May 29, 2024

It's with enormous pride that I rise to make a contribution on the Net Zero Economy Authority Bill 2024. This is an incredibly important bill not just for Australia as a whole but, in particular, for my region, the mighty Hunter and Central Coast region.

I'm proud of the contribution my region makes to our nation. We provide fully 25 per cent of the nation's electricity. We've got Vales Point Power Station in my electorate. We've got Colongra gas station in my electorate, which is the largest gas-fired power station in New South Wales. Over the other side of the lake, we've got Eraring Power Station, which is the largest power station in the country, and up the valley we've got Bayswater. We've also got the proud contribution that Lake Munmorah and Wangi power stations made in their day.

We truly powered this nation. We industrialised this nation during a period of cheap coal-fired electricity in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and running into the 1980s. That is the contribution that the Hunter made historically, and we continue to make a contribution that is massive in its proportion today. But the truth is that those power stations have either been retired or will soon be retired due to the age of the plant. Vales Point Power Station was built in the late 1960s, Eraring in the early 1980s and Bayswater in the late 1970s. We have already had Lake Munmorah Power Station close down. These power stations are reaching the end of their technical lives not because of government policy but because of base engineering. So the question is: what do we, as a government and as a nation, do to honour the commitment of the workers, and the communities based upon them, and to look after them?

The truth is that we had thousands of megawatts of coal-fired electricity close down under the last government without adequate support. The most stark example of that was Hazelwood Power Station, which closed with less than five months notice, throwing out hundreds of workers and contractors without adequate support. An activist Victorian government intervened to look after some of them, but the truth is that we should have—and could have—done much more. That's what this bill is all about, and that's why I'm so proud of it.

At the heart of this bill is the pooled redundancy model for displaced power station workers and workers in captured coalmines associated with those power stations. We've got choices here. We can repeat the errors of the past in Australia. We can go down the route that we've seen in other countries—for example, what happened to coalmining in places like Appalachia in the United States—or we can be much more progressive and much more interventionist, recognising the structural inequity and the challenges that face regions like mine when we see mass redundancy events. I for one am all for intervention to support my community. I have looked at the model that German governments, both Left and Right, Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, participated in over the course of 40 years in the German coalmining industry. They went from having hundreds of thousands of employees in coalmining in the 1950s to ending black-coal mining a couple of years ago without a single forced redundancy.

That's why the pooled redundancy aspect of this legislation is so important. The legislation gives the authority roles around bringing forward the Energy Industry Jobs Plan, which involves meeting with workers on the ground to understand their needs; connecting them with training, financial advice and other individual supports; helping their transition to alternative jobs; and offering participation in the redeployment scheme. This is critical to giving workers associated with these power stations opportunities when the power stations close down because of the commercial decisions of the power station owners—not because of governments but because of the commercial decisions of the owners of those power stations. That is an incredibly important role for this authority.

I pay tribute to the Mining and Energy Union for their leadership on this issue for decades, and I'll return to that shortly. Their leadership has driven this process, and I'm proud of the small role that I was privileged to play in the design of some of these policies when I had some of the shadow ministerial responsibilities. That's one aspect of this bill that is so critical.

The other aspect of this bill that is critical is the future economic opportunities. How do we grow more manufacturing jobs in this country? Just as this country industrialised on the back of cheap coal-fired power in the 1950s and 1960s, we can grow even more manufacturing jobs on the basis of cheap renewable energy in the next few decades. That could drive a new generation of manufacturing. It is a fact that over 90 per cent of the world's photovoltaic cells are based on technology developed at the world's best research institution for PV, which is the University of New South Wales—in my mate the member for Kingsford Smith's electorate. It's great, world-leading research that is on roofs around the world. But the truth is that we got zero manufacturing jobs out of that because the Howard government allowed that technology to be sent overseas without any attempts to commercialise it here and generate a world-scale manufacturing industry. That cannot be allowed to happen again as we look to the next generation of renewable energy industries.

That is why our policies are so important. We have 50 per cent of the worlds lithium resources but we export it mostly in a raw form overseas. We need to be transforming it in this country, value adding and growing more manufacturing jobs. That is why this new authority, with its focus on managing economic change, complements the $40 billion in government initiatives to reduce emissions and become a renewable energy superpower. They include the $20 billion Rewiring the Nation program to modernise the electricity grid; the $1.9 billion Powering the Regions Fund; and a $6 billion critical minerals facility.

I'm particularly passionate about the green hydrogen opportunities. We should be the best place in the world to make green hydrogen and we should be the best place in the world to combine that green hydrogen with our great iron ore resources and make green steel. I want to see the Hunter Valley and Newcastle in particular making steel for decades to come. The Grattan Institute's report into green steel a few years ago demonstrated the opportunities in this area where we can compete and win green steel opportunities.

The truth is that these new opportunities will not be generated in places like North Sydney or Southbank; they will be generated in our regions. Projects that decarbonise industrial facilities and build new industries will grow the future economic base of regions like my own Hunter Valley, the Gladstone region, the Latrobe Valley and the Upper Spencer Gulf. I was so proud to be at the old Liddell power station site last month for the launch of our Solar SunShot program, which focuses on building manufacturing jobs and building solar photovoltaic cells. One company there that we are partnering with will employ more people at that site than the Liddell power station employed at its prime. So that is incredibly important for our community.

We must seize these economic opportunities. We have a great opportunity right now to harness this clean energy industrial revolution. We need to learn the lessons from past industrial revolutions. You do need an interventionist government to drive this process. You cannot leave it to the market unaided, because all the technology will be shipped offshore and we will lose the critical competitive advantages we have. That is why this bill is so critical to a region like mine and it is why I am profoundly proud of it.

In conclusion, I want to pay tribute to a couple of actors in the process. I've already thanked the Mining and Energy Union but, in particular, I want to call out Tony Maher, a person who has committed decades of service to fighting for his workers both in the mining industry—the coalmining industry in particular—and the energy sector. This bill is his legacy. This bill shows his pragmatism and his commitment to looking after his members and his community. I pay tribute to him and all the other activists in the MEU for their role in driving this conversation and this achievement. I also want to pay tribute to my mentor Greg Combet, in his role as the first chair of the Net Zero Economy Authority. He set the groundwork for this. He did great work on this. This topped off decades of contribution in fighting for workers in our country, particularly in regions like mine. I want to thank Greg Combet for his service in this role and wish the best of luck in his future role with the future fund. This bill is incredibly important to our nation and incredibly important to our region, and I commend it to the House.

While I'm talking about jobs and services in my community, I want to quickly express my disappointment in Australia Post, closing down the licensed office at Windale. This was a voluntary process through the Australia Post buyback process, but I am concerned about the loss of postal services in my community. I've met with the Minister for Communications, and we're working very hard to maintain postal services in Windale, which is a beautiful part of my community.