Valley, from the power stations. So whilst it might be a good thing in general terms to build wind turbines where they are appropriate as a form of energy for the communities that could benefit from having wind turbines located in that area—in particular I am thinking of more rural and remote communities, where the cost of distributing the power along poles and wires is just not economic—it is important to understand that a lot of these wind farms would at best only be able to service communities of maybe 15,000 or 20,000 people. Victoria is a pretty big state—quite a few million people live in Victoria—and understanding that half of the state of Victoria's greenhouse gas emissions come from the Latrobe Valley gives you some idea of how much greenhouse gas reduction you could get if you were able to put in place technology in those power stations which reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Fortunately for Australia and for the brown coal sector, the Labor government in the nineties put in place a cooperative research centre for clean power from lignite, which is brown coal, and it has been working hard ever since to develop new ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power stations and from the use of brown coal more generally. It has done a power of work. The technology has been tested to certain levels and it is now at a stage at which people are seriously contemplating its application in a commercial context. Imagine if we were able to reduce the emissions from the Latrobe Valley by, say, 10 per cent on a Victoria-wide scale. That would mean that for the state of Victoria greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by five per cent. That is a massive reduction. You could put wind turbines all the way from the western district, towards the South Australian border, down past Marlo, and still not get a greenhouse gas reduction as effective as that.

What I am saying is that we need to use science, technology, innovation and research as a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There will always be plenty of great applications for renewable energy technology. In particular, there will be very worthwhile applications for wind farms and that type of technology in more rural and remote settings where it does not make sense to distribute energy over long distances because of power losses. It is simply not economical to distribute energy over long distances.

In any policy consideration about energy, it is important to understand that, if we want to reduce greenhouse gases, the best way to go about it is to use science, technology and innovation. If we want to talk about opportunities for doing it, brown coal is a great place to start. Renewable energy from wind farms and those types of developments will be a particularly useful thing in certain settings, but certainly it will not be an alternative to traditional forms of energy such as those energy sources that we find in the Hunter Valley and the Latrobe Valley.