Offshore wind consultation debate keeps rolling as Prime Minister visits Hunter

Newcastle and Port Stephens Game Fish Club President Troy Radford.

DURING a whirlwind visit to Heatherbrae last week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese sought to reassure the community that “appropriate community consultation” was continuing to take place on the Hunter offshore wind project.

“We’ll continue to consult constructively,” Mr Albanese said.

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“I know that Meryl (Swanson) is very engaged in those issues as the local member, making sure that what is delivered is a win-win.

“A win in terms of reliable energy being supplied, but a win as well in terms of jobs and looking after what is a very important local environment and other local jobs in areas like tourism.”

Mr Albanese told gathered media that the “provision of power is about jobs”.

“It’s about jobs being created in terms of construction, but also jobs in places like Tomago, not far from where we are here.

“We’ll need a reliable supply of power, and that is important for the region.”

Mr Albanese cited prior changes to the proposal as evidence that the Government had taken on board genuine community concerns.

“As a result of that community consultation, changes have already been made to the proposal.”

According to the Federal Government, the declaration of the Hunter offshore wind zone occurred following consultation with local communities, Commonwealth, State and Local Government, First Nations people and existing industries including shipping, defence, fishing, and other marine users.

Changes to initial plans included a significant reduction in the size of the zone and capping infrastructure heights at 260 metres.

The zone now sits at least 20 kilometres off the coast of Port Stephens, as opposed to the ten kilometres proposed during public consultation.

Feasibility Licence applications have now been submitted by companies seeking to build wind farms in the declared Hunter offshore wind zone, with a range of local community groups standing in staunch opposition to the Federal Government’s renewable energy plan for the region.

Among them are commercial and recreational fishers who fear impacts on marine life and reduced access to fishing grounds.

One such fisherman, Newcastle and Port Stephens Game Fish Club president Troy Radford, took issue with Mr Albanese’s comments on consultation, claiming he has been trying for months, without success, to organise a meeting with Energy Minister Chris Bowen via Member for Paterson Meryl Swanson.

“To see our elected representatives in our area today and no offer of a further meeting doesn’t seem ‘very engaged’ nor ‘continuing to have appropriate community consultation’ to me to work towards ‘making sure what is delivered is a win-win’”,” Mr Radford said.

Federal MP Swanson has faced significant backlash from Port Stephens residents regarding the government’s plan to develop an offshore wind industry off the Hunter coast.

In an op-ed released last week, Ms Swanson said she had engaged with “numerous individuals and interested groups to gather perspectives on the crucial matter of the Hunter offshore renewable energy zone”.

“These discussions reveal a myriad of concerns and opinions from various stakeholders,” she said.

“As a representative committed to serving my community, I want to emphasise the importance of acknowledging and addressing these concerns.

“The issues raised during these conversations have not fallen on deaf ears; instead, they have become an integral part of an ongoing conversation with the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, the Hon Chris Bowen MP.”

Ms Swanson said she was committed to “navigating the complexities of offshore renewable energy with the community’s best interests at heart”.

“I understand the scepticism and criticism and am dedicated to finding a solution that ensures the best possible outcomes.

“The road to sustainable energy may be challenging, but with open dialogue and a shared commitment to our community and coast we can harness the winds of change for a brighter and more sustainable future.”

With a number of high-profile Coalition politicians making their way to Port Stephens in recent months to partake in offshore wind resistance, including Peter Dutton and Barnaby Joyce, as well as senior One Nation members, Ms Swanson believes the issue has become a “a focal point for political manoeuvring”.

“It’s clear the Opposition are strategically using the offshore renewable energy debate to position themselves politically.

“Peter Duton knows an opportunity when he sees one.”

The Paterson MP, now in her eighth year representing the community on a Federal level, suggests that the offshore wind zone is being used as a “Trojan horse for the promotion of nuclear power in the Port Stephens region”.

“This dual agenda raises concerns about transparency and the true priorities of the Opposition.

“Is the focus genuinely on fostering sustainable and clean energy, or is it a political gambit to introduce nuclear power through the back door and onto the Tomaree Headland?

“In navigating the complexities of energy policy, it is crucial to separate genuine commitment to renewable energy from political opportunism.

“The community deserves a transparent and honest conversation about the future of energy in the Port Stephens region, free from hidden agendas.”

Despite the development of offshore wind being the responsibility of the Federal Government, State Member for Port Stephens Kate Washington has also received criticism for her perceived silence on the issue.

Placards emblazoned with the slogan ‘Where’s Meryl?, Where’s Kate?’ have appeared at rallies opposing offshore wind, referring to Ms Washington and Ms Swanson.

In a story published by The Australian newspaper on January 10, Ms Washington was quoted as saying, “Since the declaration of the Hunter Offshore Wind Zone by the commonwealth government, I have spoken with local recreational and commercial fishers, local tourism operators and residents regarding their concerns”.

In NSW Parliament in late November Ms Washington said she had participated in “many conversations with people who have genuine concerns about the possible impact a wind farm may have on our local environment and economy”.

“I have met with recreational and commercial fishers, environmentalists, tourism operators and many concerned residents,” she said.

Mr Radford again contested these comments, suggesting the Game Fish Club had been trying to organise a meeting with Ms Washington for several months.

Last week, Ms Washington took meetings with Game Fish Club members and No Coastal Wind Farm Port Stephens members to discuss the proposal.

“We finally had a meeting with Kate, at her office, which we have been asking for since June 2023,” Mr Radford said.

“She did apologise for taking so long to finally meet.

“We had a long discussion about the environmental, tourism and recreational and commercial fishing impacts of the wind farm, and the community’s opposition.

“She maintained her position that it is a federal government matter.

“Kate also made it clear she will not support opposing the wind farm.”

Ms Washington told News Of The Area, “I’ve really appreciated hearing from locals last year, and many more this week, about the Federal Government’s Hunter offshore wind farm proposal.

“I have always respected the experience and knowledge of our local fishers and tourism operators when it comes to our stunning waterways.

“Local knowledge is key to ensuring we get the best possible outcome for our community and environment.

“That’s why I’ll keep sharing our community’s genuine concerns with the decision makers in the Federal Government, the Minister for Energy Chris Bowen, and the Minister for the Environment, Tanya Plibersek.

“I thank everyone who’s responded to my requests for meetings and taken the time to share their concerns with me.”

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water says its priority is to “manage the offshore marine environment in a way that recognises all users and balances competing interests”.

“There are consultation opportunities to consider the views of existing offshore industries and ensure that any new offshore wind development can co-exist alongside other industries, such as fisheries, tourism and shipping.”


Signs at a recent offshore wind rally called for the State Member for Port Stephens, Kate Washington, to intervene in the Federal Government’s renewable energy proposal. 

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