Offshore Wind Town Hall Forum Speech - Alison Byrnes MP

07 October 2023

Alison Byrnes MP
Member for Cunningham



Thank you Uncle Richard Davis for that welcome to country.

I too would acknowledge the Dharawal people as traditional custodians of the land that we are meeting on, and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

Welcome everyone to the first of two Town Hall Forums that I am hosting to coincide with the consultation process that is underway for the proposed Illawarra offshore wind zone.

Today’s forum will be made up of two parts. First, we will hear from our panel, followed by questions from any of you directly.

Following the panel discussion, I will be remaining back, as will representatives for the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water who can answer questions and take any feedback.

On the Panel today we have:

  • Yael Stone (Hi Neighbour Founding Director),
    • Yael spent most of her life as an actor making theatre, film and TV before giving up her Green Card and returning home to Australia in her bid to reducing CO2 emissions and working for positive climate action. Yael is the founder of Hi Neighbour, a not for profit, volunteer lead organisation energised with the power of the past and excitement for the future. Yael is studying a Bachelor of Sustainable Communities at the University of Wollongong and is dedicated to a positive future that includes everyone.
  • Arthur Rorris (Secretary, South Coast Labour Council),
    • Arthur is the Secretary of the South Coast Labor Council, the peak representative body for workers in the Illawarra. Arthur is passionate about safely and responsibly establishing renewable energy industries such as offshore wind, knowing that they will directly contribute to carbon reduction whilst at the same time giving a massive boost to traditional steel, manufacturing and maritime industries.
  • Dr Jodi Edwards (UOW Vice Chancellors Research Fellow and NSW Aboriginal Woman of the Year finalist),
    • Jodi is currently researching the unbroken whispers of the ripples of kin. Looking at the symbiotic relationships within sea life through the land, sky, sea, country and their stories. Jodi will build on her PHD and her whale migration research from RMIT University, bringing it back to University of Wollongong. She has recently been undertaking work on Whale Songlines that connect First Nations along the East Coast of Australia.
  • Ty Christopher (UOW Energy Futures Network),
    • Ty is an electrical engineer with over 37 years’ experience in the electricity supply industry. Ty led the introduction of new technology into the electricity supply industry, such as large-scale battery storage, embedded generation, and digital asset management techniques. Ty is now the Director Energy Futures Network at the University of Wollongong.
  • Ellen Couch (UOW Student).
    • Ellen is University of Wollongong student who is studying a Bachelor of Social Science majoring in Human Geography, and has grown up in the Illawarra by the ocean and watching the world change around her. Ellen is passionate about combatting climate change and is enthusiastic about the future of renewable energy, particularly in the Illawarra.

When I stood to be your representative at last year’s election and people asked me to explain why I was standing, I said for three things – I care about people, I care about jobs and I care about the planet.

Here in the Illawarra we have helped to build and power our nation for over 100 years – though our local steel works, through our coal mines and manufacturing – by making things.

I grew up in Woonona. My dad was a sparky who worked in the coal mines – firstly as an electrician and then as a deputy. Dad was in and out of work while I was growing up due to the harsh economic conditions in coal and steelmaking in the 1980s and 1990s and mum and dad often struggled to keep our family home.

I will always fight for jobs here in our region.

I want local families to have good, secure, long term and well-paid jobs.

I want your kids and grandkids to have good, secure, long term and well-paid jobs – and to be able to live right here.

And that is where I am coming from – this is one of the reasons why I support offshore wind.

It means jobs for our community and jobs for our children and grandchildren.

Not just jobs in the construction, but jobs in ALL the industries that will benefit from strong, reliable, and renewable energy.

BlueScope steel recently said that they will need fifteen times the current amount of electricity to transition the Port Kembla steelworks to make the same volume of steel using hydrogen-powered direct reduced ironmaking (DRI) technology.

BlueScope currently uses 750,000 Mega Watt Hours (MWH) of grid supplied electricity across the steelworks per year – this equates to the usage of about 150,000 households. Here in Wollongong we have approximately 130,000 households.

The offshore wind proposal for the Illawarra – if implemented at the current size – would generate enough electricity to power 3.4 million houses.

BlueScope will need about two thirds of that amount of energy to keep our local steel works open and producing green steel in the future.

BlueScope currently employs 3,500 people directly in the Illawarra and is responsible for a total of 9,000 jobs in the region including contractors and suppliers.

In other words, just as we have helped build the nation over the last century with our steel, the Illawarra can now help power it.

