Press conference, Newcastle

SHARON CLAYDON: Good morning. Thank you so much for being here this morning for what is going to be a super exciting announcement for Newcastle. It gives me great delight to welcome our Minister for Climate Change and Energy back to Newcastle. No stranger to these shores and, of course, a very keen focus in regions like Newcastle and the Hunter that are going to play a major role in leading the way in terms of a decarbonised global economy. 

So we've got a lot of skin in the game here in Newcastle, of course. So having an announcement around a large scale reliable, clean energy source is vital to our region, not just in terms of our local economy, and local jobs, but our local industries and our environment. This is a project that's going to be good for jobs, good for the economy, and good for our environment.

On that note, I'm going to hand straight to Minister Bowen, to take us through, A, the exciting announcement and, B, some of that detail for you. Thanks very much, Chris. 

CHRIS BOWEN: Thank you, Sharon. Well, for generations the Hunter has powered New South Wales and powered Australia and of course the announcement we are making today means that the Hunter will power Australia for many generations to come.

Australia is the world's largest island and we don't have any offshore wind. The Albanese Government is fixing that. Today I'm beginning the consultation on the Hunter offshore wind zone. This is important because it creates energy, it creates jobs, and it creates a more secure future for the Hunter.

The zone that I'm launching today has the capacity to create up to eight gigawatts of power, enough to power 6 million homes. It has the capacity to create 4,800 construction jobs and 2,400 ongoing jobs. This is important for our energy security future. It's important for our plans to get our national energy grid to 82% renewable by 2030 and reduce our emissions by 43% by 2030. It's important for our plan to create jobs right across Australia and nowhere more important than the Hunter. And it's not just the jobs that it will create in terms of offshore wind, it's the jobs that it will support in the Hunter more broadly.

I know that there are big employers in the Hunter who are desperate to see offshore wind to take off so that they can reach agreements with the various offshore wind proponents to take renewable energy to power them. Aluminium smelters, other big industrial providers, are very keen to see offshore wind close by in the Hunter so that they can increasingly power their very important manufacturing and their very important jobs in a way consistent with their own climate targets.

Now as I said, today is the beginning of a consultation process. We are formally launching the consultation process on this zone today. It is a genuine consultation process. I encourage all residents, all interested people to look at the map, consider what it looks like, consider the implications for them and maybe a submission. It is a real process. I'm also releasing today where the open house meetings will be, there will be pamphlets and information campaigns run by my department and genuine consultation open.

In the Gippsland, which was the first zone I declared, the zone changed after the consultation because I took into account community feedback which I thought was well put. Where there's a well-put concern it will be considered and it will be weighed up in terms of the final zone. The consultation opens today. It's open until April 28. So, it is a good period for people to engage in this process. Here's the map. Around 5,000 square kilometres of potential offshore wind creating energy, creating jobs and creating a secure future. 

I'm going to ask Warrick to respond, make a few comments on behalf of the Hunter Jobs Alliance and the community and then I will take easy questions, Sharon Claydon will take hard questions and Tim Crakanthorp will take the really, really hard questions.

WARRICK JORDAN: Thanks, Minister. This is a really great opportunity for our region. If we get this right there will be large amounts of jobs and important opportunities to grow manufacturing in the region. If we can get this right, there will be a lot of people on a lot of boats offshore of Newcastle working on these turbines and that's not a boat we can afford to miss.

The Australian Government has identified the Hunter as a place to get in early. We know that it's really important that we're able to compete and we're able to establish these facilities and this infrastructure in our region. If we can put our best foot forward it's going to be a great opportunity for us and a great opportunity for the next generation.

I’d really encourage people in the Hunter to take this opportunity to participate in the consultation and planning process. Local knowledge is critical, how we manage the environment is critical and how we make sure that there's great job opportunities for us is really important for us as well, so I really encourage people to go ahead and participate in this process. It's not every day you get the opportunity to be part of getting in on the ground floor of a new industry and the Hunter should take that opportunity that's in front of us. Thanks. 

CHRIS BOWEN: Thanks very much, Warrick. What I might suggest, ladies and gentlemen of the press, is that we might take questions on offshore wind on this announcement first in a group, then if you've got questions on other matters of the day I'm happy to take them after we've dealt with the offshore wind announcement. Over to you. 

JOURNALIST: I guess how much energy will this provide and, you know, what's it equivalent to in terms of the stations that are shutting down in the region?

CHRIS BOWEN: So up to eight gigawatts, that's a lot compared to if you look at an average power station, it’s much less than that. It's enough for 6 million homes. So that's a big deal. Offshore wind is important because it's energy rich, it's windy off our coast. It's often windier off the coast than inland and it also tends to be windier at night when we need to smooth out the renewable energy patterns. So it's absolutely vital for our clean energy future. This is big numbers in terms of energy generated, big numbers in terms of jobs and really important for our future.

SPEAKER: How many turbines are we talking and how far off the coast would they be?

