Second Reading – Net Zero Economy Authority Bill 2024

Monday, 3 June 2024

Mr PITT: I rise to speak on the Net Zero Economy Authority Bill 2024. We’ve heard a lot from those opposite: emotional hubris with nothing based on facts, plenty of noise and plenty of media spin. And now we’re hearing about how the Net Zero Economy Authority will save regional towns and regional jobs. I just want this debate to be based on some facts, and here’s one: China’s increase in emissions in one year—just the increase, not its contribution—was bigger than this country’s entire contribution for 12 months. It went up by the amount that we contribute as a whole in a year. I want our response to be proportionate to our contribution. I think it’s incredibly important to talk about the impact that the policy of those opposite will have on the people that I represent and the people that the members for Flynn, Lyne and others represent, because this government’s policies will put them out of a job—out of the high-paid, highly skilled jobs in regional areas which drive their local economies.

I wrote a piece a few weeks ago, and I want to put some of it on Hansard. It’s about nuclear power. Nuclear works. It’s reliable. It’s technically feasible. Here are the things it doesn’t need: it doesn’t need 28,000 kilometres of transmission lines and it doesn’t need to cover the country in a blanket of solar panels and windmills. It’s zero emissions. Importantly for the regions most impacted by potential coal-fired power station closures, many skills employed in those coal-fired power stations transfer directly to nuclear power generation. Labor’s green plan means job losses. The coalition’s plan means job opportunities.

When you compare coal fired power to nuclear generated power, you see that it is virtually the same equipment from the moment that steam enters the steam pipe right through until it is electricity in a transmission line supplying the electrical energy that powers the nation. It needs specialists in turbines, generation, distribution, planning and maintenance engineers, administration, safety, specialist welders and condition monitoring. Nuclear power plants need them all and then some. Yes, you will lose coal-handling systems, conveyors and ash plants—they’re not required—but you will need fuel rods, fuel management, condensate, waste and operations of the steam plant. They are highly paid, highly skilled jobs from the same regions that provide highly paid and highly skilled jobs in existing coal-fired power stations. They are a direct transition. If you are a steam turbine fitter in a coal-fired power station, you have the same job in a nuclear power station.

Let’s compare this to Labor’s intermittent wind and solar fantasy. As reported in the Australian by Geoff Chambers and Greg Brown:

The analysis shows across the renewable projects in Queensland, Victoria and NSW, around 5,060 construction jobs will be created compared with 162 to 171 permanent and operational jobs when the turbines, solar panels and pumped hydro are installed.

…   …   …

… the wind, solar, hydro and battery projects … will cover … almost 102,000ha and generate up to 6387MW.

For those who don’t know how big 102,000 hectares is, the entire Australian sugar industry is built off about 350,000 hectares.

Where regional coal-fired power plants have shut previously, the impact is devastating—it is devastating on the local economy and on the workforce. It destroys the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. It is not just the people who are employed directly in a coal-fired power station. It is the local economy. Regional centres, which for decades have built supply chains and logistics to support these massive investments, are virtually destroyed. And for those highly skilled individuals that have kept the lights on for their communities and for our country for decades, it’s even worse news.

I’m about to quote a story from the Conversation—would you believe?—in October 2023.

Incomes plummet by two-thirds

But workers made redundant in coal-fired power plants did much worse … They earned 69% less in the year after losing their jobs, earning a mere third of what they had.

Some of the loss would have been due to earning less in new jobs, and some of it would have been due to working fewer hours in new jobs …

And for workers who lost jobs in coal-fired power plants, the effects lingered.

Four years after being made redundant, the workers in coal-fired power plants earned 50% less. On average, across all industries, the workers made redundant earned only 29% less.

This is one reason we need to have a conversation with the Australian people about nuclear—a factual discussion without the frantic screeching of the socialist activists. The AUKUS defence agreement means we are getting a nuclear industry, regardless, including nuclear reactors on boats in Adelaide which produce high-level radioactive waste. We are getting them with the support of the Labor government. They have to deliver it. The coalition did the deal, the Labor government must deliver it, or at least they have made the solemn promise that they will.

If net zero is what floats your boat, nuclear power has to be in the mix—it has to be. Labor’s green dream will sink without it on a sea of broken solar panels, thousands of wind turbines masts and tens of million of tonnes of nonrecyclable waste.

You don’t have to take my word for it. I am one of three engineers, I believe, in the parliament, and I want to quote a couple of them—and I got preapproval from them to do so.

At a time when all mechanical engineering graduates at the Queensland University of Technology—where I graduated—were men in 1979, Karen Andrews, the member for McPherson now, enrolled. She was one of the first two women to ever graduate in mechanical engineering from QUT—coincidently they were both called Karen. Karen Andrews said, ‘Nuclear generated electricity for Australia just makes sense economically, for reliability and from a skills point of view. Why lose generations of skilled workers and knowledge when we could actually expand Australia’s technical capacity and invest in our own people?’

The other engineer I’m aware of is the member for Groom, Garth Hamilton. The member for Groom, a mining engineer, has got similar concerns. He said, ‘Australia leads the world in mining technology. It has been safely producing uranium for the benefit of other nations for decades. Why wouldn’t we use Australia’s own uranium resources to benefit the Australian people?’

No matter how big a scare campaign the Labor camp plans to run, Labor are delivering the nuclear industry. They are delivering the nuclear industry, lock, stock and barrel. Can you imagine what the tactics of a nuclear style scare campaign would do to our relationship with our AUKUS partners? Can you imagine how that would be viewed in the United States and the United Kingdom? Imagine the damage it would inflict to confidence in our ability to deliver what our nation—in a rare show of bipartisanship, I’ve got to say—has said it would do for nuclear submarines.

