Press conference, Bannister, NSW

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, thanks for coming out today. We're here in this very beautiful and very productive part of the world to release the Dyer Review into community engagement around renewable energy, and renewable energy infrastructure.

You know we are in the middle of a very important revolution when it comes to our energy generation; important to provide more renewable energy, a more stable grid, cheaper energy and as well as reduce emissions.

But we want to make sure, as important as that national mission is that the regions which host so much of this infrastructure are properly engaged and properly benefitting from the roll out.

Not every renewable proposal is in the right place, and we've shown that we are committed to implementing our environmental approval laws in a way which ensures environmental approvals are rigorously implemented.

But also, I want to ensure, the Government wants to ensure proper, earlier, better engagement. The system we inherited was not fit for purpose when it comes to community engagement, so I asked Andrew Dyer, the Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner to review community engagement.

More than 700 people attended meetings, 500 people put in submissions, so this was a very important and thorough process. And I welcome the report which Andrew handed to me just before Christmas and I'm releasing today in public and in full, and the Government accepts in principle all the recommendations.

Of course, we say "in principle" because they need to be implemented and worked through, not only by the Federal Government, but working in partnership with the States and Territories, and very importantly, Local Government.

If I could just highlight some of Andrew's recommendations: an accreditation and a scheme to ensure that people who are proposing renewable energy developments have a rating system, a rating scheme, so that landowners and communities can see who's got the stars necessary to know that these are serious, credible developers who they can work with in confidence and in good faith, and indeed governments, and I will certainly will ensure that the Federal Government can look at that rating scheme and work with the best rated renewable energy developers.

So there will be a real incentive, whether it be in time with the Capacity Investment Scheme or CEFC and ARENA investments, a real incentive for renewable energy investors and developers to engage properly with communities and get a high rating, a high accreditation so that communities and governments can see that these are worthy, creditable serious proponents.

Like any industry, there are excellent proponents, excellent developers who engage generally and thoroughly with communities and landholders and there are those who need to do a lot better, and those who need to do a lot better also give the entire industry a bad name, and I can understand, if you're a landholder or a community member how you have trouble working out who’s serious, you can engage with. So that's an important recommendation from Andrew.

Also better complaints handling, the introduction of renewable energy Ombudspersons around the country, better dealing with people who have legitimate complaints is, I think, a worthy proposal as well.

And better coordination and better planning of sites. As I said at the outset, not every site is suitable, not every site will proceed, and yet some developers are going down the route of trying to develop those sites by talking to landholders, in some cases raising expectations, when really approval is not realistic, and we need to do better at that across the board.

Now this is a journey, I see it, this report by the Commissioner as a good start, but I see it as a framework we can work with and from and add to going forward.

I make this clear: when I see a proposal or an idea to better engage with communities and ensure better community benefit for farmers and for landholders and communities, I'll grab it. When a suggestion is done in good faith by a community, by a representative, whether it be Farmers For Climate Action or the NFF, I'll be engaging very closely with those groups, and listening to ideas, building on Andrew's report to do even more going forward, to ensure real community benefit.

This revolution is very much in the nation's interest. I want to see it's in the interests of regions, of landholders, of farmers of communities right across Australia as well.

We do have work to do to ensure that's always the case; it's often the case, but we need to ensure it's always the case. As is the case with any big change, there are legitimate, valid issues and concerns that people have that need to be worked through.

There's also disinformation and misinformation for people who do not want to see renewable energy, for people who are opposed to more renewable energy, from politicians and political parties who want to score points and stop renewable energy developments.

That is what it is. I'll always reject and correct disinformation, but I'll also always engage with communities on ways we can better ensure that community benefit.

Now I'm going to ask Andrew Dyer, the Energy Infrastructure Commissioner to say a little bit more about his report, and then we're going to hear from Ken who's a local landholder here who's going to talk about his experiences, and then Tony from the National Farmers Federation, and Peter, from Farmers For Climate Action are going to provide their responses.

But I just end again by saying this is a good start. We need to do more to build, firstly implement Mr Dyer's report, but then build on it and engage further with communities.

I think the evidence that the Commissioner has provided here about the need for further action is compelling. I thank him for his work in preparing this very comprehensive report, and I look forward not only to implementing this report but to building on it further. Andrew.

ANDREW DYER: So one of the challenges of following the Minister is what else is there to say. So thank you, Minister. Just a few notes here. Look, it's really great to be here at Gullen Range Wind Farm today, I've been here on many occasions in the past, not always happy ones.

When I commenced as the Wind Commissioner more than eight years Gullen Range was a wind farm, one of a number of operating wind farms with trouble, complaints and the effects of poor community engagement.