CHRIS BOWEN: This is the beginning of the process. Then once I've declared the zones, so it’s open until April 28, and then I take some time to read through the submissions and consider the issues that have been raised, then at some point after that I formally declare the zone as a matter of law. When I do that, then the process will begin for expressions of interests for licences, that's where companies put in bids to operate. That's when we will have a clearer idea of turbines and locations within the zone. So it's a multistep process to make sure we get it right. 

JOURNALIST: All going well, how long is this going to take? When will we first get those turbines off the coast?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, again, that is partly up to the proponents about how quickly they can move. There are supply chain issues to be worked through, labour issues to be worked through. But I'd say, generally, across the board, we are going to need, and we will have, an offshore wind industry well on the way to operating in the lead up to 2030. 

JOURNALIST: Is the aim to not have something that you can see from the shore?

CHRIS BOWEN: Look, and I didn't answer your question, I think, about how far away they are. If you look here, that's about 25, 30kms, closer in is about 10kms off. Now you can still see them but obviously the further out you are the more it becomes a speck in the distance. At 10kms you can see it, but further out you go, it becomes harder to see.

JOURNALIST: Are there any sort of environmental factors you've had to consider and what are those?

CHRIS BOWEN: We always weigh up environmental factors, absolutely, and, indeed, then, of course, the proponents themselves, the actual farms have to go through environmental approvals. We consider marine life, we consider bird life, we consider the impacts. Now around the world wind farms do coexist with whales and with migrant sea life and birds. There are measures that you can put in place to manage that. But, of course, we factor in those considerations around where we do the original zone and then it gets considered again when each proponent has their proposal worked through. 

SPEAKER: I guess sort of on the same topic, the AEMO has released a report urgently calling on the Government to, you know, invest in renewables and fast track these projects. Is this something that you can fast track?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, I mean, we are fast tracking it. Here we are, you know, nine months into office, second offshore wind zone under way. We're getting on with a pace because we're catching up on ten years of delay and denial. Now, the statement of opportunities report that you're referring to from earlier in the week was a very important one. It's called a statement of opportunities because it outlines where the opportunities are for renewable energy investors and, importantly, the last one was out in August, they decided to bring a new one out in February because so much has changed between August and February, particularly the bringing on of new investment and, of course, as the ESOO, the statement of opportunities itself notes, there's a lot more of the pipeline which they don't take into account in the ESOO because they don't count that until it's formally and officially committed. 

JOURNALIST: It did highlight the electricity shortfalls by 2025 and get worse in 2027. These projects, you know, are a lot further in the distance. What can be done now and urgently to address that?

CHRIS BOWEN: What can be done is what we're doing. It's Rewiring the Nation. It's legislating our targets, which we've done, which has encouraged investment in renewable energy, dispatchable renewable energy investment up 50% last year. The vast majority of which was after May. I mean, the industry and the market is responding to the signals the Government setting. We also have the capacity investment mechanism which is the Federal Government underwriting dispatchable renewable investment. I have a meeting of state and federal energy ministers here tomorrow in the Hunter where we will, you know, discuss progress on that. We agreed to that in December, on that and many other matters. But we're getting on with the job. 

JOURNALIST: When considering the Hunter, obviously the port is huge here. Will an offshore wind farm get in the way of ships coming to and from?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, indeed they coexist right around the world. I was in Port of Rotterdam not long ago, a few weeks ago, one of the world's largest ports. And there's actually wind turbines in the port and there's wind turbines all around. So, again, you can navigate all this. We've consulted with the Department of Defence who have had input into where the actual zone goes.

But on your question of the port, I mean that's a key point and Warrick make a similar point. This is one of the busiest ports in the world, but its business model will change. Offshore wind requires a lot of maintenance because it is so windy, the turbines require more maintenance than onshore wind. They require ships to take the workers out. This is great news for maritime workers. Great news for maritime workers.

JOURNALIST: Does this represent a national security risk?

CHRIS BOWEN: In what way? 

JOURNALIST: As in a target for a potential enemy could blow it up?

CHRIS BOWEN: I think you could make that point about any electricity installation. You can make that point about any energy installation. You can make that point about a coal-fired power station. 

JOURNALIST: This ones sitting off the coast, that's all.

CHRIS BOWEN: And power stations are pretty easy to see, as well, in my experience. Any other questions on offshore wind?

JOURNALIST: You mentioned the fact that it's an economic driver and a source of employment, too. Do you have any idea about how many people a project like this will employ both in the short and long term?

CHRIS BOWEN: So directly, 4,800 jobs in construction and 2,400 jobs ongoing. That doesn't count the jobs flowing in places like aluminium smelters, etcetera, who need new renewable energy to meet their plans and stay viable. 

JOURNALIST: And you said this was the second offshore wind farm. Are there plans for more- I think I read six somewhere?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah, so this is the second one. I've designated already Gippsland, beginning the process for Hunter today, and then flowing from that we have the Illawarra, Portland, we have Bass Strait, we have Perth/Bunbury. 

JOURNALIST: And after the consultation process it's up to you to actually declare the zone if everything looks perfect. 

CHRIS BOWEN: Hunky-dory, yep. 

