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Thursday, 19 March 2015
Page: 2045


Senator URQUHART (TasmaniaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (20:06): I would like to talk today about a part of Tasmania that is very close to my heart: the West Coast. It is a region of great beauty, but it is also a region which has suffered some very serious blows to the local economy of late. The West Coast has been a long-time source of mineral wealth, which has been integral to Tasmania's growth and development. Two of the biggest mines in the region are the Mount Lyell copper mine in Queenstown and the Henty Gold Mine on the edge of the West Coast Range. These mines were central to life for hundreds of families living on the West Coast. They were cornerstones of many communities and they drove money into the local economy.

But last year, there were two announcements that both of these mines would close. The Mount Lyell mine closed at the end of last year, closing a chapter of West Coast history which stretches back to the 19th century. Two hundred local jobs were lost. Within three days of this news, we learnt that another 150 jobs are due to go at the Henty Gold Mine, which has been in operation for around two decades. This mine is set to close in the middle of this year. These closures, and the ensuing job losses, are having serious impacts on the community with the effects flowing through into local economies. Some businesses are seeing their takings drop and locals are facing the difficult decisions about whether they can afford to stay in the area that they call home.

Labor understands how important it is for all levels of government to work together at this point on solutions for the West Coast. To this end, the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, took the time to accompany me on a visit to the West Coast toward the end of last year. We went to Burnie and Queenstown, where Bill met with locals and learnt about what the closures mean for the region. We met with the then mayor, Robyn Gerrity, as well as small business owners, representatives from the seafood industry and unions.

We also set out to proactively engage with the community to canvas ideas on what is needed to revitalise their region through a very successful community forum with Bill and Labor's Shadow Minister for Regional Development and Local Government, Julie Collins. Every town on the West Coast was represented at the forum, which sent a clear message to me about how much people care about their local community. We also heard that the former Labor government's projects are achieving their goals. There was funding which supported the ongoing operation of the West Coast Wilderness Railway, a greenfield aquaculture hub at Macquarie Harbour and a value-added aquaculture processing facility at Parramatta Creek.

During Bill's visit, we also had the opportunity to meet with the proponents of the Granville Harbour wind farm, Alex Simpson and Royce Smith, affectionately known as the farmer and his mate. This $160 million project should be a real shining light for this region. It offers the potential to deliver at least 200 jobs for West Coast locals at a time when many are struggling to find work. When construction begins on the 33 turbines, there will at least 200 jobs for West Coast locals, with the money flowing into the wider community.

This is not a pie-in-the-sky dream. In fact, the project has already secured all the necessary government approvals. It would inject much-needed investment dollars into the region, send thousands of new rates dollars to the local council and provide a massive boost to the broader West Coast economy when construction ramps up. Clearly, there are enormous benefits of expanding wind power in Tasmania, for both the environment and job creation. Renewables is one of the largest growth sectors across the world and Australia needs to participate. Australia needs to be acting now to transition from a resource-based economy.

Mr Simpson and Mr Royce have interest from many investors. But sadly, the Granville Harbour wind farm has not been able to progress, because of the anti-investment decisions of this government. The Granville Harbour wind farm would already be under construction if the government had not turned its back on their pre-election promises on the Renewable Energy Target. Before the elections in both 2010 and 2013, Prime Minister Tony Abbott could not have been clearer when he said, 'There will be no changes to the RET.' There were no qualifications, no caveats and no disclaimers.

Now we have seen billions of dollars in potential investment and thousands of jobs across the country become collateral damage in the government's war on renewable energy. The Granville Harbour wind farm has suffered enormously from the uncertainty that this has generated among investors. Not only that, but the government has so far completely failed to provide any sort of solutions that would keep this important project moving. It is important to remember that this uncertainty has been caused by the government that likes to tout its pro-business credentials at every opportunity.

The project proponents approached the member for Braddon, Brett Whiteley, last year about the possibility of grandfathering the project under existing RET conditions. This would have guaranteed investment and ensured that investments and jobs would follow. Despite Mr Whiteley proclaiming that he was very supportive of the project, we have seen no tangible action from him to protect or advance the Granville Harbour wind farm. The proponents have tried to overcome the sovereign risk put in their way by the Abbott government's broken promise, but government members have done nothing.

Last week, I travelled to Granville Harbour to again meet with the directors of Westcoast Wind get an update on the project. I was pleased to learn that, despite the massive frustrations caused by RET uncertainty, the Westcoast Wind directors are more determined than ever for the project to proceed. The visit made it clear to me that the project deserves to be supported. It quite simply cannot stay in limbo any more. There are aspects of the project that would be ready to go tomorrow, like the early site works and the building of an access road. I understand that a relatively small allocation of $300,000 would allow the project proponents to employ up to 25 local workers within a very short space of time. I say again: the West Coast needs this project to get started and they needed it yesterday.

At the same time as the government has been stifling investment in renewables, Prime Minister Abbott's pre-election promise to deliver a $16 million grant for Cadbury to upgrade its premises in southern Tasmania has also fallen in a heap. It turns out that the conditions placed by the government on the grant were unable to be met by the company. It is difficult to understand how the government could announce a grant before the election that the company actually would not actually be able to apply for. Whether this ill-considered promise was the result of crude electioneering or just plain mismanagement and incompetence, it is Tasmania that is paying the price for this broken promise.

Before the election, the local member for Braddon, Brett Whiteley, was proud to proclaim what the Cadbury grant would mean for Braddon. At the time, he produced a video talking up the benefits for the north-west dairy industry, referring to the grant as: 'A real solution to creating jobs, creating investment and creating wealth in our region.' This is exactly what the Granville Harbour wind farm promises.

Today, I have written a letter to Mr Whiteley calling on him to ensure that Braddon benefits from some of the money that was allocated to the Cadbury grant. In my letter, I reiterated the benefits of the Granville Harbour wind farm. I also emphasised the reality that it is as a direct result of this government's actions that the wind farm has not started already. The government needs to make up for their bungled Cadbury grant and provide a way forward for Westcoast Wind. They also need to make amends for the uncertainty they have placed on the renewables industry.

We have already heard from Senator Abetz that the money from the Cadbury grant will stay in Tasmania. That is good news, but to my mind the West Coast deserves some of it. I call on government members to allocate some of the money from that Cadbury grant towards getting work started on the Granville Harbour wind farm. The Abbott government has abandoned the West Coast and it is about time we saw some positive action. I urge local member Brett Whiteley to follow up his stated support for the wind farm with action. I urge the government, especially Tasmanian senators in this place, to take the time to seriously investigate this opportunity.

Senate adjourned at 20 : 15