Press conference with Assistant Treasurer and Member for Whitlam, the Hon Stephen Jones MP, and Member for Cunningham, Alison Byrnes MP, at BlueScope Steel, Port Kembla

DAVE SCOTT: Good morning and welcome to Port Kembla. My name is Dave Scott. I'm the general manager of manufacturing in Australia for BlueScope Steel. So, I grew up here in the Illawarra. I've moved away, worked for several different jobs, but there's something about coming back and driving down Mount Ousley and looking out over this beautiful region that is the Illawarra between the mountain and the sea, and it's Dharawal land. And I'd just like to acknowledge all Aboriginal elders, past, present and emerging, and anyone here today who is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, in the audience. I'd like to welcome the Honourable Chris Bowen, Minister for Climate Change and Energy, along with our two Federal Local Members, the Honourable Stephen Jones, Member for Whitlam, Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services, and Alison Byrnes, Member for Cunningham. So, welcome.
So, the transition to green energy and steelmaking is complex, relying on changes in technology and critical enablers that will need to be established, including the economy wide build out of firmed, deportable renewable energy generation and infrastructure. So, we know that we will need large amounts of renewable energy to meet our greenhouse gas emissions intensity reduction targets and to achieve our goal of net zero by 2050. And we support today's announcement of the offshore renewable wind zone in the Illawarra. That is, the potential to supply significant quantities of renewable energy to help underpin BlueScope's decarbonisation of iron and steelmaking in Australia.
This announcement also supports investment in local manufacturing and job creation in the Illawarra through the building of a domestic renewable energy component supply chain, with steel being a vital component of the construction of offshore wind towers. So, as Australia's largest steelmaker, we are ready, willing and able to continue our collaboration with the Federal Government to accelerate our transition towards green iron and steelmaking. I'll now pass it over to the Minister to talk more about today's announcement. Thank you.

CHRIS BOWEN: Thanks very much, Dave. Thanks to BlueScope for having us here today. And BlueScope has been such an essential part of the Illawarra's past, but a more essential part of Illawarra's future, here for almost 100 years and will be here for another 100 years, but only if we get the policy settings right. And industries like BlueScope need renewable energy and lots of it. They need constant renewable energy. Offshore wind is exactly that, constant renewable energy. So, today is a big day for the Illawarra. Today I'm announcing that I have declared the Illawarra offshore wind zone.

So, this is important for renewable energy, important for jobs but this is also a balanced declaration. We have listened to community concerns, many, many submissions, many concerns raised. We've sorted through legitimate issues, legitimate concerns that have been raised on behalf of the community. We sorted out misinformation and disinformation, and I have declared a zone which is smaller than that originally proposed and further away from the coast.

One of the concerns raised was visual amenity in this beautiful part of the world, which I know very well, to ensure that that visual amenity is protected. By moving the zone 20 kilometres away, that achieves that outcome. On most days, you won't see wind turbines at 20 kilometres away on most days. Also, we've taken into account environmental concerns and shipping issues to ensure a balanced proposal. Also fishing. Now, I just want to talk a moment about fishing, because there's a lot of misinformation out there about fishing. Some people assume that when you see that declaration on the map that you can't fish inside that area, that's not true. There will be exclusion zones around each turbine, small exclusion zone of around 50 metres. The turbines are usually around two kilometres apart. Within that, people can fish, can go about their recreational fishing as they wish. So, that will all be assessed as part of a licence application. I'm announcing also that licence applications will be open from Monday and will be open until August.
When considering licence applications, obviously there'll be a lot of criteria about how much energy is produced, and the companies involved. One of the key criteria will be local benefit, local content, local jobs, local community benefit funds. People with the best proposals there will be considered very seriously when I can't determine who gets the licence or licences to operate in this wind zone.

Even though we've made the wind zone smaller and further away, it will still generate up to just under three gigawatts, which is enough for 1.8 million homes. That's a lot of energy, and it puts the Illawarra at the centre of Australia's renewable energy future. I want to thank, in particular, Alison Byrnes and Stephen Jones, who have been absolute champions of this community through this process, making clear to me that they want to see the jobs, they want to see the benefit, and they want to ensure that the Illawarra benefits, but also that genuine community concerns are taken into account. And they've been strong advocates for the Illawarra directly, personally to me. They can now stop texting, signalling WhatsApping and emailing and calling me every day about their concerns and making sure that those views are taken into account. We can now get on with the job.

Now today is important, but it's, in many senses, the beginning. There’s a lot more to go. These licence applications will involve community consultations. There will need to be environmental approvals for every particular project, which will need to go through the EPBC Act. Quite similar. Every licence application will need to show me not only community benefit, but also environmental plans, first nations engagement, ensuring that first nations views are taken into account by the applicants, that any archaeology offshore is protected, that any sacred sites are protected. All that gets considered in the licence application process as well. So, we're not going to see wind turbines next week, next month or next year. There's a long way to go, but it's the important step. Very proud that the Illawarra will play such a big role in Australia's renewable energy future and ensure that places like BlueScope, the 9000 jobs involved in steelmaking, apart from the 1700 jobs in construction, the 800 ongoing jobs that will all have to be focused and based here in Illawarra, that Illawarra will play such an important role. I'm going to hand to Alison and Stephen and then we'll take questions.

