I rise to make a contribution to this debate in support of Mr Tee’s motion. I do so because of the incredible importance of renewable energy and its industry to Western Victoria Region. I particularly refer to wind energy in terms of jobs and its direct and indirect contribution to local economies.
Western Victoria has the vast majority of wind farms in the state. Its association with the wind industry goes back a considerable length of time. Several wind farms are currently being constructed in the area, but there are also a significant number of wind farms in the queue — in the planning process.
That is one of the drivers for the level of anxiety that is being played out in our communities and indeed in the local media.
It is not surprising that the local media in the length and breadth of Western Victoria Region often covers wind industry issues, closely following government policies as well as related issues. I must say the amount of media attention on the issue in the past week — whether it be in the local newspapers, on TV, on the radio, in the Weekend Australian, in the Sunday Herald Sun or in the Age — has been particularly large, to say the least.
I want to give the house some of the flavour of the concerns that have been expressed, particularly locally. We have obviously heard from the key wind industry proponents, Keppel Prince and Pacific Hydro. Pacific Hydro was quoted in the Warrnambool Standard as recently as on 22 March as saying that at this point it will not:
“… be taking any new project through planning in Victoria.
One of the key issues with the 2-kilometre setbacks, under our current reading, is that it only takes one farmer to say no and they have veto over $300 million worth of regional investment.”
On ABC south-western Victoria radio in Warrnambool on 21 March, Chris Schulz, a partner at Allens Arthur Robinson, the law firm that represents some of the large wind energy companies, was quoted as saying local governments did not have the resources to handle large wind farm applications. Mr Tee quoted from an article about this issue in the Colac Herald of 11 March in which Rob Small, the chief executive officer of the Colac Otway Shire, indicated:
“This decision will place an enormous burden on councils which will have to process and assess applications for new wind farms.”
Again, as recently as yesterday, on ABC radio at 6.32 a.m. we heard that Keppel Prince Engineering:
“… could be forced to move interstate under the Victorian coalition government’s new wind farm planning rules. Some wind energy companies plan to halt investment in new Victorian projects under the rules that include tougher restrictions on the proximity of turbines to houses. Keppel Prince general manager Steve Garner says it will move interstate if work dries up in Victoria.”
Again as recently as yesterday Keppel Prince also said it required the government to pay much closer attention to this issue.
There have been letters to the editor in almost every local newspaper.
There was one in the Ballarat Courier on Monday from Brian Morison, the executive officer of the Building Designers Association of Victoria. Mr Tee has quoted from that letter today, so I will not do so, but Mr Morison’s letter makes a very strong argument that council planning departments are vital tools for ensuring that in particular the housing needs and expectations of Victorians are met and that this new planning control responsibility is a move in completely the wrong direction.
Yesterday in an article entitled ‘Spinning out of control’ the Warrnambool Standard said:
“New laws giving local councils planning control threatens proposed wind farm projects, energy companies say.”
That is just a very small taste of some of the coverage in western Victoria in the last 48 hours.
I will summarise the issues that have been raised. They essentially go to the new planning regime being a burden on councils and planners at the local government level not having expertise in relation to wind farms. The MAV (Municipal Association of Victoria) has also been quoted as saying it thinks there is a possibility councils may play politics and deliberately block proposals. We of course are concerned that there will be a loss of millions of dollars of potential investment, particularly in the south-west and particularly as a result of what Keppel Prince Engineering is saying. Keppel Prince is a local manufacturer based in Portland employing about 450 people. If its threat in any way comes true, that will have an enormous impact on the Portland and south-west Victorian community, as it and Alcoa are the two largest employers in that area.
We need to have a solid look at what this policy means, because it is not fair in any fashion or form to have such a large group of people have their job insecurity waved in their faces.
We also have the issue of a single person now having the potential to veto a project worth hundreds of millions of dollars, a veto based on a 2-kilometre restriction which, as Mr Barber has pointed out, is not based on any scientific argument. Then there is the issue that the Baillieu government gave bipartisan support to Victoria’s renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020, yet going through with these guidelines would put that policy in question as well as under the microscope.
With these points, and given the importance of this issue, I note that it is important for us to give voice to all stakeholders with issues — those who are being affected by the changes.
I support this motion, because it provides an opportunity for not just one group but a range of groups to come and talk to us about their concerns. We are not talking about only a very small group of people with concerns, and we are not talking about just one group with vested interests. The scope of concern about this issue in the stakeholder community is enormous. I therefore think it is only proper that we allow these groups to participate in an inquiry.
I support the motion before us, because I think it is only proper that the issues raised by the stakeholder communities are properly looked at by the newly formed Legislative Council Standing Committee on the Environment and Planning. I believe the government voting down this motion — a motion that gives voice to the numerous issues and the numerous stakeholders — would flout the government’s own views about consultation. I ask government members whether they intend to vote down this motion.
Are government members intending only to allow matters to be referred to reference committees if the prerequisite for doing so requires such matters to be encompassed by coalition policy or coalition election promises? It is important to get the answer to that question on the table fairly early in this parliamentary term.
What have we set these committees up for? Are we only allowed to give these committees references for matters the government indicates there should be inquiries into? If that is so, I call on the government to show me the standing order that supports the position that references should be based only on government policy or the government’s own election promises. I ask government members: is this the way they intend to govern? Will government members shut down the new upper house committee structure before it gets off the ground and narrow the areas of inquiry to the whims of the government?
In conclusion, I support the motion before this house and I encourage all members to support it. I also encourage a full and proper examination of the issues confronting western Victoria and its very important wind farm industry.