I thank the member for Wide Bay for this motion and I join with the member in acknowledging the impacts the development of renewable energy infrastructure can have on communities, on the environment, on agricultural production and on local businesses.
I hear the legitimate concerns that people in my electorate of Indi and across Australia are raising regarding these issues. Regional communities are playing host to almost all the infrastructure needed to deliver Australia’s clean energy transition. These communities deserve to be listened to, and their voices need to be part of the decision-making process when it comes to rolling out new solar PV, wind, battery and transmission infrastructure. Importantly, if projects are to be built, these communities should be receiving long-term benefits in return for hosting infrastructure.
I’ve spoken with landholders and communities across my electorate—from Ruffy, Barnawartha, Dederang, Winton, Bobinawarrah and Meadow Creek. What I’ve heard from these communities is that, in almost all cases, community engagement and benefit sharing to date has been disappointing at best and non-existent at worst. We need to do better. I hear concerns relating to potential fire risks from batteries or solar PV, I hear concerns around the ability of neighbours to access and afford adequate insurance, and I hear concerns about the logic of using land of high agricultural or environmental value for energy projects. We cannot ignore the mental anguish, stress and community division that emerges when there is uncertainty about proposed renewable energy infrastructure developments. Communities need and deserve answers to their questions, and we should be clear: not every question and not every concern is an objection to renewable energy.
We need a rapid expansion of renewable energy projects if we are to meet the government’s targets of a 43 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050. We need to do our fair share to avoid the worst impacts of global heating. Almost all concerned community members I speak to acknowledge and support this expansion—they just want the transition to be done right. If done right, the energy transition can act as an accelerator of economic development and prosperity for regional Australia. If done right, it could be our next gold rush. If done wrong, we risk project delays, we risk our decarbonisation goals and we ignore the genuine concerns of regional communities. We need constructive solutions to deliver positive outcomes for all Australians, and I’m working hard to do just this, by listening to my constituents and working with communities and experts at all levels of government to shift Australia onto the path of a renewable energy transition done right.
Sadly, we’re not seeing such constructive action from the coalition. Instead, all we are seeing are attempts to use the legitimate concerns of farmers and landholders in rural Australia as a political tool to stoke division, and that is shameful. With this motion, the member for Wide Bay raises genuine concerns. But this is not a motion put forward in good faith. Oh no, this is an attempt by the coalition to stall necessary progress, to sell nuclear pipedreams and, as a result, to leave Australians without the solutions and to leave Australians divided. I reject these political games played at the cost of all Australians, and I reject them as a regional Australian. We must not divide regional Australia. Instead, I engage in good faith, using what is in the best interests of my constituents and Australia as my guiding compass. I am a strong and practical voice for farmers and regional Australians and I work effectively with communities to advance constructive solutions.
Together with the many community energy groups across Indi and the country, I developed the local power plan and introduced the Australian Local Power Agency Bill to parliament. More recently, Senator Pocock and I worked with the Minister for Climate Change and Energy to initiate a review into community engagement and benefit sharing around renewable energy infrastructure projects. I ensured that one of the review’s round tables took place in Wangaratta and that landholders and community groups were there. I made a detailed submission to the review, with 15 recommendations, including clearly identifying no-go zones not suitable for renewable energy infrastructure development—including land that has very high agricultural or environmental value—ensuring projects do not adversely impact the availability or the affordability of insurance for neighbouring landholders, strong community engagement guidelines requiring developers to conduct honest engagement and requiring all large-scale new developments to offer at least 20 per cent equity to regional communities. I await eagerly the outcome of this review.