Many of the ongoing issues and complaints of that time were emanated from poor engagement during the early development stages, particularly engagement or lack thereof with direct neighbours to these projects.

Change of ownership of Gullen Range to Goldwind brought in a positive change in attitude, the need to work constructively with communities and particularly the immediate neighbours and the broader community, and especially if you're going to be in the community for a long time.

Under the leadership of Goldwind, our office worked through heaps of complaints to resolve and work for them case by case, together we were able to resolve all the complaints, and the last complaint we received was closed in 2018, so six years ago.

Gullen Range is a terrific example of the benefit of doing things properly and consistently, especially if you start from day one.

Which brings me to the review report. The report is the synthesis of real world experiences from a very diverse range of stakeholders across Australia. We did not write this report by sitting in the office, we went out to the communities and councils and landholders, First Nations people, government and industry to figure out the real problems to solve, and the pragmatic solutions to these problems.

We found truly inspiring examples of engagement excellence, and we also came across many situations which confirmed in our minds that there is more to do, and much more to be done.

The review had strong support across the board and demand to participate in the review are unprecedented. As such, I'm extremely grateful to the hundreds of people who materially contributed to our findings and recommendations.

As the Minister mentioned we have over 500 submissions, over 250 survey responses, and 75 roundtables which over 700 people participated in and our apologies to the many folk who were unable to be part of that process with the schedule that we were working with.

The review report is a blueprint for governments to chart the pathway forward. As the Minister has indicated… the problem with wind farms is they are windy.

The report has just nine recommendations, it's 43 pages long, it is easy to digest and should address community engagement and acceptance of the energy transition.

The recommendations also should materially progress the responsible acceleration of the energy transition and eliminate unnecessary delays resulting in engagement fatigue by community members.

Like a boomerang that always returns if you throw it properly, this report and its recommendations now rest on timely implementation and execution. This will require strong ongoing support and leadership.

In closing I'd like to thank the Minister for this opportunity to lead such an important and timely review, and for his strong focus on the importance of getting engagement right. That's it from me. Enjoy the report. I'm sure you'll be seeking more detailed briefings on the report in due course. I'll hand over to Ken.

KEN IKIN: My name's Ken Ikin, I'm a landholder here at Gullen Range, where actually the wind farm traffic comes through my front gate. My wife and I have been here for 22 years, and initially the information that we had about a wind farm wasn't favourable, and we thought that the world was going to end for us 'cause we'd worked very hard to get enough money to buy this very small property and start a cattle stud.

What happened then was the wind farm people came and talked to us, and we decided that it would be a good idea. We now have about 600 hectares of country leased, so we've increased our capacity from about 40 cows to closer to somewhere between 300 and 400 cows, and being a retired man, that's just enough to keep me busy.

I think the information we had initially from the wind farm was proved to be totally incorrect, such things as where they laid the cable, there's heat comes from it, it will burn the feet of the cows, there was just so much   well, some of the media were saying things that definitely not   behind me our house is 900 metres from the closest wind farm, and we have 30 wind farms within   wind towers within sight, and it's certainly not an issue.

Some of the things that the wind farm has done for the community here in Bannister, which is a small community of roughly nine permanent families, the purchase of the community hall for quarter of a million dollars was very well received and accepted by the community itself, and we now have a very good hall, where we can have meetings such as if there's any bushfires, or that's the centre of the very small community of Bannister.

I've found that over the years I have a relationship with the wind farm people that is a good neighbours relationship. They help me every way they can, I do the same for them, and my neighbours feel exactly the same way.

The noise of the turbines sounds like the surf down the coast, that's if you can hear it. We're standing now about 50 metres from a turbine, it's   well, I can't hear it, I just got used to it, my family has got used to it.

It's certainly been a move in the right direction for my family, for my farming, for my future, and the association I have with the wind farm people, which all my doubts and worries proved to be not correct, and I'm certainly not getting paid for this; this is the truth, this is the facts of life as I see it.

TONY MAHAR: G'day, Tony Mahar, Chief Executive of the National Farmers' Federation. Can I thank the owners of the Gullen Wind Farm for having us here today. Can I thank the Minister, and also can I thank Andrew Dyer for what is a very compelling report and review into a serious issue facing agriculture, rural and regional communities right across the country from Queensland to Tasmania, from WA across to where we are here close to Crookwell this morning, this afternoon.

The report confirms what is, what has been a breathtakingly poor reflection of the intersection between agriculture and renewable energy. What it does is report on very compelling, very categoric reports, results from surveys across the community. Over 90 per cent of those surveyed said that they weren't getting good enough engagement. 93 per cent said they weren't getting good enough resolutions to their issues.

