Press conference in Bunbury, Western Australia

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, thanks for coming, everyone. Today is a very important day for energy and for jobs and for Western Australia’s industrial future. You know, Australia is the world’s largest island. And whereas offshore wind exists in many countries around the world, as we speak today there is no offshore wind in Australia, the world’s largest island, and that’s got to change.

And we know that Western Australia is going to need a lot of new energy in the decades to come. We know that the South West Grid is predicted to need 50 gigawatts more electricity between now and the early 2040s. And we know that this part of Western Australia, this industrial powerhouse, will need more clean, green energy as investors and consumers demand decarbonisation. And we want to see more jobs created here in Bunbury, here in this part of the world.

And so today I am beginning consultation on a new offshore wind zone for Bunbury and surrounding areas. Offshore wind is energy-rich. It gets very windy off our coast. Offshore wind is also consistently windy. The International Energy Agency calls offshore wind dispatchable renewable because it’s almost always windy. And that means it’s reliable energy.

It's also very jobs rich. Because the turbines move very fast they need a lot of maintenance. That means maintenance workers, and because it’s offshore it means a port to service it. And that means maritime jobs, shipping jobs, shipping support jobs. So offshore wind is more jobs rich than other types of renewable energy.

It’s important, of course, we get it right. And so today I’m beginning consultation on the zone. I’m putting out a draft zone for feedback for consultation. People will have very real and legitimate questions about the impact on the environment, impact on First Nations people – and First Nations engagement will be very, very important – impact on whales and other marine life, and, of course, offshore wind co-exists with whale migration around the world, but we’ve got to make sure we get it right.

So this consultation period is important. Consultation will be open until May for this zone. Feedback and submissions will open from today. There’ll be information sessions in Bunbury, Busselton, in Mandurah for people to come and get information and provide feedback and people can put in submissions.

Also, I want to work very closely with industry, with unions and with others to make sure we are maximising the economic benefit for Australia, for Western Australia and for this region. This is the beginning of the process – beginning of a long process. This will take many years to roll out. But that will give us the chance to ensure that we’re making more things in Australia not just making renewable in Australia but making the things that make renewable energy in Australia.

And that will come later in the process as well. This is the beginning of consultation on the zone. Then when I declare a zone I’ll then invite applications for feasibility licences. Applicants for those feasibility licences will need to show me their local benefit plans, their local content plans, their jobs plans, their worker plans, their engagement plans, their environment plans to get a feasibility licence.

But today is a very important day. We know we’re living through Western Australia peak energy demand. Western Australia has been setting new records in recent days for electricity use. It’s going to need more electricity in the future. We are partnering with the Cook Labor Government to deliver for Western Australia in many instances, and today comes on top of our $3 billion commitment for Rewiring the Nation in the Pilbara. Yesterday’s my announcement in Karratha of a hydrogen hub for Karratha, the work that I’m doing with Minister Reece Whitby on the renewable energy transformation agreement.

All of this is focused on the needs of Western Australia and the needs of Western Australians. But I want to ensure that Western Australia, that Bunbury and this area benefits from renewable energy, benefits from the job creation possibilities. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get it right, as I said. We begin consultation today, and a lot of work to do with industry, with unions, with ports to make sure we’re maximising economic benefit. But I’m really looking forward to getting the sleeves rolled up and getting on with that job here in Western Australia.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: A lot of locals are concerned about the offshore wind turbines potentially disrupting [indistinct]. What do you say to them?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, we are starting consultation with the zone at least 20 kilometres from shore and in most instances more than 35 kilometres from shore. On most days you won’t see those wind turbines, and also today later on they’ll be on the website artists’ impressions of what it will look like. And on a clear day many people will struggle to see these turbines from the coast with the zone we have put out. On a less clear day you won’t see them at all.

So these are the sorts of – again, this is open for consultation. If people have got concerns about that I’m happy to hear the feedback. The two zones that I’ve declared so far after consultation I’ve changed the zone – listening to people and made changes but have declared them and proceeded but have taken on board feedback. That’s the process we’re starting today.

JOURNALIST: After that consultation process, then would be there any scope for them to be moved further out to, say, not have any within 20 kilometres?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, that’s what the consultation is.

JOURNALIST: Yep, so [Indistinct] feedback?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, that’s what we’re asking people’s feedback on. Obviously, I’m putting out a draft map. This is what we think might work. But if people have concerns – whether it is amenity, what it looks like, whether it is environmental impacts, First Nations impacts, tourism impacts – people can put those submissions in and I’ll consider them.

JOURNALIST: The commercial fishing industry have raised a few issues about the future for them – the space is just getting smaller and smaller that they can fish. Do you see a future there? Are you taking that into account?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yep, absolutely I’ll be taking it into account. Now, fishing and offshore wind can co-exist, but it’s not automatic that it can. It needs work on both sides to make sure that fishing and offshore wind can have a future together.

