Net Zero Economy Authority Bill 2024, Net Zero Economy Authority (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2024

It’s interesting when I listen to the members on the other side talking a lot about regional Australia. Well, it will be regional Australia that will bear the cost and is bearing the cost already. I see the member in front of me right here and the impact that wind turbines are having in her electorate, as well as the disregard in total for her community and for the local environment as a result of that approach.

This is all about Labor’s renewables-only policy. When I look at the legislation, I again see a dismissive approach. We see another big Canberra-centric bureaucracy going to dictate yet again to regional Australia what we should and shouldn’t have and how it should work. We have unique needs in the regions, but I don’t expect—and I know, from many years of experience in this place—that those who will be part of this authority actually live, work, breathe and exist like we do in the regions and understand it well enough to make sound decisions.

I understand that it’s a very narrow approach that Labor’s taking here—this shopfront for industry and investment around the redeployment of workers. As the coal-fired power stations and also their dependent employees are affected, I’ll be particularly interested to see who is actually appointed to this authority and how many of those members will actually come from regional Australia that are on the authority itself that will be making the decisions. How many will there be with small, medium and large business experience—small business in particular? That’s what we have a lot of in the regions. They are the ones that will be directly affected by Labor’s renewables-only energy policies.

There’ll be interesting discussions around what jobs those workers will actually be able to transition to. How will Labor and the Labor government, through this authority, mitigate the impact that this will increasingly have in regional areas and communities? Even in mine, with 7,000 square kilometres of offshore wind proposed, a little like the member sitting at the table—same sort of issues in our patch. The regions carry all the cost of this, and they’re dictated to by those who are city based.

There is a lack of clarity and detail in what I’ve read in this particular bill. How many of the businesses will be affected? This is actually just another boondoggle jobs for mates at taxpayers’ expense. It was originally supposed to cost $189.3 million, but I see the latest budget shows that that $189.3 million isn’t nearly enough for this latest bureaucracy. The latest budget upped the ante, doubling the budget to over $400 million, with a further $1.1 billion that this is going to cost in the medium term. That’s on top of Labor’s extra 36,000 public servants in the budget at a cost of $24 billion over the forward estimates.

When we actually see the membership of the net zero authority and look at the numbers that are there, I’ll be very interested to see who’s actually a member and those that are not just from unions but from actual business and from the regions themselves. We do know that this was another pay-off to the union—a long-held union wish list item that the government is delivering. We absolutely will see that this is, as I said, the next jobs for mates and a massive bureaucratic waste and duplication with that top-down Canberra-centric approach, and it does sideline the very useful Regional Development Australia committees that I worked very closely with in my role as the assistant minister.

I just wonder how the authority will deal with the impact of those 28,000 kilometres of additional transmission lines that Labor has said are needed. How is that going to impact farmers and food producers that are affected, or will the new and improved net zero authority simply facilitate the steamrolling of our farmers and food producers who currently own and work the land and produce critical food for this nation and others? How will the authority deal with the impact of the thousands of hectares that Labor plans to be covered by solar panels and what it does and will do to the soil underneath over the years? Who will be responsible for rehabilitating and restoring the soil health at the end of life of the solar factories? And, of course, who will pay? Will this be part of the net zero authority role?

I can’t find exactly how the over $1 billion cost to taxpayers will actually guarantee and result in lower energy bills for taxpayers, businesses and industry. Exactly what jobs will there be for those who lose their businesses or livelihoods because of Labor’s approach? Where are the guarantees for local workers that jobs will actually exist in their areas in their regions, where they probably are already paying off a house and living and their kids go to school? What are the jobs that they will be trained or retrained to work in? Where are the details of what those jobs actually will be? Smaller businesses will be affected by this transition that Labor is engaged in. Many of these businesses don’t actually know that this isn’t all which is going to hit them once Labor’s new industrial relations policies start in August.

