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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23343

Mr ZAHRA (5:05 PM) —Earlier today I introduced an important private member's bill—the Local Community Input into Renewable Energy Developments Bill 2003—into the parliament which I drafted in response to community concerns relating to wind power station development, chiefly along the South Gippsland coast. This is something I am putting forward on behalf of the people who live in my electoral district. This bill enjoys strong support from people from all walks of life right across the electorate of McMillan. I want to point to some of the things that people have had to say about the bill.

I mentioned in my earlier remarks that the Mayor of South Gippsland, David Lewis, has made references to and supported the bill publicly and has expressed his strong support for giving local communities a greater say in these developments. There is a community group in our district—Prom Coast Guardians—who are also supportive of granting local communities a bigger say in these types of developments. Regarding my private member's bill they said:

Wind power stations should only be located where the local community welcomes them and where they don't have a detrimental impact on the environment. We welcome Christian's bill as it gives the power of veto back to the local people.

This general point about giving local communities a greater say in these developments is something which is strongly supported by people from all walks of life who live in my electoral district. It is not something that people raise in a partisan political way. To emphasise that point I want to make it clear to the House that a number of local councils in my district have passed a resolution relating to this bill expressing their support for what I have proposed. Those councils include—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—I warn the member for McMillan that he is on very touchy ground here in that he cannot anticipate debate. He can talk about the reasons for introducing a bill but under the standing orders he cannot anticipate debate.

Mr ZAHRA —I understand that, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Baw Baw Shire Council, which covers the West Gippsland district, has passed a resolution relating to the bill, which is all about giving local communities a greater say in these developments, as have the South Gippsland and Bass Coast shire councils. The Gippsland Local Government Network has moved a motion which reads:

The Gippsland Local Government Network supports Christian Zahra's private member's bill and will write to all relevant people stating the Gippsland Local Government Network position.

So this is something that has been supported by those three municipalities, where these types of developments are being proposed, and it is being supported, it must be said, in areas which have not traditionally supported the Labor Party. The people on the Baw Baw, Bass Coast and South Gippsland shire councils are just ordinary people serving their communities. They are not Labor Party endorsed candidates or Labor Party councillors—or Liberal Party or National party councillors. They are just ordinary people representing their community.

I think it is a statement of the strength of our feeling in the electorate of McMillan that people from all walks of life in those three separate municipal areas, where these wind power stations are an important issue, have all put aside any personal political affiliation they might have to support this private member's bill and indicate strongly here in the federal parliament that this is not just something I am proposing and think is a good idea but that people in our district think is a good idea more generally. It is a very simple amendment that I am talking about. I have here the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000, which provided the financial incentives which are driving wind power station development in the South Gippsland coastal area and in other coastal areas in Australia. All that I have proposed is a very simple amendment to this legislation.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I believe the member for McMillan is now entering into debate.

Mr ZAHRA —It is a very simple amendment being proposed, which would provide simply for local community input into these power stations. The point that I am making is that this is a straightforward amendment being put forward, and that is why local people in our district support the bill I have proposed. Sometimes with development in country districts—as you would be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, being someone who represents a country district—people are either in the development camp or the anti-development camp. In relation to wind power stations people sometimes say to me: `But what about the jobs in it, Christian? And what about supporting development in these coastal districts?' The point I make is that there are no jobs in these wind power stations that are being proposed. There are not going to be 50 jobs or 100 jobs created—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for McMillan is debating the point. You can argue the reason for introducing the bill but when you start to bring forward argument about the reasons, you are entering the area of debate.

Mr ZAHRA —It is a pretty straightforward thing that I am saying, Mr Deputy Speaker, about whether there are jobs related to wind power stations.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —It is part of the debate.

Mr ZAHRA —Correct.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —You cannot enter into that under the standing orders.

Mr ZAHRA —I am not entering into a debate about that; I am making a point about wind power stations generally. If we are going to have a fair dinkum debate, let us have a fair dinkum debate.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —You are putting forward debatable points.

Mr ZAHRA —It has nothing to do with the private member's bill now.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —You are entering an area which is pre-empting the debate.

Mr ZAHRA —It is a general point.

Dr Emerson —It is a general point about wind power.

Mr ZAHRA —Correct.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I do not really need the help of the member for Rankin.

Mr ZAHRA —The point here, which is pretty easy to understand, is that what I have proposed is not anti-wind power and it is not pro-wind power; it is all about providing local communities with the final say as to whether or not these developments go ahead. That is what is important here. For the information of the House I point out that the Foster Chamber of Commerce—Foster is a small country town in the southern part of my electoral district—has passed a motion adopting as policy its `objection to the development of further wind power stations in South Gippsland'.

So here is a pro-business group indicating that they are against further wind power station development in the district. This really makes clear, I think, that opposing these types of development in certain areas is not being anti-development but rather about having controls over the type of development that takes place. It is my very strong view that local people are best placed to make decisions about developments which take place in their districts.

This is a pretty straightforward amendment that I have proposed and it has received a lot of support from people in our district—a simple amendment to this piece of legislation: the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000. It is something that I think people in this parliament should have an open mind about. I make the point, to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to other people in this parliament, that I am not putting forward my private member's bill in a partisan way. I am asking people in this House to have an open mind about the legislation I am proposing and to listen to the arguments based on their merits.

What I have proposed is not revolutionary. It is simply about us in the federal parliament recognising that when we passed that piece of legislation, the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000, we had no idea—we could not reasonably have been expected to have any idea—that it would unleash this wave of development in sensitive coastal areas like the South Gippsland district. But, here in the parliament, we have to be big enough to recognise when we have made a mistake. I am saying that, if it is good enough for the Commonwealth government to give out the financial incentives which drive this development, it should be good enough for the Commonwealth government to amend the legislation to make sure that the financial incentives are only provided where there is local community support for the wind power station development. So it is a very straightforward thing that I am proposing.

I say to those on the other side of the House: please keep an open mind about this bill that I have put forward. I say to the Prime Minister and the Manager of Opposition Business: please give serious consideration to granting my private member's bill precedence so we can have a proper debate about it and have a vote on it, so we can pass it on to the Senate. Then, hopefully, we can have this amendment that I have proposed carried by the Australian parliament so that in future the financial incentives that the Commonwealth government gives out relating to wind power station development will only be provided if those developments are supported by the local community, as expressed in a motion by that community's local government. I think it is a fair thing to ask. (Time expired)