This report is a great thing. What it does is give a platform to the Government, to the industry to act. What we need now is for the Government to make sure that it does implement these recommendations. But it needs to be, as I think the Minister said, this needs to be a starting point. The industry is absolutely committed to working with Minister Bowen and his government to make sure we improve on what has been a pretty poor scenario.

Yes, there are great examples across the board. The results of this survey are compelling and categoric. Things need to improve. So the Government, the industry, the agriculture industry, must work together to make sure that we act on this report, and that we can deliver better results for the commitment to renewable energy, the commitment to agriculture, food and fibre from a domestic point of view, and to rural and regional communities in which agriculture is placed and embedded.

We must get the balance right between being able to produce food and fibre, having profitable, viable, vibrant rural and regional communities, and the intersection between infrastructure.

Now in this case it's renewable energy infrastructure and transmission lines. Let's use this as a platform to get better, to work collaboratively and to make sure that we can continue to have a strong vibrant agriculture farming sector, and that we can also continue to invest in new technology that will make us a more profitable, more sustainable nation. Thank you.

PETER HOLDING: Good afternoon. I'd like to first thank the Minister for inviting us. My name's Peter Holding and I'm representing our CEO Natalie Collard today, because she's in Melbourne and couldn't be here. So, yes, I think, the FCA thinks it’s a pretty good start as the Minister said.

I'm very impressed with the report in the sense that it doesn't hide the problems that have been with the roll out of renewable energy. We support renewable energy, but we want to see it done correctly. We want to see environmental standards met, and we want to see farmers farming forever. So we believe that Andrew's recommendations in this report, and we'll wait to see if they are implemented.

I think one of the interesting ones that's in there is that there needs to be more consultation with the local government in the area. I think there seems to be a tendency to build these things and leave it to local government to try and sort out some of the minor details. They should be consulted. I like the idea of explaining to people why they're needed, that hasn't been done adequately.

And I also like the idea of sorting out which projects are likely to go ahead and which ones aren't. I mean I'm on a community consulting committee for the project that's been in the planning stage for well over 20 years. And it's a long time for the community waiting for something to happen or trying to prevent something happening, and it's just not necessary to put people through that. I think the report is a great start, it's an excellent report.

CHRIS BOWEN: Thanks, Peter. Any questions.

JOURNALIST: Minister, how do you see that things can be done better, and can you explain a bit more about how the rating system would work?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, I mean I'd refer you to the Commissioner's report, and it outlines how things can be done. The rating system of course, is what the Commissioner's recommended to implement, with some expert advice, but rating systems are pretty common around the country now, you know, with various industries, and it's about giving communities and land holders and farmers assurance that if somebody knocks on their door they can check and see whether these guys are serious, to be very frank, if these guys are cowboys. That's what we want.

And I think communities deserve that. So we'll work, you know, to implement, we'll consult with the States, we'll implement the Commissioner's recommendation. I think it's a sensible one, and I think it's one that will work for not just communities as I said before, but governments too, when we're looking at, you know, we have many, many applications about renewable energy developers that we can support, and it’ll help us determine which renewable energy developers should go to the top of that list.

JOURNALIST: There are allegations that the planning of renewable energy, particularly around the Goulburn area is a bit ad hoc, that there are some planned outside the renewable energy zones. Would those be the type of solar farms, for example, that could be rejected under this?

CHRIS BOWEN: Look, I'm not going to comment on any specific applications, obviously, because the environmental process [indistinct] and not every, not every renewable energy development will be inside a renewable energy zone. Renewable energy zones play a role but it's not exclusive.

I simply say this: every development has to go through environmental approvals. Let's call it what it is, we've seen a lot of controversy lately with a Federal rejection of a development. That shows to me the system working. We are very strong supporters of renewable energy developments, but we want the environmental approval system working, and we're committed to assuring that it does.

Any other questions?

JOURNALIST: I have a question, just from my journalist, Jane Norman. She just wants to know, how important are these communities to the energy transition and meeting our climate targets?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, very important.  I mean the regions that powered Australia for so long, Central Queensland, Hunter, Portland, Collie in Western Australia, are the areas that will power us in the future. But more, but more. And we have great advantage in Australia, we have lots of room.

You know, when I'm talking to my friend and colleague, the Singaporean Minister for Energy, she says to me, "Chris, you've got one thing I don't have, which is space." One thing renewable energy needs is space and room. So that gives us a remarkable opportunity and something to be managed.