I’ve had some talks with the local fishing industry already. I’ll have more talks over the consultation period. Again, if people say, “Look, we don’t believe climate change is real, we don’t like renewable energy, we don’t want this at all,” that’s a pretty brief conversation with me. But if people say, “We understand why you’re doing this, but we’ve got these issues and concerns we want to deal with,” then they’ll have good conversation with me. And that’s a conversation I’m up for with the fishing industry. I want to see, of course, Western Australia continue to have a thriving fishing industry. I also want to see people having clean energy onshore and lots of jobs created as we go.

12,000 jobs during construction, 6,000 ongoing based on this zone. 20 gigawatts of power, which is just under half of the needs of Perth and the South West Grid over the next 20 or so years, so there’s a lot going for this. But we’ll get it right as well.

JOURNALIST: What parts of the plan aren’t flexible?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, it’s all up for consultation. But, as I said, this is the draft zone that I’m proceeding with – putting out for consultation. Just over 7,000 square kilometres. If people have views that it should be a bit smaller or it should move a bit, people can put in submissions. But in other zones, for example, I put a restriction on height after getting feedback. These are the sorts of things people can put submissions on.

JOURNALIST: Does that mean that not having it here at all?

CHRIS BOWEN: People can put in that submission. Obviously I’m keen to see Western Australia benefit from offshore wind, but people can make sure views clear.

JOURNALIST: What strategies are you prepared to implement if concerns are raised?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, what I do is listen to the concerns. Now, obviously, if people are experts in marine life they can put in their submissions. We can consider that. You can have corridors put in. There’s all sorts of you can do. Also, it’s important to note this is stage 1. So stage 1 is consultation on the zone. Stage 2 is feasibility licences – people have another say. Stage 3 is commercial licences – people have another say. And stage 4 is environmental approvals, which is outside of my portfolio. It goes to Minister Plibersek for approval separate to me. And the proponents, the wind farm operators, need to have dealt with all the environmental concerns to get environmental approvals.

JOURNALIST: There have been a number of projects already suggested by private companies. What have you made of those ones?

CHRIS BOWEN: Look, that’s a matter for them. And, really, they now need to look at the zone I’m putting out and see if they can fit their plans into the zone. I welcome the private sector interest, obviously. That’s one of the things we consider about where to put a wind farm – wind zone; we’re not going to put them where there’s no private sector interest. But also they need now to work with the government’s proposal and make it work for them.

JOURNALIST: With similar projects released to communities over on the east coast, how are you going to be trying to get the west coast community on board?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, in my experience – which is now substantial in doing offshore wind zones – you get a very wide range of views. So, yes, there’s some controversial ones. Gippsland, on the other hand, has been very well supported, very strong community support. Bass Strait – consultation has just finished, very strong community support for a big zone in Bass Strait. The Illawarra, you know, both sides represented. Hunter; strong views in different parts of the area. So, look, that’s what we’re doing – opening it up for feedback, opening it up for consultation and taking it on board.

We’ve got to get that consultation right. I’m not here to suggest that at the end of the consultation people will say, “Ah, that minister got everything right. Everyone’s a hundred per cent happy with everything he decided,” because that world doesn’t happen, right? That world doesn’t exist when you’re making a big decision. But everybody will get a say and everybody will get a chance to have their feedback, and everybody’s feedback will be considered in making the final decision.

JOURNALIST: You say it will create jobs for thousands of workers. Where are those workers going to stay?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well that’s something that we would then – remembering that we are at the beginning of a process here, I mean, we are not going to see first power this decade. We are talking around a 2030 timeline to get all this up and running. That’s something then the state government, us and local government would work together on, with the proponents. You know, if they’re going to bring in – create thousands of jobs, they’ll also need to work with us on housing and other things.

JOURNALIST: I would argue, though, that it would need to be something considered at this stage, like locals aren’t really [indistinct].

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, it’s part of the planning process. It’s beginning that planning process today.

JOURNALIST: What are your main concerns about the project getting up?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, offshore wind around the world takes a long time to get up and running, because these are big projects. I mean, this is obviously great for the port. This would create thousands of jobs here in the port, but the port is going to need to consider how it interacts. These are big moving pieces. This is – we are, you know, at different ends of the supply chain to the rest of the world. That’s why I want to see more things made in Australia as well, more parts of the componentry made in Australia. So these are all sorts of things we will work on with industry.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]

CHRIS BOWEN: The proponents will have responsibility for maintaining them, owning them, operating them and disposing of them in due course.

JOURNALIST: Is there any discussion around communities ownership?

CHRIS BOWEN: That’s a matter for the community. If the community wants to take – talk to proponents about some ownership, that is something we're very open to.

JOURNALIST: There’s been a lot of debate in WA recently about EPA laws. Where do you stand on the matter? What do you think is the right balance?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, the right balance is making sure that EPA – all environmental approvals are robust, clear and strong but we get to outcomes as quickly as possible – yes or no.

JOURNALIST: So do you support the government scaling them back?