ALISON BYRNES: Thank you. Thank you, Minister. I just want to thank Minister Bowen for listening. 
Our community, Stephen and I have had many, many, thousands of conversations, emails, communications with so many local residents on this issue. It is a big project, it is a big proposal for our electorate and it was really important that we got out there and we listened and that's what Stephen and I have done. One of the main things that people raised with me was the visual amenities. They had concerns about being able to see it ten kilometres from shore, but they were okay with 20 kilometres. And I am really pleased that Minister Bowen has listened to that feedback.
The other things people raised with me was local jobs and local content. It is great to see that really strong focus on local jobs and local content, including Australian steel, in the proposal today. There is a lot of work still to do. We have to do environmental studies, we have to do a lot of work to make sure that it stacks up environmentally and also financially. As I've said, it is a big project and we will look at these things factually, rigorously and make sure that this is financially and environmentally viable. There's a lot of work to do and I look forward to working with the community going forward. The proponents must respect our community, they must work with our community and they must also give back to our community. Thank you.

STEPHEN JONES: Thanks, Dave. Thanks, Chris. Thanks, Alison. Great to be here. You know, when I left school here in the Illawarra in 1983, tumultuous time, the steelworks went through a major transition, they lost approximately 10,000 jobs. Over the next three years they transformed with significant support from the then Hawke Labor Government. So, that slab caster that we all worked walked through today, that was a result of the steel industry plan and the support that the then Hawke Labor Government put in place to secure the viability of the steel works.
I tell this story because without those changes, which were difficult for the community, this steelmaking plant would not be here today, we wouldn't be making steel within the Illawarra. There were necessary changes, sometimes difficult changes. We invested in the new technology, the modern steel making technology, to secure the viability of the Port Kembla Steelworks. Well, that's what this project is all about today and I want to thank Chris for listening to us.

In a nutshell, the new wind zone will be smaller and it'll be further away, but we get all of the benefits. We get the energy, we get the jobs, powering over 1.8 million homes. But an important part of this is it provides a secure, long term energy source for the steelworks. So, we've got to go through some transformation. We want to continue to make steel and continue to be a region that makes things. We've got to have the energy which drives industry. So, just as we made those difficult transformations in the 1980s, which ensured we continue to make steel here today, we're going to make some transformation over the next decade with energy, renewable energy, which will drive industry in this region for the decades to come. So, thanks so much, Chris. Looking forward to working with you and the community to ensure that the next stage of this listens to the community, gets all of the benefits to ensure that we continue to make stuff here in the Illawarra. Thanks.

CHRIS BOWEN: Thanks, team. Over to you guys.

JOURNALIST: Chris, there's been a very vocal part of the community that didn't want this project at all and nothing you could do would mitigate those concerns. What's your message to them?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, I understand completely. Not everyone's going to be happy. Guess what? When you're the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, you work out pretty quickly that that's pretty much the case across the board. You're going to hear some people who say they're disappointed the area has been shrunk, there are other people who say they don’t want it at all. But what I think we've done is listen to valid and genuine concerns. It's been a very genuine process. If people are against action on climate change, they're not going to be happy about this. I accept that and understand that and I respect the views of people who disagree, but this is a sensible, balanced approach. I'm also aware of groups who strongly support this. You know, I follow both groups on Facebook. There's the pro groups and the anti groups. I don't intervene in debate on social media, but I watched the debate and I'm aware of strong views on both sides. I think this is a good balanced proposal.

JOURNALIST: Can you guarantee that the nation is doing anything [indistinct]?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah, look, there's no doubt disinformation, I wouldn't say misinformation. Disinformation, deliberate disinformation being spread by some, you know, saying that wind turbines actually aren't low emissions or that they're toxic or that they're terrible for whales. All that is a myth. Whales coexist with oil rigs, gas rigs, cargo ships and have done for many generations and coexist with offshore wind around the world. I mean, the first offshore wind went in in the early 1990s. There are genuine concerns of people for whales and of course they get taken into account, but there's also misinformation and disinformation. You know, Peter Dutton didn't care about whales, never mentioned whales in 24 years in Parliament. And now all of a sudden he's a, he's like the rainbow warrior about whales. It's not real. But when genuine concerns are raised, we'll take them into account.

JOURNALIST: Can you guarantee Port Kembla steel will be involved in the construction of these wind turbines?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, we're in discussions, of course. As I said, what I can guarantee is that proposals for licence applications which have strong local content plans, whether it be steel, other components, local economic benefit plans, will receive very strong consideration. It's one of the criteria. One of the key criteria. I don’t just look at the cheapest energy, I look at community benefits. The Illawarra is going to host this, Illawarra is going to benefit from this and I make that very clear, and I don't mind making that clear to the proponents who are about to put in their licence applications, if they put in an application which doesn't have community benefit for the Illawarra, it won't be receiving much attention from me.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]

CHRIS BOWEN: A better way of doing it is to say: do your best to the proponents, give me your best possible local content. And that's one of the criteria I then consider.

