Greivance Debate – Energy

Monday, 18 February 2019

Mr PITT: It’s a great pleasure to follow the new member for Wentworth. We might have to hand out some practical lessons. I would say to the member for Wentworth: I’m an industrial electrician by trade, I’m a power systems engineer by profession and I was a registered professional engineer in Queensland and, whilst I acknowledge her passion and her deep-seated interest in renewables, we actually have to do things that work. There are some real challenges around what’s being proposed by the member for Wentworth, and I’d suggest that the very first one is around reliability. The concept that we can shift the nation’s energy from Tasmania to Townsville through a transmission line is fraught with danger. What happens when a lightning strike hits somewhere in Victoria and you blackout the rest of the eastern coast? These things are just not feasible from an engineering viewpoint. In fact, as suggested by AEMO in their report last year, it would require over 100,000 acres of solar panels and you would need wind turbines from Sydney to Cairns every 500 metres and you still wouldn’t have enough.

The people of North Queensland can tell you in the last three weeks—I’d suggest there is not a single solar panel that delivered a single megawatt for three weeks. We need to look at these things in a practical and balanced sense. For the member for Wentworth and the people in her electorate, I’m sure that their ideology is one which they can afford. There are many people in this country who simply cannot. So the proposal that we spend billions of dollars on things that don’t work—go and look at South Australia right now. There are some $40 billion worth of subsidies, as suggested by the department of industry when the Renewable Energy Target was implemented. We have spent tens of billions of dollars on renewables—on wind, on solar—and what has been the result? You have the highest electricity prices in the world in South Australia. You had blackouts in South Australia and Victoria over the Christmas break.

Deputy Speaker Hogan, you’ve heard me say this before and I’ll say it again: as politicians, we should get out of the way and let engineers do their job. I know you’re a bright man, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I wouldn’t like you to design the bridge that I drive my car across with the kids in the back. We should recognise the limitations of people in this place to do things around technical engineering design that takes, can I say, decades in their professions to get that level of skill. Enough with this nonsense. We cannot run the country on something which turns off in the dark or when a cloud runs over or when it’s not windy enough. Mr Deputy Speaker, would you like to go to your stove and have to look out the window to decide whether you can put the cake on or not? This is the proposal. The idea that we can have batteries—nothing has been costed for the proposals for the member for Wentworth. None of it! Quite simply, most batteries have a 10-year life. They are incredibly toxic. What are you going to do with them? Football fields of batteries will still not provide the capacity that’s required. We need to make practical, commonsense decisions that work or we will lose industry.

I’ll put it in simpler terms: that’s when you turn off customers. Customers are our people. A thousand dollars seems great until you actually want your air conditioner running or you want your stove on on Christmas Day, because that’s when it peaks. Consequently, you just get switched off. Some of this stuff is absolutely nonsensical. And no-one has discussed distribution upgrades. If you want to run this country on solar panels from the roofs of houses, you need to upgrade the biggest network in the entire nation, and that is the distribution system: the low-voltage system which runs down every single street to provide every single house with a connection. You cannot pump five or 10 kilowatts from every house down that line and back up the network. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s like trying to fill a dam with a garden hose. No-one has costed this properly. You need to have, quite simply, a balanced look at what needs to be done to make it work. Coal has to be part of the equation because, at the moment, there are no other replacements. I’m a supporter of nuclear, but that is a 20-year proposition. That information comes from the Institution of Engineers. I’d suggest they know what they’re doing.

But back to the issue of the day, can you believe it? We’ve actually seen comments from Stephen Conroy, a former Labor senator. I wouldn’t believe too much of what Mr Conroy puts forward, but he’s come out and attacked Bill Shorten and lashed Queensland Labor’s last-minute attack on Adani’s proposed coalmine. Once again, we’re talking about a single company. The Galilee Basin has more than 40 approved licenses. That is tens of thousands of jobs. The member for Wentworth’s proposal is that there will be this transition. Well, she should get out there and tell everybody who works in the resources industry that she wants to transition their 200,000 jobs out of the economy. This is 50-plus per cent of the nation’s exports—more than $200 billion. The suggestion that we can go without that is nonsensical. We need to have a practical solution to what we are doing. So Mr Conroy, a former leader of the Labor Party in the Senate, came out and said that it is time for the Queensland state Labor government to show that it is serious about supporting coal jobs in Central and North Queensland. I say, ‘Hear, hear!’ It is about time that someone recognised the contribution that resources make to this country. There are those who get up every single day and put on their hi-vis clothes, steel-cap boots and helmets and go to work and contribute to this nation’s GDP. They do it every single day.

