17 November 2020

Dr MARJORIE O'NEILL (Coogee) (15:41:14): I make a brief contribution to debate on the Electricity Infrastructure Investment Bill 2020. I support the bill and the proposed amendments by the Labor Opposition. My contribution will be brief. I do not want to undervalue the importance of this bill. The people of New South Wales have been waiting a long time for the bill. Comprehensive, commonsense action on energy and climate change should be a goal for people on all sides of politics. The global politicisation of climate change has been one of the most damaging occurrences of the late twentieth and twenty-first century. The lack of action on climate change over the past decades will lead to worsening natural disasters, trillions of dollars in economic damage and lost economic opportunities and jobs.

It will likely lead to a refugee crisis on a scale the world has not yet seen, as land across the world becomes harsher and less habitable. I, and the people of New South Wales, are thankful for the work of the Minister and his substantial adoption of Labor's policy prior to the last election. I acknowledge the work of the Hon. Adam Searle, from the other place. The centrepiece of our policy—and it would seem this bill also—is the unprecedented development of new renewable energy projects using the same reverse auction mechanisms that were proposed by Labor but involving a new State energy corporation. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. I do, however, appreciate the Minister's work—in particular, his efforts in seeking to find a way forward that can garner support from all sides of politics and drive the urgent change that we know must occur.

Our response to the challenges posed by climate change must be driven by science and economic realities and should leave nobody behind. Despite the abundance of fossil fuel and renewable energy resources in Australia, the politicisation of climate change action and the approach of privatisation and deregulation that has occurred in Australia's energy sector has led to some of the most expensive electricity prices in the world. That is why I, and the Labor Opposition, welcome this bill. It signals a break from this libertarian approach and I hope will usher in a new era of commonsense policy on energy and climate change, one driven by science and economic realities. While I am pleased to see investment in the renewable energy sector, the Government should also take this opportunity to use its massive purchasing power to guarantee new jobs in New South Wales.

The amendments that the Opposition has put forward, as previous speakers in this place have discussed, include: maximising local content, local workforce participation, and the use of local suppliers on new energy infrastructure projects; enshrining in law a guarantee that 20 per cent of the workforce on major infrastructure projects will be apprentices, trainees and cadets; targeted employment zones in the Hunter, Central Coast, Illawarra and western New South Wales; the appointment of an energy infrastructure advocate that will monitor and enforce compliance with local content and job-creation benchmarks; and a new requirement to investigate and maximise export opportunities for local energy workers and businesses. Local procurement provisions in the bill could be strengthened and that is exactly what Labor's amendments aim to do.

I thank the member for Swansea and the member for Wollongong for developing the important amendments They aim to strengthen an important bill and make it better. They aim to do what a massive investment in renewable energy should do, and that is provide jobs, jobs, jobs—jobs for the people of this great State. Investment in renewable energy should not just be about action on climate change. It should also be an opportunity to overhaul our energy sector and provide thousands of strong, good-paying and long-term jobs, and lift up those who are unemployed, underemployed or who work in industries experiencing a decline in employment opportunities. That is why Labor's amendment promoting local procurement is an important addition to the legislation. However, it is not good enough for the issue of local procurement to be referred to a government task force. The recovery of our economy and the creation of jobs in New South Wales is an urgent issue and cannot wait a year. We do not have time for a task force; the people of New South Wales need jobs now.

Labor's amendments should be supported by the House as they will enrich the bill. Fundamentally, I welcome what the bill represents. It overturns the idea that an entirely unregulated market will somehow provide affordable energy; it was never going to do that. The renewable energy zones within the legislation are also a good idea, and the location of them in the western parts of New South Wales is a good initiative. However, these zones should also be on the Central Coast and in the Hunter, where workers in industries that are being relied on for current generation capacity require greater support from the Government as we transition into the future of energy generation in the State.

The bill is a step in the right direction. If passed with our amendments in conjunction with the NSW Jobs First Bill 2020, it will ensure that New South Wales materials are used in New South Wales projects, which will in turn create New South Wales jobs. It is a very simple proposition and one that will strengthen and rebuild our economy during a very difficult time. Government investment and leadership will ensure that energy prices are driven down and energy generation is more environmentally friendly and, should Labor's amendments be adopted, it will ensure that the legislation generates thousands of jobs across New South Wales. I commend both the bill and the Opposition's amendments to the House.