JOURNALIST: This project has been scaled back already. Will it be scaled back even further during the next few years.

CHRIS BOWEN: No, this is the zone that I declared. But not every inch of the zone will have a wind turbine. That depends on where the proposal is. Proposals come in, they won't cover the whole zone, and then we'll determine the best proposal.

JOURNALIST: How are you going to make sure you're meeting your climate targets if you're scaling back?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, this won't be up and running before 2030. This is something which is not part of our 2030 target. But I make no apologies for scaling it back because it's genuine community concern.

JOURNALIST: Your critics say that you simply ignored thousands of submissions of concerns.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, if I ignored submissions, I'd be ignoring submissions that were pro it as well. There were submissions pro it, submissions against it and submissions saying, we can live with it, but we prefer a 20 kilometre away. I mean, again, I know I've been around long enough to know that not everybody will be happy and there'll be people complaining today, I know that. There'll be other people very happy, who may be a bit quieter about it. As I said, there's strong views both ways. I know Alison and Stephen have said to me, there's people against it, there's people who come up to them on the street and say, we want the jobs, we're going to get these views.

JOURNALIST: Is it fair to say this will become a blueprint for potential further offshore wind projects around Australia?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, this is um - this is the fourth zone I've declared out of six. I've already declared Southern Ocean, Gippsland and Hunter. This is fourth and I'm currently considering Bass Strait and Bunbury. So, Illawarra is not at the front of the queue for offshore wind. It's part of the process. I've already issued licences for Gippsland and I've well advanced on licences for Hunter and now we're beginning licences for Illawarra. But, you know, I want to see. I want to see the Illawarra be world's best practice when it comes not only to making energy but benefiting from energy.

JOURNALIST: Dave, can you tell us, will this be enough, the scaled back zone, to supply the amount of renewable electricity that BlueScope needs to decarbonise?

DAVE SCOTT: Yeah. So, in our transition, I know we will need large volumes of firmed, affordable, renewable energy. So, this will form an important part of the mix. It's yet to be seen about how much we will actually require. We have estimates and we've done some numbers. So, if we think about hydrogen, if hydrogen were to stand up and it was to be green electricity, we would need around 15 times the amount of power that we use now. So, that's in the gigawatts. So, this is a very important part of that mix. It's a very important volume of renewable energy that will go towards supplying the energy that we need for decarbonisation.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct].

DAVE SCOTT: Look, that remains to be seen. It's our pathway and we're investigating the technology. We're also investigating what it actually - what those volumes of renewable energy that we want. It could be that we take large amounts of that renewable energy that's produced from the offshore zone here, but it could be that we also just take renewable energy from the grid, a decarbonised grid.

JOURNALIST: Would you like it to be larger, though, to supply that now? Would you have liked it to be larger?

DAVE SCOTT: Well, I think the community has spoken and I think the government has listened to the community about their concerns. So, I support what's been proposed.

CHRIS BOWEN: Now, I don't know about you guys, I'm getting pretty wet and cold, so just a couple more.

JOURNALIST: A clean energy investing group says that the government won't hit its 82 per cent renewables target by 2050?

CHRIS BOWEN: We'll hit the target. We'll hit the target, but we'll hit the target responsibly. There will be environmental approvals, there'll be a process, and proponents need to go through that process. Not every renewable energy project is in the right place at the right time. They must meet environmental standards. Tanya Plibersek is doing a great job. She's approved 50 projects since she became the Minister. That's more than the Abbott and Turnbull governments combined, but she'll get it right. One more question.

JOURNALIST: Will it add substantially to the cost of these things, putting them 20 kms out?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, it doesn't. No. The transmission cost is not material.

JOURNALIST: What is the cost of this project in its entirety?

CHRIS BOWEN: That depends on the proponents. Proponents have to put the application in.

JOURNALIST: National’s leader made no secret of his support for nuclear [indistinct]

CHRIS BOWEN: Right, I hope he announces where he's going to put his nuclear power plants here.

JOURNALIST: There is concern in the community, are you not worried about what that sort of what that [indistinct] may cause?

CHRIS BOWEN: In what regard?

JOURNALIST: I just wonder, will, if he's coming here and talking about his concerns about the project, and there is already agitation -

CHRIS BOWEN: Look, David Littleproud doesn't believe in action on climate change. When David Littleproud is, you know, Barnaby Joyce in a slightly better suit. So he's trying to stop renewable energy being built around Australia. If he's serious about it, when he's here on Monday, I understand, he'll announce where he's going to put his nuclear plants and he'll announce his 2030 target. I mean, they're saying they'll tell us their 2030 target after the election. You ask legitimate question of our 2030 target, I can tell you what ours is: 43 per cent. What's Mister Littleproud's? What's Mister Dutton's? They're saying they'll tell us after the election. Well, I'll tell you what, If they won't let you know, vote no. Vote no to them. All right, that's a wrap.