Press conference - Hunter Valley

DAN REPACHOLI: Good afternoon all, welcome to the beautiful Hunter Valley, and what a place it is today. It’s certainly put it on for us today. And we’ve got the fantastic Liddell site in the background from AGL, and what a powerhouse that has been over the years for this area. It will continue to be the powerhouse for New South Wales; it will just be different. So today we’ve got a fantastic announcement that will really help workers, help unions, help this whole area, everyone in the Hunter will be affected by this announcement that Minister Bowen is about to say.

So I’d like to thank Minister Bowen for coming. I’d like to thank my colleagues Sharon, Meryl, the mayors, Steve and Sue as well and all the unions behind us and look forward to just hearing how amazing this announcement will be for this area. I’d like to pass on to Chris Bowen now. Thank you.

CHRIS BOWEN: Thanks very much, Dan. It’s great to be back in the Hunter, my third visit in a month and a half. And the reason why the Hunter is so important is, of course, it has been one of the regions which has powered Australia for generations. And under the Albanese Government regions just like this will be at the centre, the absolute centre, of our economic transformation.

We are going through huge changes in our country and, indeed, around the world. The biggest change since the industrial revolution. This change needs management. It needs care. It needs an approach focused on those at the heart of the change, which is the workers who have powered Australia for so long.

Today I’m making two announcements on behalf of the Albanese Government. Firstly, the creation of a National Net Zero Authority. The authority will have the job of assisting regions like the Hunter, like Central Queensland, like Collie in Western Australia and regions just like it around Australia who are at the core of our energy and our industry in this transformation.

We want this authority to focus like a laser on any obstacles to job creation and investment. We want it to be a one-stop shop for those thinking of coming to regions like this to create new jobs, to create investment, to create jobs for the future. We want it to be a one-stop shop for workers who are thinking about the transformation, how they prepare for jobs for the future what changes they need to make, what retraining they want to consider, how they can best pursue these options.

We want it to be knocking down obstacles to people having an economic future in the Hunter and regions just like it. Coming in, seeing an obstacle, whether it be an obstacle to new jobs or an obstacle to retraining, and demolishing that obstacle. That is the job of the Net Zero Authority. It will be focused, as I said, on the Hunter and on regions just like the Hunter, those regions with coal-fired power stations, those regions with big industrial energy users, those regions with big traditional energy creation, to focus on new energy creation and to ensure that those jobs are being created and are available not only to the people who’ve worked in these facilities but to the kids of the people who work in these facilities for years to come.

If a young person is deciding where they’re going to base their future and has grown up in the Hunter, for example, they’ll make their choice. But I want them and the Albanese Government wants them to have a real choice of staying in the Hunter and working in energy and working in industry if that’s what they want to do. We don’t want that choice taken away from them, and it won’t be taken away from them on our watch.

The second announcement I’m making today is the creation of a new stream of funding under the Powering the Regions Fund, $400 million available to industries in Australia’s regions to decarbonise. Decarbonisation is absolutely essential, but it also takes investment. And we know it’s in the nation’s interests for Australian industries in the regions to be investing in decarbonisation and, therefore, it is in the interests of the government to help. And that $400 million, which will be administered by ARENA, this is a funding injection to ARENA, again, with a laser-like focus on jobs in the regions. On new jobs, decarbonising jobs, jobs of the future.

So this is a good day for Australia’s regions. Australia’s industrial and energy future with all due respect won’t be made in the capital cities; it will be made in places just like this. And capital cities need to have representatives of industries and energy creation in the regions banging down the doors saying, “Get rid of this obstacle.” And what’s the National Net Zero Authority will do.

So I’m very pleased to make this announcement. Before I hand over to Tony Maher who’ll respond and then to Sarah McNamara the Chief Executive of the Australian Energy Council. One last thing: happy wedding anniversary, Dan Repacholi, particularly to your wife Alex, who’s regarded as a particularly patient individual, and thanks for sharing today with us. Tony.

TONY MAHER: Thanks, Chris. This really is a wonderful day. And on behalf of all the energy unions, I want to welcome the government’s announcement on this. We’ve been campaigning for such an authority for about 15 years. And for most of that period we didn’t have anyone to talk to who would listen. And so but we’ve always known it’s going to be necessary.

