Consultation conundrum: Dutton calls for offshore wind projects to be halted

Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton addresses the media in Shoal Bay.

IN town to discuss the impacts of offshore wind developments, Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor fronted the media last Wednesday morning outside the Newcastle and Port Stephens Game Fish Club.

While in Shoal Bay the senior Liberal politicians also met with key tourism and fishing industry representatives, and a selection of locals campaigning against the Albanese Government’s plan to approve offshore wind farms 20 kilometres (km) off the Hunter coast.

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Mr Dutton said the passion of the meeting’s attendees was clear to see.

“The anger is obvious as well, and, rightly so, because the consultation process just hasn’t been up to scratch, and I think this is another project where Chris Bowen has misread the community.”

The Opposition Leader then took the opportunity to call for offshore wind projects to be put on hold until a “proper consultation process can be undertaken”, highlighting the reliance of Port Stephens and the Hunter on tourism and fishing.

“The residents here this morning are just desperate to make sure that they can save Port Stephens.

“There is an enormous reliance in this local community on tourism, on fishing, and on a continuation of the pristine environment as we know it.

“There’s been inadequate environmental considerations taken into account.

“The locals here just haven’t been consulted in a way that is respectful.

“There’s no social licence for this project.”

Mr Dutton then implored Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to visit Port Stephens in person to hear local perspectives on the matter.

“I think it’s incumbent on the Prime Minister to visit the region, to sit down – as we’ve done this morning – to hear the local concerns, and to stop this project until the consultation can be properly conducted and people can be treated with the respect that they deserve.”

Local angler Brent Hancock, the long-term owner of Tackle World Port Stephens, was also on hand to field questions from the press on the issue of consultation.

“If you have the community outcry, there hasn’t been adequate consultation whatsoever, and that’s what we’re asking for.

“Obviously where it’s being moved to, it just affects so many businesses, the community, and obviously tourism here in Port Stephens, so we’re simply asking to save Port Stephens and open up that community consultation.”

Mr Hancock was asked whether the project would be more palatable to locals if it was moved even further out to sea, or if he thought the project should be “scrapped entirely”.

“To be honest with you, it just needs to be scrapped.

“And it needs to go back to the drawing board and it needs to be consulted with the community, because to be honest with you, where it is, it doesn’t suit Port Stephens at all.

“You can see how beautiful Port Stephens is, it just doesn’t sit right.

“It just needs to be scrapped entirely, go back to the drawing board, and start again.”

Mr Dutton said a lot of questions remained unanswered on how offshore wind projects will proceed, if approved.

“We need to understand where all these cables will be onshore.

“Which beaches will they come up through?

“What’s the environmental impact to go through traditional lands?

“Have the Indigenous owners been consulted in relation to that aspect?

“I think this is a real disaster that’s unfolding, and I think the community here is rightly very upset.”

A Federal project, Mr Dutton did concede that the Coalition may not have the political support to halt the progress of offshore wind farm development.

“We don’t have the numbers in the lower house, as you know, and in the Senate, if the Government’s got the support of Mr Pocock and the Greens etc, they can force through or ram through whatever they want,” he said.

“But that shouldn’t be what the Government is doing on a project like this – it’s too environmentally sensitive, and the impact too great on local tourism and other businesses who operate in the region.”

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water’s consultation period on the Hunter offshore wind zone ran for 65 days, from 23 February to 28 April 2023.

“The final declared zone was reduced from 2800 sq km to 1800 sq km and is 20 km from the shore – this is despite a push from some in the Hunter to make the zone larger – but the Government carefully balanced community wishes,” a Department spokesperson told News Of The Area.

The Government said in July these changes were made to protect the environment, including the breeding and foraging ground of the endangered Gould’s Petrel around Cabbage Tree Island.

The changes are also designed to ensure space for the safe management of shipping, address concerns regarding visual impacts and ensure aviation safety, with offshore wind infrastructure limited to a height of 260 metres.

“This offshore wind zone will create 3,000 jobs in the construction phase and 1,500 ongoing for a region undergoing massive change,” the spokesperson said.

“It’ll also generate enough power for over four million homes.

“But that’s not at any cost – the government will only be licensing projects that work well with existing industry and the environment, and deliver meaningful, long lasting community benefits.”

The Department did not provide comment on the possibility of the consultation period being reopened, however reminded the community that proponents must seek and receive approval for feasibility licences and comply with strict environmental regulations before a project can commence.

“These processes will give the community three further opportunities to have their say on individual projects.

“This is after a comprehensive consultation on the zone involving over 40,000 letterbox drops, seven community drop-in sessions along the coast and over 1,900 public submissions,” the spokesperson said.

Joining Peter Dutton in Shoal Bay was Angus Taylor, the current Shadow Treasurer and former Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction under Scott Morrison.

In September 2021, Taylor was celebrating the introduction of the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Bill 2021 to establish a framework for the construction, operation, maintenance and decommissioning of offshore electricity projects.

“An offshore electricity industry in Australia will further strengthen our economy, create jobs and opportunities for Australians, and enhance the delivery of affordable and reliable power,” Minister Taylor said at the time.

“A new offshore industry, enabled by this Bill, represents an important new opportunity for Australia.

“Offshore generation and transmission can deliver significant benefits to all Australians through a more secure and reliable electricity system, and create thousands of new jobs and business opportunities in regional Australia.”

Just months later, in March 2022, the Morrison Government doubled down on its support for offshore renewables with the release for public consultation of draft regulations for the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure (OEI) framework.

“Today’s release of the supporting regulations for the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure legislative framework marks an important next step in supporting a new offshore industry in Australia,” Minister Taylor said last March.

“This will create a range of important new opportunities, particularly in our regions, by enhancing the delivery of affordable reliable power and creating thousands of new jobs.”

Fast forward eighteen months and Mr Taylor appears firmly on board with the halting of offshore wind projects off the Hunter coast.

“As someone who lives in a regional electorate, I’ve seen many energy projects over the course of my career, and I’ve got to say, what I’m seeing here is a completely botched consultation process which is treating the citizens here and the community here like second-class citizens.

“This is a government that claims that it listens to local voices – well here’s an opportunity, here’s an opportunity.

“Because the local voices here are making their views very clear, which is they want to be heard, they want a proper consultation process – and they thoroughly deserve it.

“I don’t think there’s anyone here who is against good energy projects.

“We all need to see good energy projects right across Australia, but local communities need to be heard,” he said.

The period for developers to submit feasibility licence applications for proposed offshore wind projects in the Hunter area opened on 8 August and will close on 14 November 2023.

During the feasibility stage, licence holders must undertake detailed environmental assessments and further stakeholder consultation to advance their specific project proposals.

Construction cannot begin until the feasibility stage is complete, and environmental and other approvals are in place.


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