In the face of activists and these people who have come out now, how many more hurdles and hoops can the Queensland government put in front of this project? Every time the company gets through them and they think they’re at the final line and about to break the tape and run through at the end, they put up another hurdle. The latest, I believe, is a black-throated finch. A black-throated finch is now going to stop the opening of the Galilee Basin because the Queensland government need another review before they get back to an organisation which has spent over $2 billion. And what is that organisation trying to do with that money? It is trying to provide jobs in Central Queensland which are desperately needed. This might sound like a pretty short and practical assessment of the black-throated finch. I’m sure it is an important bird, but it can fly. I’m confident that it can move. In fact, Adani are suggesting that they have some 33,000 hectares of land allocated as a reserve for this bird. The Queensland Labor government need to wake up to themselves. They are very clearly just trying to stop this project. They should stop doing it. If they don’t want the project to proceed, they should go and tell the company that that is the case. They should go and tell them that they don’t want jobs in Central Queensland—and there will be tens of thousands.

In terms of people who are actually supporting this project, once again, you can imagine my shock when I read last night that the CFMMEU will demand Bill Shorten’s candidates across Queensland pledge support for the coalmining industry. Who would have thought that the CFMMEU would have to go to the Labor Party, who purport to be the representers of workers in this country, and propose support for an industry which they have been involved in for absolutely decades. This is just getting completely out of hand. What sort of topsy-turvy world are we living in now where the Labor Party doesn’t support working people and we have the CFMMEU supporting our proposition that we should build our economy and open the Carmichael mine? Things are getting very, very strange.

There are warnings that five other coal projects, totalling $30 billion of investment, will be threatened if activists succeed in thwarting Adani’s project. $30 billion is not a small amount of money. This is an area that needs jobs and needs to increase the local GDP and provide opportunities for the people who choose to live there. If you choose to live in regional Australia, you should have exactly the same opportunities as everyone else.

It’s not just the Galilee Basin that the Queensland government are making a mess of. We know that they are making a mess of energy. I spoke to Shane Roberts. Shane owns Pacific Coffee in Bundaberg. He tells me that the top three costs for his business are now wages, commercial rent and power. This is not an organisation that has huge refrigeration or is running an energy-intensive business. It is a coffee shop. He’s actually had to invest nearly $40,000 to change his air-conditioning over to try to bring down that monthly bill, because it is out of hand. Let’s look at Bundaberg Walkers, a foundry which has been in place for more than 130 years. Enio Troiani, the manager there, told us in recent weeks that their contract expires on 30 June for the supply of energy through the Queensland Labor government, through the GOCs, and it will go from $1 million to $1.7 million a year overnight. This is a business that employs a hundred people and has trained apprentices and trainees throughout our region for decades, and they are in serious trouble if that is the case. Because their bottom line, I would suggest, may not even be that high.

Once again, I say to the Queensland Labor government: get out and actually do something. You own the GOCs. You own all of the poles and wires. You own 70 per cent of the generators. You control the only retailer in town. In fact, it was suggested to me by Mr Troiani that their per-kilowatt-hour rate will go from what it is currently to 48c a kilowatt hour! Domestic tariffs are around 29 or 30 now. There is no business that can absorb that increase in their overheads.

This is the nonsense of the argument put forward by people like the member for Wentworth. It wasn’t that long ago that these prices were down at 20 and commercial was under 10. What’s changed? Well, we have all these incredibly unreliable, intermittent wind and solar generators right around the country that simply don’t work all of the time. We need to make practical decisions that continue to deliver jobs—jobs for our people and jobs into the regions. Thank you.

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