And as I said, here we are in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, just gorgeous to be in, also very productive, highly productive agricultural land. I think we've heard from Ken that what can happen when the system works well, when the system works well. And we've heard from Tony, and in the report, what can happen when the system doesn't work. We need to ensure that more people have a story like Ken's.

So that's the objective, but clearly, Australia's regions in rural and regional Australia are very important for our energy future, and we want, as I said at the outset, that energy future to be good for the regions as well as good for the country.

JOURNALIST: And you might have already answered this, but I'll just say it in that light, can you understand why communities are worried about the expansion into renewables and the regions, and are you concerned that that might delay the transition to renewable?

CHRIS BOWEN: Change is always hard. Whenever you're coming to people and talking about change, you have in some instances a difficult conversation. That means it's incumbent on me and the Government to explain the need for this change. You know, this is about reducing emissions, but it's also about improving the stability and reliability of our grid.

The biggest strength to reliability of our energy system today is not renewable energy, it's unexpected closures of coal fired power stations at short notice. You know, when a coal fired power station isn't coping and it shuts at an hour's notice or less, that puts huge pressure on AEMO and the grid.

Renewable energy backed by storage and firming is not only the cheapest form of energy but the most reliable, and that's why it's important. But as I said, I completely understand community concerns. There will always be a mixture of genuine questions, valid issues, things that developers haven't thought of, governments haven't thought of, that the community knows best, and we should listen to that.

Then there will be disinformation and misinformation, by bad faith actors who are trying to stop renewable energy, who’ve never really believed in renewable energy, who would like to see more coal fired power stations, and who don't believe in climate change, and there's too many of those in the Federal Parliament.

They'll use valid concerns for invalid reasons. Well, they need to be able to sleep at night, denying climate change, which is now a big reality. Climate change is a massive threat to the productivity of our farms, you know, it's a massive threat to farm profits, changing climate means less productive farms, it means more natural disasters, and I'm telling you this, natural disasters can hit any Australian and any community. I’ll tell you who's most exposed? Rural and regional Australia. People who live in our great regions are most exposed to natural disasters, whether they're bushfires or floods or cyclones. They are more frequent, and they are worse because of climate change. It's one of the reasons why we need to act, and we need to act fast.

JOURNALIST: There are allegations, or certainly claims that rural areas shouldn't be bearing the brunt of all the renewable energy, that there should be more action in the cities, more rooftop solar, and obviously worried about the impact, this is a big renewable energy area here, and lots of concerns.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, rooftop solar is going gang busters. We have the highest rooftop solar in the world, and more and more Australians are putting it on every day. I was in my community, in my electorate today driving between events going to my electorate office, I saw new solar panels going on roofs in Fairfield West. That's happening in every suburb across the country.

But inevitably a lot of action will be occurring in rural and regional Australia, and hence the need for this report, and hence the need to build on the report and make sure that we're making every post a winner, that more people have stories like Ken, a very compelling story and very, in some ways moving story, for Ken, who was a sceptic about wind farms, opposed to wind farms and now is a massive supporter of the benefits and we want hear more stories from people like Ken, that means improving the system.

JOURNALIST: Is this renewable energy moving at such a pace that the storage is not keeping up, given the delays of Snowy 2.0?

CHRIS BOWEN: No. Well, Snowy 2.0 is an important project, we inherited a mess, but it's now back on track, but I mean you're right to this degree, we need more storage, but we're getting there with that as well. I mean pumped hydro is a form of storage, batteries are a form of storage, we see massive grid scale batteries, we're rolling out community batteries, and more and more Australians are installing their own personal batteries as well.

JOURNALIST: I just want to ask about compensation. That's another big issue among the landholders, whether there are any recommendations in the report about that, that it should be beyond their just terms.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, I mean the Commissioner may wish to add. I think the State Governments have done a good job on the East Coast on compensation, $200,000 per kilometre over the life of the arrangements. Queensland has arrangements with neighbours as well. There's going to be a conversation about doing more, always. But I think the compensation regimes the states have put in place are a very, very good start let me state that.

ANDREW DYER: Yes. I think as the Minister said, one of the key things that came through our work was the neighbours to power lines are not catered for currently expect for Queensland which is a fantastic start, but I think there's a more systemic approach to neighbours to power lines. Interestingly at Gullen Range one of the things that came out of the complaints that we resolved many years ago was the need for support for neighbours to wind farms and I’ve seen that's been a very positive, [indistinct]. As you'll see in my report the guidelines, and we need to be very careful about what contracts you’re entering into, it's not just the money, it's all the other terms and conditions that might affect you. So it's a very big topic.

CHRIS BOWEN: Ok, might wrap it up there guys. Thank you, thanks for coming out.