Labor’s proposition—this is straight from a Labor press release—going to the next election is: ‘We can build a nuclear industry, with over 10,000 workers needed; we can install reactors in submarines, in Adelaide; we can deal with high-level nuclear waste; we can maintain confidentiality in what is critical technology; and we can put that technology into a submarine and put it 200 metres under the ocean; but we can’t use all of that investment, all of that technology and all of those people to boil water, to make steam, to drive turbines, to generate affordable and reliable electricity on a block of concrete on one of the most geologically stable continents in the world.’ If that is truly Labor’s proposition, I look forward to the contest, because in this country facts still matter.

It was my great misfortune yesterday to catch Insiders, with commentary from David Speers and others, but the piece that I picked up was from James Massola. Mr Massola said that he’d been talking to Prime Minister Albanese, who’s rubbing his hands together about a scare campaign over nuclear in this country at the next election. A comment that Mr Massola made was, ‘It’s about the three-eyed fish from The Simpsons.’ Are you seriously proposing that we will have nuclear reactors in submarines—that will go to Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth? There’ll be no three-eyed fish there; that will only happen if we use nuclear to generate electricity. It is nonsensical that, apparently, you’re going to run a scare campaign—not you, Madam Deputy Speaker; the Labor Party—and offer free iodine tablets within 100 kilometres of any proposed site for a nuclear reactor. I’ve got news for the member for Grayndler: he’d better start handing them out now; in fact, he should have started five decades ago. There has been a nuclear reactor in Sydney for more than 50 years. And I’m pretty confident it’s within 100 kilometres of the member for Grayndler’s electorate. I look forward to the offer of free iodine tables for the entire population of Sydney. If this is the scare campaign that’s being proposed, it is absolutely ludicrous.

We can look at the proposals for green hydrogen—and the member for Flynn is sitting here next to me. I saw some commentary from a presentation in Gladstone about the green hydrogen proposal. You need to double the east coast’s generation capacity. It’s about 60 gigawatts now. You need 110 or 120 gigawatts of energy generated just for the green hydrogen proposal, just for Gladstone. You need 10,000 wind turbines. If I remember correctly, it’s 2½ thousand square kilometres of solar panels. Madam Deputy Speaker, can you picture what this looks like? The Labor Party’s proposal is to get the dozers out and clear and level 2½ thousand square kilometres of this country and then cover them with China-made solar panels—and somehow that is a good outcome for the environment. I just can’t join the dots. I just don’t see how this marries up. In fact, Labor’s own talking points have referred to the fact that their proposal for wind and solar in this country will require nine times more resources to build than the equivalent in gas generation. Where are the Greens? Are they happy about this? You need nine times more mining, nine times more trucks, nine times more approvals and nine times more processing. Why wouldn’t you just build the gas one? That makes sense. It works—it works all the time.

We have the uranium and the technology. This country is delivering a nuclear industry. It is supported by the Labor government because, without it, we are not delivering AUKUS. We’ve seen over $3 billion committed into the UK to build a reactor in the United Kingdom to train the people of the United Kingdom—the trainees and technical professionals of the United Kingdom—to build a reactor for Australia’s submarines. I want to see that investment made and that technical capability built in this country. The proposal under the Net Zero Economy Authority Bill is that you’re going to lose your job but it’s okay for us to invest in another country. We can build that technical capacity somewhere else, even though it is this country’s asset. The people in those regions—those highly skilled individuals that make these power stations run, and I’ve been in any number of them—are good people. They’re in good jobs. They’ve spent their lifetimes training to make these things run at incredibly high standards of reliability. It is exactly the same job in a nuclear power station because there is no difference: it is steam sent into a turbine to turn a generator to deliver, for the Australian people, electricity that is affordable and reliable and has a tiny footprint. We are seeing thousands of hectares of koala habitat being damaged and destroyed by the installation of wind turbines and solar panels. That is absolutely true. I see the minister at the table, the member for Burt, complaining. You only have to look at the environmental plan for the Clarke Creek wind farm. It says that 3½ thousand hectares of koala habitat are impacted. You only have to look at the pictures. In Queensland, in fact, they have development legislation around vegetation management and reef regulation, but it doesn’t apply to wind turbines and solar panels. It’ll apply if you’re trying to run cattle or grow sugar cane or produce avocados, but it doesn’t apply to those other industries.

This is not happening by accident and it is not happening without significant taxpayer funding. I had some work done by the Parliamentary Library, and the numbers associated with the Renewable Energy Target alone are just ridiculous. If you assume a price of $40 per certificate, it is $26 billion that electricity consumers in this country have contributed towards this type of energy. It costs a fortune. It doesn’t work. It will cover huge swathes of this country in manufactured panels from China which can be destroyed in a hailstorm, a cyclone or a bushfire. Guess what? In this country we have those challenges.

I want to see a nation which has energy security. I want our country to be stronger, not weaker. I want us to be self-reliant when it comes energy. I want us to be able to deliver affordable, reliable energy that makes all our businesses competitive, not just the ones that elected the Labor government, the ones they picked out for their ‘Made in Australia / Made in America’ fund. We want every business in this country to be competitive, and we want those people who have jobs right now to keep them. Labor’s proposal is for those jobs to be lost; the coalition’s proposal is for those opportunities to be maintained.

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