Subjects: Visit to Nelson Bay; Labor’s offshore wind proposal in the Hunter that will decimate the local environment and economy; Chris Bowen’s incompetence as a Minister; Shadow Ministry appointments; Microsoft’s $5 billion investment in Australian cyber security; AUKUS.
Good afternoon, my name’s Brent Hancock. I’m a local of Port Stephens and also a business owner.
I’d just like to thank Peter and Ted for coming back up as promised – Peter said he was going to come back and visit Port Stephens. We’ve had a fantastic day out on the water, we’ve seen whales, we’ve seen dolphins, we’ve seen seals. So it’s fantastic to see such a brewing environment, that’s for sure.
Brent, thanks mate. Thank you – Ted, actually you might kick it off, if you’d like?
Thank you very much Brent, and great to be here with our leader Peter Dutton.
There’s no doubt when you are out in the ocean and you are seeing the landscape, just as Captain Cook would have, the beauty of this region is quite extraordinary, and you can understand why locals are absolutely enraged at the moment because they haven’t been listened to.
The Government set a target of 82 per cent renewables by 2030, and it has fallen behind and now the Government is desperate and it is steamrolling over local communities. You start jeopardising people’s way of life and their livelihood, then you can’t blame them for standing up and saying, ‘enough is enough!’.
Here with the Hunter offshore wind zone; the local people have been ignored. This has been reckless disregard of this community on the part of Chris Bowen and the Albanese Government. The Albanese Government effectively conceded there was a problem with the community engagement process when the Minister commissioned a review of that very process, but within two weeks the Minister came out and declared this wind zone. That doesn’t make sense. If there’s a problem, it needs to be fixed. You don’t just plough ahead with disregard to the local community.
That is why we are calling on the Albanese Government to rescind the declaration of this zone to fix the broken community engagement process before then reopening for public consultation here in the Hunter.
Thanks Ted. Brent, firstly, thank you very much to you. To James, the captain on the boat here and to the other residents; just locals, they’re small business people and they’re incredibly passionate about their local community and about this beautiful natural asset that produces so much for the local community, for tourism, for fishing obviously – and the proposed change to all of that way of life is quite profound.
It’s very clear to me – and it’s great to be back – but it’s very clear to me that this is fast growing into a national scandal. The Government hasn’t done the work, they haven’t undertaken the environmental impact statements that need to be undertaken in any other like development onshore.
We know that, as we saw today, pods of dolphins or whales – 40,000 whales move through those waters – commercial fishermen, the rock lobster fishermen, the tourism here is quite phenomenal and for Chris Bowen and Meryl Swanson and Emma McBride and others, just to have absolute disregard for the local community, I think is a national disgrace.
What Chris Bowen is proposing to do here is to destroy the environment, to save the planet. It just doesn’t make any sense. The advocates and the proponents who’ll end up making billions of dollars out of these deals, well they say, ‘oh, there are jobs created’. Well, why destroy local jobs in the tourism industry and in the fishing industry to create short term jobs in the construction industry? It doesn’t make any sense for this local community.
I think the rising level of anger here is something that Australians really should take note of. I think Meryl Swanson has been completely missing in action – nice person, completely ineffective in representing her local community. Emma McBride – the same. Residents that we speak to feel abandoned by their local Member and the Prime Minister should be receiving a hot phone call from Meryl Swanson and from her colleagues to say, ‘stop this nonsense’.
It’s obviously a flawed process, as Ted points out, in relation to the lack of consultation. The tricky way that Chris Bowen undertook the consultation, essentially under the cover of darkness, in a very short period of time, locals weren’t properly engaged and that’s why there is a very significant level of anger and concern about the impact: where is it going to be onshored? The impact on those communities? That land? What it means when those pipes run back through the sand dunes, back to the distribution point? All of that remains completely unanswered, and I don’t think the Government’s position here is tenable. As Ted points out, this whole process should be halted immediately.
I’m happy to take any questions.
So, just to confirm, are you saying that the project should be halted and you want a review done, or the project should be cancelled altogether?