CHRIS BOWEN: I think that’s a matter for – the Cook Government’s reforms are a matter for the Cook Government. Tanya Plibersek has an environmental process underway, reform process underway, and we work closely together on all these things.

Any other wind farm questions?

JOURNALIST: There was a WA minister last year who raised concerns about a potential for off wind farm to do with migratory birds and their wetlands. What do you think of that?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well again, that’s – these are things that are open for consultation, and environmental approvals will be very strict.

JOURNALIST: So the Coalition and Liberal MPs last week said that they would consider replacing old coal-powered stations with nuclear plants. We obviously have an ageing coal station in Collie. What was your response to that perspective?

CHRIS BOWEN: It’s a fantasy. I mean, they might as well issue a Golden Book. That’s how realistic nuclear power is for Australia. We don’t have a nuclear industry in Australia. It would take years to get one up – not years, decades. It’s the most expensive form of energy available in the world. Renewable is the cheapest; nuclear is the most expensive. Coal and gas come in between.

So why anybody would propose an answer for Australia which is slow to build, expensive to build and does not have social licence and community support is beyond me. But I’d say this: the time for talk is over. If the Liberal Party wants to propose a nuclear reactor for Bunbury let them come out and announce their policy and the people of Bunbury will have a say on it. Come on. Come on, Mr Dutton. The next election is getting closer. Tell us what your policies are. Don’t say, “Oh, we’re going to think about nuclear.” Show us where they’re going to be and show us where the cost is. Then we’ll have a debate about it. That’s a debate I welcome.

JOURNALIST: Earlier this month you announced plans for a fuel efficiency standard in light of low EV uptake and to [indistinct] with the environment. Do you regret not introducing it sooner?

CHRIS BOWEN: I regret – sorry, I regret that it wasn’t done much sooner, but we’ve been in office for two years. It should have been done about 15 years ago. The previous government tried it in 2017. Minister Fletcher when he was still in parliament proposed it and he failed to introduce it. Here we are fairly early in our government proceeding with it. A new vehicle efficiency standard is good for motorists. It gives them more choice. It’s good for emissions, good for cost of living because it means using less fuel is paying less at the bowser. So this is a win-win-win. Yes, the previous government should have gotten on with it faster, but here we are in our first term proceeding to implement one.

JOURNALIST: Some Western Australians say it’s not good for motorists for Western Australians in particular given the long distances we have to drive.

CHRIS BOWEN: Who says that?

JOURNALIST: Lots of people?



CHRIS BOWEN: Who? Who said that?

JOURNALIST: People I’ve spoken to at, like, a car rally.

CHRIS BOWEN: The longer you drive, the more you drive, the more you’ll save. If you’re getting a more efficient car, you’ll save more if you’re fuel efficiency is improved. You know –

JOURNALIST: The reason that EV uptake has been –

CHRIS BOWEN: It’s not about EVs. It’s not about EVs alone. You know, the United States has had vehicle efficiency standards since just after I was born in the early 1970s. And you can get a big truck, a pickup truck in the United States today after having vehicle efficiency standards for 50 years. But the United States car fleet is twenty per cent more efficient than the Australian car fleet. So the United States motorists, American motorists, pay 20 per cent less for their fuel than Australians because they use 20 per cent less fuel.

It’s not just about EVs. There are models available of cars – models available in Australia, you can get more efficient models overseas because they’re required to as a matter of law. Australia and Russia are the only two major economies in the world without these standards. Why should Australians miss out any longer when the United States has the standards, Canada has the standards, Europe has the standards, China has the standards. Those well-known renewable energy woke warriors in Saudi Arabia have had the standards for years. Why do motorists overseas get those standards but Australians miss out?

Eighty-five per cent of cars sold in the world get – are sold under vehicle efficiency standards, but not in Australia. Australians are missing out. It’s about time Mr Dutton got on board and backed better choices for Australian motorists. Australians have a cost of driving crisis because they’re paying too much for petrol because they’re using cars which are less fuel efficient than overseas. We have a plan to fix that. It’s out for consultation at the moment in our normal conciliatory way about the exact model, but it’s way beyond time that Australians had access to those better, cheaper to drive cars. As the Liberal Party said, not that long ago in 2017 when they were proposing it in office, they are so negative they oppose our policies – fair enough – but they’re now opposing their own. That’s pretty negative.

JOURNALIST: And is it true that the same models of cars that are sold in Australia are more fuel efficient overseas?

CHRIS BOWEN: In some instances, yes.

JOURNALIST: Is that due to the fuel efficiency standards?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yes. Yes. Because we don’t require car companies to send us more efficient vehicles, as they do – cars in Europe are forty per cent more efficient than Australia. People understand that, you know, driving in Europe is a bit different. Cars in the United States are twenty per cent more efficient than Australia. They drive long distances, similar sort of economy to ours. It’s well beyond time Australia caught up.

Any other questions? Thanks for coming. That’s a wrap.