Illawarra Offshore Wind Zone Consultation Press Conference Transcript

14 August 2023



ALISON BYRNES: Alrighty, well thank you so much. And I just want to acknowledge that we’re meeting here on Dharawal country and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

And I’d also like to join with my colleague Stephen Jones, the member for Whitlam and Assistant Treasurer, in welcoming Minister Chris Bowen, the Minister for Climate Change and Energy back to the Illawarra for this exciting announcement that he’s making this morning.

For generations, regions like the Illawarra have powered our nation. We have built here in the Illawarra – with our steel from the Illawarra we have built houses, infrastructure and industry around our country. And we have faced significant challenges, and today is no different. Today we are stepping up to the next challenge. We have 76 months to get to 82 per cent renewables into the grid by 2030. And I would like to welcome Minister Bowen to tell us more about this exciting announcement.

CHRIS BOWEN: Thanks, Alison. Well, it’s great to be here in the Illawarra with Alison and with Stephen. Well, the Illawarra has a proud history and heritage when it comes to industry and energy. But its future is even brighter than its history. Areas like the Illawarra will be at the centre of Australia’s future as a renewable energy export powerhouse. And the Illawarra will be at the centre of making things we need for the economy of the future, most particularly steel. And this has been at the centrepiece of all the policies that the Albanese government has implemented since we came to office.

And today I’m announcing the next big step for the Illawarra’s future as a renewable energy centre. Offshore wind has an important role to play in Australia’s energy future. Australia is the world’s largest island. We don’t have any offshore wind turbines. That doesn’t make sense. The rest of the world has been doing it for years – Europe and the United States are way ahead of Australia. But we’re catching up fast. And the Illawarra is an important part of that story.

So today I’m announcing the beginning of public consultation about the Illawarra’s offshore wind zone. The zone that I am consulting on starting today is 1,461 square kilometres in size. It would generate enough energy to power 3.4 million homes. It’s good for jobs – very good for jobs; 2,500 jobs in construction, 1,250 ongoing jobs to be created. Because offshore wind is very powerful, the turbines move very fast and they move constantly. Whereas onshore wind tends to be a little bit more variable in its output, it’s almost always windy off our coast. That means the turbines work hard, it means they need a lot of maintenance. It means there’s maintenance jobs. It means there’s ships to take the workers out. Those ships have to be staffed. The ports have to be staffed. So this is a great jobs story for the Illawarra.

And just as it is important that we proceed with offshore wind, it’s also important we get it right. So this community consultation is a very genuine and real process. I fully expect people will have questions and concerns about amenity, about impact on tourism, about impact on whales and bird life, about fishing. All these concerns have already been taken into account to some degree in the zone that I’m beginning consultation on. But also, I am very keen for community feedback and will take that community feedback into account when declaring the final zone.

The two zones that I’ve declared so far – Gippsland and Hunter – have both been informed by consultation. I made changes following consultations. So, this is a very important process. But we’ve avoided the most active fishing areas in commonwealth waters. We avoided areas that are sensitive to penguins and an important reef. Obviously, I’ve consulted across government, the various government departments, all of which have signed off on the zone that I’m announcing today for consultation today on.

Consultation begins today. It will run through to the middle of October. There’ll be community information sessions run by my department in September in the key towns impacted, where people can come and ask questions and provide feedback. People can put in submissions on my department’s website. There’ll be a process to do that. This is a process we take very, very seriously. But this is a great day for jobs. It’s a great day for the future.

I want to thank Stephen and Alison for their support for this offshore wind zone. They’ve been focused like a laser on job creation. Alison, in particular, likes sending me text messages every day asking me if the offshore wind zone was any closer, so that will stop from today. She’ll have something else to move on to. Stephen as a ministerial colleague has been steadfast in his support of this project and process and he’s been talking to me for more years than I can remember about the importance of job creation in Illawarra. So, you’ve got two wonderful MPs supporting a great announcement today.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Minister, first off, just the large chunk of the southern end of the zone, missing from Kiama, can you explain why that is different from the rest of the –

CHRIS BOWEN: It’s an environmentally sensitive reef which we’ve avoided. Obviously, I’ve also consulted with various government departments and the Department of Defence has strong interests at the Nowra end, for example, in Jervis Bay. All things that get taken into account.

JOURNALIST: Once the consultation is complete, when do you expect the projects to get underway?

CHRIS BOWEN: So, there’s a couple of steps to that. So let me just run you through the process, because it’s a very good question. So, consultation ends mid-October. I then take some time to work through the submissions. I don’t, you know, announce my response on the 17th or 18th of October; I take some time, a month or two, to work through those submissions and reach my conclusion. So, I will be looking to declare the zone this year.