I suspect that the unions may keep a lower profile until after the election, but I hope businesses are actually ready for more union control and interference in their businesses. This new authority adds yet another layer of regulation, overlapping existing industrial relations obligations for businesses. I just don’t know what’s going to happen to the smaller dependent employers noted in the explanatory memorandum. What liability or issues will those currently involved in providing goods and services—cleaning services or subcontractors—to those businesses and industries that are going to be shut down have? And I’m just not sure where the people are going to come from for the smaller businesses to do the administration required. That’s not just the people; how will the small business pay for them? Along with having to report constantly on scope 3 emissions, it tells you that the Labor government doesn’t understand small businesses at all. The ones that don’t have IR and HR capacity in their business actually work all day and do all their accounts and business management at night. They can’t afford to employ people do this work, but that’s what’s going to be expected. And we already know this comes at a time where we’ve had an extra 16,000 business insolvencies since July 2022. This layer, upon layer, upon layer for small and medium business is exactly what this government is doing to them.

Labor can’t keep taking small-business people for granted—those medium and larger businesses and investors who actually invest, those who actually take the risk, have a go and who are prepared to invest in, start and run a business. Unless they do so, there are, or will be, no jobs for our workers—unless perhaps you’re one of the new Canberra bureaucrats: 36,000 of them will get more jobs. But this bill is a further waste of taxpayers’ money; it duplicates existing state based mechanisms. We see that it’s part of the additional $315 billion of Labor’s homegrown inflation that’s hurting Australians—inflation that’s worse than in the US, Singapore, Germany, Spain, Japan, Canada and many other countries.

We also know that after two years of Labor, a typical family with a mortgage is more than $35,000 worse off. I’ve asked what this new authority, at a cost of $1.1 billion to the taxpayer over the medium term, and $400 million over the next few years, buys? A rebranded agency and highly-paid jobs for Labor’s mates. The eight board positions are two from unions, two from business and four other positions at the ‘discretion’ of the authority. Won’t that be an interesting decision that will be made?

But there are also issues here that I think Labor hasn’t addressed. This is just another bureaucracy having to be paid for by taxpayers. I actually have a question for Labor: the government is providing support for workers whose jobs are disappearing because of Labor’s policy decisions. But there are other Labor policy decisions where jobs and productivity are disappearing. So I just wonder: where is the live sheep export industry statutory authority? I didn’t see that in the budget. Where is the same level of support for those who will lose their jobs and livelihoods with Labor’s shutdown of live sheep exports, if this is all about jobs in the regions? The live sheep export industry is a $1.3 billion industry, but Labor has only committed $105 million over five years to the transition, and only $64.6 million for sheep producers. That doesn’t really come close to the $1.1 billion that Labor is proposing for this new Net Zero Economy Authority. That’s apparently just to do some work; it has nothing to do with the lives of the people affected. I just wonder: why isn’t the same level of support provided to sheep producers and their communities? They’re massively affected, but very little is provided for them. Apparently this is to benefit the regions in maintaining their social cohesion, employment and identity—what about those regions that are affected, particularly in Western Australia, by the live sheep export trade shutdown? What about the live sheep trade producers and their communities? Don’t they deserve the same as the massive change that Labor is proposing through its renewables-only policies? They actually do. They have 3,000 people and jobs affected in that industry, but unfortunately farmers and regional people actually don’t matter to this Labor government.

Labor has repeatedly turned its back on farmers in regional and remote communities, and unfortunately we’ve seen some real contempt shown by the government. I know it had a real crack at introducing a biosecurity tax on farmers—another levy on farmers. Farmers are already paying $500 million a year in various ag levies, and yet the government wanted them to pay another $50 million a year simply for the biosecurity risk created by their competitors coming on shore. As each of the containers came into Australia, Labor wanted the actual farmers to pay for that. I know that a few weeks before the minister announced the shutdown of the live sheep export industry, five Labor MPs in WA recommended in a discussion paper that the WA government should provide more support for alternative proteins such as insects, algae and tofu. Well, how good is that? This is a really serious issue in Western Australia.

I see such a contrast in what Labor is planning to do in supporting its own policy in relation to shutting down industries in regional Australia in the coal and resources sector and in energy with its plans for its ag policies. It’s a completely opposite approach to supporting those communities that are going to be just as affected in the same way. Compare $64-odd million and $100 million in total for the live sheep, and yet what have we got for energy? There’s $1.1 billion for what Labor’s proposing in its renewables-only approach to this particular piece of legislation and its plans. This is a serious concern. This is just another major Canberra bureaucracy that has extraordinary costs for taxpayers and is a real challenge. Labor is ignoring the massive impost it is making with its policies on regional and more remote parts of Australia.