This energy usage doesn’t take into account other local manufacturers like Bisalloy, like Hysata, like BOC Gas, like Manildra, like MM Kembla, like David Brown Santasalo and major energy users and manufacturers in our community.

As a local representative of this community, I will not let these jobs be put at risk by not acting to find sources of strong, reliable and renewable energy now.

There are endless opportunities for local manufacturers with the rollout of offshore wind, just in the steel space it is anticipated the floating structure of one turbine would need 6,000 tons of high-quality steel.

BlueScope’s currently yearly output is 400,000 tons of domestic plate. That means BlueScope’s total output would produce enough steel to manufacture 66 platforms a year. But we are going to need hundreds of these platforms across the country and the region.

People have said but to me won’t this use energy? And the answer is yes, but the environmental payback period – the amount of time it takes for a wind turbine to generate the amount of energy used during manufacturing and installation – is estimated to be 5-8 months for a 4.2MW turbine and this is in the context of what might be a 30-40 year working life.

I recently went to Scotland and Denmark, with my colleague the Member for Newcastle, to look at supply chains and how we can responsibly build an offshore wind industry here.

Not just for an Illawarra offshore wind farm – but also for other offshore wind farms in Australia and New Zealand, but even in Asia and the Pacific into the future.

What do we need to do to help our local companies build their capacity? Do we need to attract companies to Australia to set up manufacturing facilities? This is something that I have been exploring over the past few months.

The opportunity for jobs, investment and economic growth here in our region is something we need to talk about as a community. What employment opportunities are we leaving for your kids and your grandkids?

We need to work together to ensure that offshore wind development in our region balances environmental, social and cultural standards. Any plan to develop offshore wind in the Illawarra must strike a balance between energy needs and environmental responsibility.

The biggest complaint I always get is the perception that the Illawarra is always ignored. Well this is a huge opportunity to put the Illawarra on the map – as a real City of Innovation one that uses the world’s best science together with industry collaboration and excellence to overcome the challenges we face.

My challenge to you and our community is: let’s demonstrate that we are that place; a city of steel, energy and manufacturing harmoniously coexisting with stunning ecology, tourism and the marine environment.

This is what we’ve already done over the last century.

We are at the very start of consultations – this would be a decade long project.

You will not see anything in the ocean for at least 5-7 years.

I am acutely aware that we have only borrowed our planet from future generations – and we need to make sure we leave it to them in better state.

Young people in particular are concerned about our environment. They have seen the effects of climate change – volatile temperature differences, fires, floods, erosion and habitat loss. This worries them. Ellen will talk about a study that she recently took part in at the University of Wollongong which found that 83 per cent of young people supported offshore wind.

I have not yet spoken to a young person who doesn’t support this project. I also know that they will hold the project to account to be environmentally sound and make sure that our local environment is taken into account.

This is the moral challenge of our time – generation to generation.

We are at risk of leaving our young people – your children and grandchildren – with a society which is overwhelmingly unfair, unequal and unsustainable.

This is the really hard work we are doing right now– if it were easy, you can bet politicians would have done it by now.

As I have said, I know change is hard and but I also know, having lived and worked in this community all my life – we have never shirked a challenge here.

We have always pulled together – sure we have our arguments and debates – and democracy and having a say – can be messy and untidy and contradictory and frustrating.

But in these very complex times when our problems are great and the solutions are not easy, discussion and respectful dialogue are critical to resolving the issues we face.

There is plenty of time to have your say and I am more than happy to talk with anyone who wants to have a chat about it. I have already spoken to some of the people who have already emailed me to date. And will continue to do this.

I’m happy to have hard, but respectful conversations. And I want you to participate to make sure that our local environment, our marine environment and our birdlife is taken into account.

I also encourage you to read Saul Griffith’s article, which is on my website and available here today, he has called for a Community Benefits Subsidy I prefer to call it a community energy dividend – where a share of the profits are returned to our community through a local fund or discounts on electricity or incentives to upgrade household appliances or spend at local businesses. There are lots of things we can look at here.

I have spoken to Minister Bowen about this and he agrees that local community benefit plans are absolutely a part of criteria at the feasibility licence stage.

You have my absolute guarantee that I have local people, local jobs and our environment at the heart of this proposal that is before us.

I will listen to you.

I will ensure that all of your views will be taken into account.

I will try to answer as many questions as I can.

And that is what my consultation forums are about.

With that, I hand over to our panel to give a brief run down of why they are here today. Arthur Rorris, Secretary of the South Coast Labour Council.