Speech to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia


Two hundred and thirty five years ago, eleven ships sailed into the magnificent harbour we can see from this room.  The lives of the Gadigal people who watched these strange vessels, and the lives of all our First Nations peoples, was changed for ever.

Acknowledging the elders of the Gadigal is a small act of recognition.

Later this year our nation will have the opportunity for our most important act of recognition and reconciliation.

Some people say this is a radical change.

But what can be radical about recognising our country’s original inhabitants in our governing document and providing a voice for them on matters which impact on them?

New Zealand reached a constitutional settlement with the Maori people in 1840.

They enshrined Maori representation in 1867.

Canada recognised their first peoples in their Constitution in 1982.

Thirty five years ago next month the Barunga Statement was handed to Bob Hawke.

Six years ago next week our country received the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Surely, 2023 is Australia’s time.

Thank you to those of you leading and advocating this for this important moment for our country.

Well, congratulations to CEDA for convening this important conference on the Rewiring the Nation program.

CEDA has a long heritage of involvement in important economic conversations of the day.

And there is no conversation, not one, more important to our economic future than the energy transition well underway in our country.

Making this energy transformation as smooth and efficient as possible, and maximising our potential to be a renewable energy power is the key to our economic prosperity like no other issue.

Australia has more to lose from climate change than any other developed country and more to gain from our renewable potential.

That’s why I regard this as the most important job I have ever done.

And Rewiring the Nation is one of the most important elements of our energy transition plan.

It’s an economic plan.

A plan for our regions.

A plan for emissions reduction.

There’s no transition without transmission.

The detractors and naysayers make misinformed arguments about gold-plating and unnecessary works.

This is of course just plain wrong.

Rewiring the Nation is simply about making sure our grid is fit for purpose and future proofed to get energy from where it is made, to where it is consumed.

It doesn’t make sense to invest in and build new renewable projects if we can’t utilise the energy they produce when they are up and running.

The need for new transmission is like the need to upgrade a road.

We aren’t driving on the same roads that were built 50 years ago – new and expanded towns need new infrastructure, heavier traffic needs more heavy-duty roads –
The same is true for transmission.

Our transmission grid needs a massive upgrade to make it fit for purpose for a modern energy system, so that’s what we are doing.

RTN progress update

And we have made good progress.

In our first year in office we have struck funding agreements with New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

No funding negotiation with any state is ever entirely without its challenges.  But good will and good faith has seen these deals reach fruition.

We prioritised Tasmania for negotiations primarily of course because of the importance of the Marinus Link, which will see Tasmania move from being 100% renewable to 200% renewable.

The focus has been on procurement of the long-lead items, and work is well underway.

The project is progressing through its environmental and planning approvals.

In Victoria, no project is more important than VNI West.

I am advised that consultation on route options has concluded and AEMO is expected to soon release the project assessment conclusions report – the final stage of the RIT-T process, identifying the recommended route.

This is a major step towards enabling the CEFC to consider finance for the VNI West project.

And the NSW agreement was full of important projects: none more important than HumeLink.

Of course through the Rewiring program, the Commonwealth is underwriting the early procurement of long lead items such as transformers.

This is enabling the company to do a bulk procurement order, addressing supply chain risks and driving down the costs for consumers, and helping the project to be delivered on time.

The focus right now is procuring these long-lead items.

Regulatory approvals for the final elements of Humelink are expected next year. 

This is the progress on the first three jurisdictions.

While I obviously can’t go into details, I am pleased with the progress of negotiations with other jurisdictions and am looking forward to making more announcements in coming months.

This is a big task.

But the opportunities are enormous – especially for job-creating, investment-attracting, nation-building projects in the regions.

But equally the challenges are real.

Supply chain constraints are very real across the board.  And in relation to transmission, we aren’t the only country undertaking such a task, so we are competing for products in an environment of tight construction schedules.

The timing of our announced deals with New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania has been important to allow orders to be placed for key equipment in a very tight supply chain environment.

Of course, managing the labour market is also a challenge.

But a good challenge to have, as many jobs will be being created when our construction is fully up and running.

But I will be frank with you and say that in my view, as big as the supply chain and labour market issues are, when it comes to transmission, social licence is the most important issue we have to face.

A near-total rebuild of the grid comes with challenges, particularly for the communities where projects will be built.