Then we begin the process of expressions of interest. So that’s when the wind farm operators from around the world are invited to lodge an application to actually operate a wind farm. That’s a long process. That process is out for a couple of months and then obviously we take time to work through those expressions of interest because we want to pick the best possible projects for the Illawarra, those with the most energy, the most jobs, the most local content, the best environmental plans. And they also have to go through environmental approvals. So, there’s a three­-stage process. And then once they’ve won the bid and they’ve got environmental approvals, they need to order their turbines et cetera and start work. We would be looking to have first power around 2030.

JOURNALIST: Have you had any interaction with Defence zones, with this space in particular?

CHRIS BOWEN: Sure. Well, I’ve consulted with the Department of Defence, and they obviously have key interests in this area. They are comfortable and supportive of the zone that I’m putting out today. I’m not going to sort of run through, for obvious reasons, any issues that they might be concerned about in their operational and security issues. But they have supported the beginning of consultation on this zone.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] the heights have been limited because of the RAAF Base there. Are we going to see similar height limits because of Defence?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, that was a particular condition put on because of the Williamtown air base. We will see what the Department of Defence says about height in the Illawarra. They haven’t made similar requests in the other zones.

JOURNALIST: Will this offshore wind farm clash with a potential nuclear submarine base?

CHRIS BOWEN: That’s a separate conversation. But, as I said, the Department of Defence has their well-known timeline for making that decision. But there is nothing in the decision I am announcing today which conflicts with any concerns the Department of Defence might have.

JOURNALIST: Kiama council has voted against an offshore wind zone. Have you spoken with the mayor there?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, but they’ll be welcome to put in a submission. I just want to say, I know there was a particular proposal for an offshore wind zone in Kiama. That doesn’t mean that that is related to this wind zone. I mean, I’ve seen proposals in state waters which are 5 kilometres offshore – very different to what we’re proposing. So just because people are concerned about one particular offshore wind zone or wind farm proposal, which is very, very close to shore, doesn’t mean that they’ll necessarily have opposition to the entire project elsewhere. Commonwealth waters start at 10ks and then we have various, you know, limits and restrictions on the offshore wind zone that we’re putting out. So, it’s a very different process. But every local government, whether it’s Wollongong, the Shellharbour or Kiama, will be welcome to put in submissions.

JOURNALIST: So, despite these concerns or objections, you’re pretty confident that you can come to an agreement between all parties?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, it’s not so much a matter of agreement, ultimately, I have to make a decision. I’m not here to pretend that everyone will support my decision. But I am here to say that the consultation is real. I take into account real community concerns, and I factor them into my final conversation and decisions. I take into account council views, state government views, community concerns.

JOURNALIST: Do you anticipate that Defence will make a submission regarding a possible exclusion zone in the event that there would be a nuclear submarine base?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, because the Department of Defence has already been consulted.

JOURNALIST: The LNP is increasing their calls for nuclear energy in Australia to stop being banned. Is that something the federal government would consider?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, because it’s a stupid idea. I mean, nuclear power is the most expensive form of energy available in Australia – or in the world, anywhere. Why you would impose on Australia’s energy grid the most expensive form of energy as some sort of weird plan to get energy prices down is beyond me – is beyond me. Renewables are the cheapest. Gas and coal are next, and then nuclear. We have some of the best renewable resources in the world. I mean, they had 9 years to do this. If they really thought it was a good idea they might have come around to that idea at some point in the last 9 years. They might have said let’s go down the nuclear path. The reason they didn’t is because in their heart of hearts they know it’s a bad idea. After 10 years of denial and delay they’re now going for distraction. Nuclear is just a distraction. I’m not going to be distracted; we’re getting on with the job.

JOURNALIST: Labor branches both in the Illawarra and nationally have taken a position against the AUKUS submarine deal. How do you resolve these issues and divisions within the Labor Party?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, we’re about to leave it to the national conference of the Labor Party where there’ll be the odd discussion on the floor in the finest traditions of our party. But I’m very confident, of course, that the government’s position will receive support at the conference.

JOURNALIST: The Victorian Government has set a target for offshore wind. Are you looking at doing the same federally?

CHRIS BOWEN: Which government, sorry?

JOURNALIST: The Victorian Government.

CHRIS BOWEN: No, that’s not in my current plans. The Victorian Government has an excellent offshore wind target; other states have not done that. And what we’re doing is going through the process of declaring the zones. That in itself leads to a good outcome without the need at this point for a target.

JOURNALIST: How confident are you that solar and wind energy will continue to lower emissions and household energy costs?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, because they’re the cheapest form of energy and because they’re much lower in emissions, solar and wind will do both of those things. Obviously, they are very important in our plans to get to 82 per cent renewables. Solar, rooftop and large-scale, wind, onshore and offshore, all have a very important role to play.

All in, all done. Excellent. Thank you.