“Climate change is real”: Newcastle shows support for development of offshore wind industry

Hunter Workers Secretary Leigh Shears addresses the crowd at the historic railway sheds on the Newcastle foreshore.

SEVERAL hundred community members gathered in Newcastle on Saturday to rally for the responsible development of an offshore wind industry in the Hunter.

Held at the historic railway sheds on Newcastle’s foreshore, the rally, organised by Hunter Workers, was attended by environmentalists, unions and local business groups.

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Despite numerous rallies opposing offshore wind development, particularly in Port Stephens and the Myall Coast, this was the first pro-offshore wind rally to be held locally since the declaration of the Hunter offshore wind zone last year.

Among the list of speakers was Steve Murphy, National Secretary for the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union.

Mr Murphy said offshore wind was an opportunity to secure local jobs and cheap clean energy.

“We have been working with a whole host of local community groups to get a conversation going about what we need to do in our region to make sure we have a future.

“Climate change is real,” he said.

“The energy transition is not coming, it is happening right now.

“We need to make sure we have governments of all levels cooperating and collaborating to make sure we have good, secure jobs and a sustainable future.

“We know that change is coming, our energy needs are going to change, and there is going to be industry and economic impacts.

“We have a chance to get ahead of that for the future and determine the kinds of jobs we want, the conditions those jobs will have, and make sure that workers here have the skills to step up and do that job when it is needed.”

The union leader told News Of The Area that politicians opposing offshore wind were attempting to frame the issue “as a choice between jobs and the environment”.

“It is just not true.

“The environment and workers are exploited every day for private profit.

“Our conflict is with mining companies that want to exploit us, take the profits and bail once is no longer lucrative.

“We need to get together – workers and environmentalists – and make sure we find a pathway together so we have sustainable jobs and cheap, safe, reliable energy in the future.”

Joanne Tavita and Jasmine Loades, wharfies with Newcastle Stevedores, were also among the speakers.

“When these turbines come into Newcastle’s port it means jobs for the sector and jobs for the region,” Joanne said.

“Not even just for waterfront workers but in manufacturing, teachers for TAFE and university, even the hospitality workers.

“It will flow through the whole economy and the region.”

Ms Loades, a fifth generation wharfie, said there was “a lot of misinformation out there” regarding offshore wind and its environmental impacts.

“All we can really say is that they already operate so well globally, so why can’t they work here?” she said.

Also in attendance was Jack Galvin Waight, Regional Organiser for the NSW Teachers Federation, who described offshore wind development as a “no-brainer”.

“We are here for the community and to support fellow workers,” he said.

“This is about protecting the environment and protecting secure jobs.

“Offshore wind is also massive for our TAFE system and for the whole Hunter.

“It is an amazing opportunity.”

Community attendee Kerry Horner, from East Maitland, told NOTA renewable energy production is the “most important challenge we are facing in our generation”.

“I can’t understand why there is so much opposition to it from the Liberal National Party,” she said.

“There is so much disinformation out there about how harmful wind turbines are.

“Some of the things people have said to me are bizarre and I just think ‘How can you believe that?’.”

Discussing pro-renewable rallies held in both Hunter and the Illawarra over the weekend, Federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen said the “vast majority of Australians understand that the future is renewable”.

“You get some who still deny the science of climate change,” he said.

“You get some who argue that there’s alternatives like nuclear, which is the most expensive form of energy.

“But sensible Australians who in huge numbers – a greater proportion of anybody else in the world have put solar panels on their roofs – understand that renewables are the cheapest.”

In conjunction with Saturday’s rally, a host of Hunter-based organisations have penned an open letter to key State and Federal Government decision makers, outlining ‘community expectations’ as planning for the Hunter offshore wind zone progresses.

Local environmental organisations, unions, community groups, industry and business groups were among the signatories.

“This coalition of groups have come together and focused not on what divides us, but on our shared interest in diversifying and strengthening the Hunter economy and protecting the environment by supporting offshore wind,” Hunter Jobs Alliance coordinator Justin Page said.

While acknowledging potential environmental impacts from offshore infrastructure, the groups argue the responsible development of offshore wind will help combat the climate crisis and lead to better long term outcomes for the environment, including marine ecosystems and species.

The letter calls for the Federal Government to speed up the issuing of Feasibility Licences to offshore wind developers so assessment of environmental concerns can begin.

“Issuing feasibility licences moves the process to the next stage where genuine environmental concerns can be heard and addressed through the environmental impact assessment process,” Mr Page said.

“The Australian Government needs to ensure improved community consultation occurs in this crucial phase.”

The letter also suggests reforms to the nation’s environmental laws to enshrine a fair say for the community and clear protection for threatened wildlife habitat, including new measures to protect wildlife in the offshore environment.

“The reform of Australia’s national nature protection laws that will strengthen up front protections for wildlife and habitat, and enshrine a fair say for the community in the assessment and decision making processes are urgent,” said Johanna Lynch, coordinator of the Hunter Community Environment Centre.

“While this is happening, the Government must ensure that the existing provisions of the EPBC Act, and any additional provisions to account for especially sensitive migratory bird species, are applied to thoroughly assess environmental impacts of the proposed projects.”

NSW Nature Conservation Council CEO Jacqui Mumford said “strategic, meticulous environmental assessment” is of utmost importance as the Feasibility Licence stage approaches, stating proponents need to “draw on local knowledge and expertise, and cooperate to assess and avoid impacts from the outset on environmentally sensitive areas in both the ocean waters and the air space”.

The letter also calls on State and Federal MPs of the Hunter region to champion the responsible development of offshore wind.

“Some elements of the community are unfairly aggressively attacking Port Stephens MPs through social media and other means, claiming the MPs are not representing their communities,” Mr Page said.

“They need to be called on this behaviour.

“We want to give our MPs confidence that there is broad community support and they need to be championing the economic, community, worker and environmental benefits of a Hunter offshore wind industry.”

The organisations have also called on the State Government to formulate an offshore wind implementation strategy.

“In order for the Hunter to maximise local jobs, local content, manufacturing opportunities and benefits the NSW Government needs to commit and start working immediately on an implementation strategy,” Mr Page said.

“Offshore wind is here and we need to give investors and the wind proponents confidence to invest in our region, our workforces, and our manufacturing capabilities.”


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