Well, the consultation needs to be redone so that the local concerns can be properly understood. I think if the local concerns are properly understood and acted on, I’d be very surprised if this project goes ahead. But it’s clear to all and sundry – particularly when you speak to the locals who weren’t aware of the consultation process that was taking place – we saw a rally only in the last couple of weeks; a lot of community sentiment expressed there.
These are multi-generational businesses and families who are impacted. These are, you know, young kids who are employed at the moment in all of these industries. Those jobs don’t belong in an environment where you’re destroying the natural beauty, and there will be a downturn, a very significant downturn in the tourism industry, in the fishing industry.
All of that needs to be taken into consideration. Their views need to be heard by Chris Bowen and so far they’ve just been ignored.
You were here a few weeks ago, has anything changed since then or are you returning because you were asked to come back again by locals?
Well, I committed to coming back because I do think this is an absolute travesty. I do think when you go out into the waters and see the natural beauty, the birdlife – all of that which is at risk – the marlin fishing, obviously, which is a big part of the environment here. When you look at the whales and the mother and the calf that we saw out there, the dolphins – all of that is at risk because there’s no environmental consideration of what these huge wind turbines 260-280 metres out of the water, will mean for that wildlife and for the environment. The fact that the Government hasn’t taken that into consideration – as Ted said – it’s clear what’s happening here: they’re completely and utterly driven by their desire to get to 82 per cent – a reckless figure that they’ve pulled out of the air.
We’re all in favour of renewable energy, but not at any cost and not where you’re destroying jobs and livelihoods and the environment. Why would we seek to destroy the natural environment here to try and save the planet, which is not the trade off that we should be talking about? There are other ways that we can firm up renewables. There are other ways that we can introduce zero emission or low emission technologies into the energy mix.
But what they’re proposing here with these wind turbines, literally when you think about it, to stabilise a 260 metre structure out of the water in areas where there can be very high and volatile winds and in an environment – think of what’s on the seabed anchoring that down: concrete blocks the size of small ships, the chains and the anchor chains dragging along the ocean bed, the cables that come back in to be onshored, to bring the energy back into the network, the 28,000 kilometres of new poles and wires Chris Bowen is promising – and Australians are paying more and more through their electricity bills because of this madness.
I really think we need to stop and pause, listen to the local community, understand the lives and the environment that are going to be negatively impacted. All of that should be taken into consideration and local Members are completely missing in action and not standing up to for local communities.
Are you concerned there might be misinformation out there about this project, whether it be benefits or cons to this project? Should there be an independent review conducted about this project to find out exactly…
Look, I think it’s a fair point because it’s clear, I think to all and sundry who are watching this debate, that Chris Bowen has run a very tricky process here. It’s not been open and transparent, which is exactly what the Prime Minister promised at the last election. The locals haven’t been sufficiently engaged.
There’s a $660 million tourism industry here that’s at risk. There’s an over $300 million fishing industry here that’s at risk – a billion dollars up and down the coast – and the livelihoods here of local residents rely on the sustainability of both the environment and the tourism dollar.
They are great stewards of the local environment here. They fish in a sustainable way. The tourism operators have absolute regard for preservation of the waterways and the sea here because that’s their livelihood, and they’re all being ignored and they’re all speaking with one voice at the moment, even though on most issues they might be at odds. There are environmentalists who have come together with fishermen and with tourism operators, and they’re all speaking with one very strong and loud voice, and that is to stop this project.
Chris Bowen has conducted himself in a way that, I mean, it just, it’s kept information and data from people, the environmental impact on the migration patterns or on the birds, on rare species, etc.. it just hasn’t been done, and there’s no other project of this nature, if it was held onshore, could get away with that limited scrutiny or detail being provided to local communities.
Mr Dutton, opinions about this project vary depending on where you are in the zone. Further south of Newcastle the supporters of this project link to its capacity to generate not only construction jobs, but also the long term jobs particularly in the manufacturing sector. What is the Coalition’s proposal to create long term sustainable jobs, particularly in the manufacturing sector?
We have long term sustainable jobs now in the tourism and in the fishing industry, and I’ll give you the Coalition’s commitment: we’re not putting those at risk, we’re not going to destroy these jobs to create some short term construction jobs, we’re not going to destroy the local environment here in an effort to achieve our emission reduction targets.