Now Liddell closed just recently, and we were able, because there’s the sister plant across the road, to get an agreement with the company to transfer people to Bayswater. But future power station closures won’t have that luxury and unions won’t be able to deliver that outcome without the assistance of the government. And so this is an important central government agency that covers a myriad of portfolios put together by a ministerial taskforce driven largely by Minister Bowen. But it needs to have a role in regional development, in infrastructure, in a range of other portfolios, skills and training, industrial relations.

So it’s a big endeavour and it’s decades of work for this authority and if the job is done properly. So the important things are looking after the workers and looking after the host communities and diversifying the economic base of the host communities. And I think if we get the right team in place in such a central agency it will be a great thing.

So we are very grateful to the Albanese Government and to Chris in particular for driving through this change. It’s a big institutional change. It plugs the glaring gap in the institutional response to climate change. And it really gives some meaning to the phrase of leaving no one behind. So it’s genuinely welcomed by workers, genuinely welcomed by the unions, and we look forward to working with the government and with employers to get the right outcome. Thanks very much.

SARAH MCNAMARA: Thank you, Minister, and to Dan for hosting us. The Australian Energy Council really welcomes the government’s announcement of this federal Net Zero Authority today and that’s because there are going to be a lot of challenges ahead as we transition our energy market to a lower emissions future on the road to net zero by 2050. But no challenge is more important than supporting the communities and the workforces in areas of regional Australia where coal plants will be shutting down and exiting.

Now, my members, the energy companies, are well aware of these challenges, and they plan for years in advance for these transitions and they look for opportunities to invest in low carbon technologies in the locations where these plants are currently operating. But in doing that they work closely with state governments and local governments and local communities, but what has been missing to date has been an overarching federal coordinating body to ensure we have a consistency of best-practice approaches across the country in this important work.

So we’re really looking forward to working with the Net Zero Authority as we deal with the exit of coal-fired plant in our system and look forward to meeting our emissions reduction goals. Thank you, Minister.

CHRIS BOWEN: Thank you very much, Sarah. Over to you, folks.

JOURNALIST: How are the members and leaders of this authority going to be chosen? Are they going to be selected from different regions?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yes, there’ll be a broad representation. The cabinet will be considering appointments in coming weeks and we’ll make further announcements after that. This will be up and running on the 1st of July, 1st of July this year as the executive agency. Then we will seek to legislate it over the course of the next 12 months. We want it to get cracking. And then we want to make sure that we have the legislation so that it’s protected, so that future governments will have trouble if they want to repeal it. We want it be to the law of the land. But we also want it to get working, so it will be up and running from the 1st of July and we’ll make further announcements about key appointments. But you should expect them, of course to be broadly representative not only of Australia’s regional makeup but of people with varying backgrounds in the energy transformation and industrial transformation.

JOURNALIST: Are you expecting pushback from the opposition in trying to legislate this?

CHRIS BOWEN: Probably. They’re against everything. I’m not sure why they wouldn’t, I’m not sure why anybody would be against this, but, you know, I’m sure Peter Dutton might try to find a way. But, you know, in all seriousness, though, if they want to support it, it would be very welcome. I mean, this is about bringing people together. And I think it would be a good start to bringing people together to have bipartisanship, but that’s a matter for the opposition.

JOURNALIST: Is it going to have an annual budget?


JOURNALIST: Can you tell us what that is?

CHRIS BOWEN: $23 million for the first year and then further work on future budgets.

JOURNALIST: And will there be an overarching national authority which will be complemented by regional authorities?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yes. So this is a national authority. But, of course, it will work closely, and the reason why we are keeping it fairly flexible is because in every different state and territory there are different existing infrastructures. I mean, we want it to work with state governments, territories. We want it to work with local governments, and I welcome the mayors here today, thank you for your engagement. And so when it’s working here in the Hunter, for example, it will find a different existing infrastructure than it will in Collie in Western Australia where the state government has been very, very engaged in the transition. I was in the Muja coal-fired power station a couple of weeks ago, which has an announced closure and talking to the workers there. Very different infrastructure and different states. I mean, Victoria has taken a different approach in the Latrobe Valley. So it’s very difficult to say a one-size-fits-all model. It will work with existing infrastructure and encourage states also to come up with their own infrastructure to work in tandem and in turn with the national Net Zero Authority.

JOURNALIST: New South Wales Labor made a promise at the state election to set up a Hunter transition authority. Is this going to interfere with that?