JOURNALIST: What will you be taking into consideration in terms of going ahead with this? At your level, does it look like it's ready to go, it's just if anyone has any opposition to it?

CHRIS BOWEN: It's not just opposition. I mean, you know, in energy and climate it's rare to find something which is entirely uncontroversial. There will be views expressed. This zone, as we're reporting it, is our best estimate of what we think is a good zone. So if you like, it's our preferred starting position. But to give you an idea of the process in the Gippsland, I put out a zone, starting zone, there was strong support in one section, in another section there was more community concern, particularly around Wilsons Prom and about some of the impacts and I thought some of those concerns - and it wasn't just the fact that there was opposition, I felt some of those concerns were well put and hence the zone was changed as a result of that consultation. So, it's a real process. The Hunter community should be assured this is a real process and I know that sometimes you fill in the survey you think nobody's going to read it. They get read, they get considered and they will be considered in the final decision. 

JOURNALIST: And ultimately after the consultation process, nothing will be constructed until you declare this zone?

CHRIS BOWEN: Absolutely. Nothing happens until I declare the zone and then, there's another process to begin for expressions of interest from actual proponents who have to compete against each other and show they've got a good deal for the country, which I welcome very much. 

JOURNALIST: Taking a look at the proposed map, why are there some areas that are closer to Port Stephens, Nora Head?

CHRIS BOWEN: Where you have the zone quite a bit offshore that's partly due to Defence's request. Any other questions on offshore wind? No. Issues of the day, anything?

JOURNALIST: Another major power project in our region is obviously the Hunter Power Project, it's experienced delays and problems. If you had your time again would you have cancelled it before you came into Government?

CHRIS BOWEN: No. The Hunter Power Project, Kurri Kurri, as it's perhaps more accurately known, is running late. I took the view that we should be, unlike the previous government on so many issues, upfront about that. When I became Minister, I received a briefing showing me that Snowy 2.0 was running 18 months late. That was the first I knew of it. The previous government knew it and decided not to tell the Australian people and we had to clean up that mess. As soon as I was informed that Hunter Power Project was on track to run 12 months late, I took the view and issued the instruction that we should say so publicly, both in terms of transparency and for planning of the grid purposes, etcetera, So yes, it's encountered problems but we remain committed to ensuring it gets delivered. 

JOURNALIST: Are you going to maintain coal-fired power in the meantime?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, that's a decision for coal-fired power stations to make but they're making their announcements and their decisions. Certainly, there are no changes to that from my point of view. 

JOURNALIST: On PEP11, obviously the New South Wales Government has come out and said they would outlaw it if they win government. 

CHRIS BOWEN: Or if they had the constitutional power, perhaps. 

JOURNALIST: Is the Commonwealth looking at just straight out rejecting it?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, we'll act in accordance with the law. I will see if Sharon and Tim want to add from a local perspective. We're in this situation because the previous prime minister stuffed it up. That's why we're in this situation. Because he secretly took a ministry and took a decision which was vulnerable at law, in the courts. That's why this Government has been put in the situation because Scott Morrison buggered up almost everything he touched and most spectacularly PEP11. 

Now importantly, we won't make the same mistakes. So to avoid any risk of any perception of apprehended bias, I won't say anything other than that. Minister King, Minister Madeleine King, is the relevant minister. She's weighing up all the issues. She will take an appropriate decision in keeping with the law and if you say much more than that you can do what Scott Morrison did, as a cabinet minister, and you can endanger that decision, whatever decision she makes. But I know it's a big issue locally so Sharon or Tim might want to add. 

SHARON CLAYDON: Thank you very much. My position on PEP11 is well known in this region. My community's voice and their position hasn't changed either. This is a project that doesn't have any friends this this region, it's not welcome in Sydney, it's not welcome on the Central Coast and certainly not welcome in Newcastle.

We're announcing the sort of projects that we do want to see off the coast of Newcastle. This is the future of energy in our region. We're not looking backwards. We're looking forward to what kind of reliable, large-scale, clean energy we can take for generations to come.

Fortunately, I'm not bound by executive polite rules and I can speak my mind freely on this. I can assure the people of Newcastle that their message is going very loud and clear. But the Minister's absolutely right, the only way we get to deliver certainty for our community is to actually follow the process that should have been followed in the first place. You know, we're a responsible government and we're going to behave responsibly. The court has ordered this to be, anyway, so it is now a matter for us to go through the process that should have been undertaken and deliver that certainty. Did you want to add anything to that one?

TIM CRAKANTHORP: Hunter Labor MPs have opposed PEP11 since day one. We will continue to do so.

As Sharon said, it is these projects that we're excited about. New South Wales Labor worked really hard to get the Hunter into the renewable energy zone. This project is the future in terms of jobs. Federal Labor has hit the ground running and New South Wales Labor, if we get elected, will work very closely with this Federal Government to achieve more great outcomes for our community. This is a great project for jobs and a great project for the environment and that's what this Federal Government's done. 

CHRIS BOWEN: Anything else? All in, all done? That's a wrap. Thanks very much.