We’re going to have support for projects which will firm up renewable projects. We’re going to have investments, as Ted has spoken about, in all sorts of energy sources, which can help us meet our decarbonisation of the economy. But we are not going to allow projects like this to destroy local environments and local jobs, and that’s what Chris Bowen and Meryl Swanson and Emma McBride and Anthony Albanese are deciding on at the moment.
I think they need to listen to the local community because destruction of the local jobs here – and not just here on the boats and in the local tourism operations – it’s the jobs in the local community, it’s the IGA that has to put a couple of young people off because the whole environment has been affected negatively by this decision, it’s the local restaurants and the cafes and countless other local jobs out of small businesses that are adversely affected by a downturn in the local economy here –and that needs to be taken into consideration.
This is your second visit to Nelson Bay in a month. Looks like it’s a seat the Coalition is targeting? Is that right?
Well, I think Meryl Swanson has completely let her community down, and I think there’s going to be a very significant backlash against her and against Emma McBride and Sharon Claydon and others because they are not standing up for their communities, they’re not fighting for their communities, and I think it’s very obvious that the local people that we’ve spoken to are completely and utterly bewildered by the lack of support from their local Members.
So, yes, you can expect to see a lot more of us, but the most important thing to do here is to support the locals who are good, decent people just trying to work hard, provide for their families and their local community, and they’ve been given the short shrift by the Albanese Government.
If this doesn’t get up, if this zone in erased, is there another location you think would be suitable? Or it’s just…?
Well again, the Government hasn’t done its homework. We don’t know about the environmental impacts on rare bird species, we don’t know the impact on the sea bed. You know, there are so many elements to this, and I think it’s really hard to explain to the local population here or elsewhere when people don’t have the facts, don’t have the figures and they’re being sold a pup.
And just some quick questions from Canberra: Tony Abbott and Matt Kean are calling for Julian Leeser to be returned to the Liberal Party – to the Shadow Cabinet. Will you return him to the frontbench?
I’ll make an announcement in relation to the Shadow Ministry changes in due course, and there’s obviously a lot of talent that I’ve got to choose from on the backbench and in the Shadow Ministry, so I’ll be making those decisions in due course.
What do you make of Microsoft’s $5 billion investment in Australian cyber security and is it wise to have private companies so heavily ingrained in Australia’s cyber defence?
Well, Microsoft obviously is an important partner, particularly for our agencies and for government. There’s a lot of work that we did with Microsoft when we were in government. We invested about $10 billion into the Australian Signals Directorate and the Australian Cyber Security Centre to help keep Australians safe. It’s obvious that, you know, we support the announcement and we welcome Microsoft’s investment.
It’s obviously been a very difficult 18 months or so for Australians though, because we’ve had a lot of theft of data on this Minister’s watch – who I think has been asleep at the wheel. It’s clear that when you look at what’s happened with Optus, with Medibank and with a number of other data intrusions, the Government has been too slow to react. I think Clare O’Neil’s, frankly, been pretty embarrassed by some of what we’ve seen on her watch in terms of failures in the cyber security space and now obviously people who are being put onto Nauru as well.
So, I think the Government’s got a lot of work to do in that portfolio, but we welcome the support of Microsoft. People’s data, the integrity around that data is sacrosanct and whatever we can do to work with commercial partners to see that those defences tighten, that’s a good thing.
Just lastly, are you concerned about delays in the passage of the AUKUS legislation through the U.S. Congress?
It’s clear that the Prime Minister’s got to do a lot of work when he’s in Washington and we support that work.
The momentum that we had when we were in government, when we first signed the deal with the United States, and the United Kingdom, in the AUKUS deal seems to have waned and the Government’s got to get the deal back on track because for Australia to be strong, that gives us the greatest chance of peace in our region because it deters any action by any nation.
We want to make sure that we have peace and stability in the region and it’s important that we do that through the AUKUS deal and the acquisition of the submarines, but also the second phase of AUKUS as well, and we’ll support the Government in those endeavours.
Alright, Thank you very much.