CHRIS BOWEN: Complementary. Complementary. I spoke, I briefed Minister Sharp on this announcement a couple of days ago. She very much welcomed it. I’m sure I’m not giving away any secrets. Penny said: “That’s great. It will work with what we’re doing.” I briefed all the, you know, all the energy ministers that I could reach, and it was broadly welcomed across the board.

JOURNALIST: Is there going to be capacity under these frameworks for workers who are currently working in coal mines and power stations to get involved in these authorities, similar to how they’ve been able to do that in Collie?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah, it will be very interactive. Now, of course, that doesn’t mean that there’ll be a board of, you know, a thousand. We’ll need a tightly run management system. But there’ll be various consultation mechanisms. This has followed consultation, the Net Zero Taskforce, which Tony mentioned, chaired by the Prime Minister, I’m the deputy chair. It engaged senior public servants to travel around Australia and consult in regions like this, including the Hunter. We went to most of the key regions and engaged with people. So there’ll be ongoing consultation. But, clearly opportunities to work with workers and with management and the communities will be front and centre of the authority’s task.

JOURNALIST: And, Minister, is it realistic for renewable energy projects to be able to supply the same amount of stable, high-paying jobs that we’ve been able to get in this region from Liddell and from coal mines?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yes, it’s our job to make sure it is. It’s our job to make sure it is. We need renewable energy for all the obvious environmental reasons. But it’s also the biggest economic opportunity facing our country and we want to ensure that that translates into not only jobs but good paying jobs, secure jobs, stable jobs. That’s our job. It’s the job of the Net Zero Authority as well. And I think you’ve got to look at it in terms of the entire infrastructure, the entire supply chain. We want to make more things in Australia. We don’t want to just make renewable energy in Australia; we want to make the things that make renewable energy in Australia. And that will be in the regions.

You know, we’ve put 60 million solar panels on roofs in Australia last decade, 1 per cent of them were made in Australia. That’s not going to continue. And if we get that right and get things like solar panels made in Australia, increasingly and inevitably a lot of that will be occurring in the regions and, again, the authority’s job will be to find obstacles to investment and destroy those obstacles. Knock them over. Get rid of them. Work with us, work with states, work with local government and get job creation going.

JOURNALIST: So one of those projects potentially is the Hunter offshore project. Consultation just closed on that. What’s the next steps for that? When are you going to declare that zone?

CHRIS BOWEN: When I’ve considered all the submissions. When I’ve received the report. I’ve received weekly updates on the consultation I’m pleased to say. But, of course, now the consultation is closed they’ll be brought together. I’ll consider all the various arguments and concerns, not only about offshore wind but about, you know, particular designs of the zone, the borders, the boundaries et cetera. I take this very seriously. I took it very seriously when I declared the Gippsland zone. I made changes. We put out a draft zone and then I made changes after I’d considered the feedback. It will be the same process for the Hunter. I’ll be getting on with it, but I’m also going to consider every submission before I make the final determination. That will take a little while.

JOURNALIST: Will it be declared by the end of the year?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yes, absolutely.

JOURNALIST: Will the authority be working with the state government to unlock mining land around areas like the Hunter Valley? We know that there’s I think close to 130,000 hectares.

CHRIS BOWEN: It will be working with states and local government to unlock jobs for the future, jobs which are key to the decarbonising world, jobs which are key to developing Australia’s potential as an energy powerhouse, renewable energy powerhouse. Obviously that will change. In some areas there’ll be focus on mining of rare earths and critical minerals. That’s less of an issue where we are today. In some areas there’s huge job opportunities there. Or, as I said, down the supply chain, down the production chain, making solar panels, making batteries, making inverters. Whatever it is, this authority will be focused on finding the opportunities, working with private sector on those opportunities, working with workers to ensure that they have the opportunities to take those jobs, take those jobs, and to grow them and grow an economic future.

JOURNALIST: How will Kurri Kurri gas plant fit into the vision for the future?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, Kurri Kurri gas plant I’m pleased to advice is on track, on schedule. I made announcements, or Snowy Hydro made announcements about Snowy 2.0 earlier in the week. But Kurri Kurri I’m pleased to advise is on track. And it will play a role. Anything else?

JOURNALIST: When you say on track, it was meant to open to coincide with the closure of Liddell.

CHRIS BOWEN: On track with the previously announced schedule, which, yes, was running 12 months late. But it’s on track with that most publicly available announcement date. Anything else? All in, all done? Final call. That’s a wrap. Thank you.