It would be easy, but wrong, to dismiss those concerns as just NIMBYism.

In my experience, most concerned community members are not anti-renewables, anti-transmission or anti-progress.

Nor, in most cases, are they opposed to the projects going ahead if their concerns are addressed.

They see the need to get renewables into the grid. But they also see the local economic, social and environmental impacts of these projects.

Before the election, I said I thought the Regulatory Investment Test for Transmission, RIT-T process was seriously flawed and badly in need of improvement.

The RIT-T regulatory process was designed for small grid augmentations, not a complete grid re-build.

And I’m pleased with the progress we are making in improving the regulatory process.

While reforming a complex regulatory regime is, itself complex, our approach to reform really comes down a four point plan:

Broader benefits. 
Earlier consultation.  
Local dividends and Stronger Engagement.
Firstly, broadening the benefits of transmission development.

Until now, the economic pros and cons were the key driver of the RIT-T process – not the social benefits, or risks.

A cost benefit analysis which does not take appropriate account of the views of local communities is not a fit-for-purpose process for communities or for TNSPs.

Last month I submitted rule changes to the Australian Energy Market Commission to commence this reform process, with a fast-tracked process set to see the changes in effect from November this year.

The rule changes seek to improve community outcomes and ensure the timely and efficient delivery of major transmission projects.

We’re making an important change to ensure the benefits of the lower rate of RTN finance are fairly shared between both consumers and project developers – so that developers don’t just pocket the lower rate while passing the status quo onto consumers.

This concessional finance rule I have proposed is required to pass on the benefit of Rewiring the Nation concessional finance to consumers. Without this rule change all the benefit of concessional finance would flow as far as TNSPs.

These changes are making sure social dividends are a key part of the equation, not just a basic economic analysis.

Secondly, earlier consultation is critical.

There have been too many examples where communities were not consulted in the early planning for projects.

Communities make a legitimate argument that they weren’t consulted until the die was cast.

The social license rule change will clarify Transmission Network Service Providers (TNSP) community consultation expectations for actionable ISP projects and will improve stakeholder engagement with communities affected by these projects.

This is a sensible change which will put them in the picture earlier, and make consultation more genuine, not a tokenistic step in the process.

Thirdly, we need to improve the local dividend of projects.

In New South Wales and Victoria we have seen a big step up in compensation for landholders with both states relatively recently introducing payments of $200,000 a kilometre to landholders hosting new major transmission.

Importantly, these payments being made over a period of twenty years in NSW and 25 years in Victoria means land holders are able to factor the future value of the payments into their re-sale price when they come to sell their holding.

Equally important are meaningful non-financial benefits in partnership with the community – investments which build longer-term wealth and capacity, not just improve local amenity. 

Investments like longstanding scholarships rather than just new netball courts or shade sails.

Finally, stronger and better engagement.

My department is working with the Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner, Andrew Dyer, and State governments to produce a framework for community engagement – a best practice guide.

Once finalised, these will act as an A-Z of community engagement, with clear expectations outlined to help TNSPs in their planning for projects.

This is a simple framework which will make a significant difference, and pleasingly all of this work is already underway, with significant progress on the framework expected by the end of the year.

Stronger and better engagement also includes stronger and better engagement with First Nations communities.

This is already a priority for State and Territory Energy Ministers, and the Commonwealth has allocated $5.5 million towards a First Nations Clean Energy Strategy to ensure First Nations people have a say in energy policies and programs in the transition to net-zero. The strategy will also help identify priority reforms and areas for future investment.

The strategy will be co-designed with First Nations communities and organisations, An Expert Advisory Committee will assist the development of the strategy.

Now each of these four points is important.

And reform of the regulatory regime is vital.

But I will also be frank you about this: no regulatory regime can take the load of improving community outcomes alone.

A lot of our success here will depend on real and genuine community consultation and engagement by proponents.

I have seen this done well, and I have seen it done badly.

And projects where consultation is done well are quicker, easier and better in the long run.

So I have a simple request to those involved in the sector in the rolling out of transmission: do it well.

The communities, your company and our country will be better off as a result.


So, thanks again for convening this conference.

There are important matters to discuss.

Because while I’m pleased with what we have achieved in our first year, I am far from satisfied.
We are just getting started.  There is so much more to do.

And I look forward to partnering with many of the organisations represented in this room as we do so.