Adjourned debate on second reading.
(Continued from 6 August 2014.)
Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 16:53 :24 ): It is my pleasure to speak on this bill on behalf of the opposition. I am the opposition’s lead speaker, and I think the member for Flinders is also going to speak. We will make this as brief as possible, but I have to say that I do not think we will wrap before 6. So, I will just say that now.
This bill, the Pastoral Land Management and Conservation (Renewable Energy) Amendment Bill 2014, comes to this house and a great deal of work has gone into it and I really do understand the very positive intent of this bill. I think it is coming for very genuine and very positive reasons from the government, and I thank them for that. I also thank the Hon. Michelle Lensink for her significant amount of work on behalf of the opposition on this bill.
I also thank the minister, his staff and departmental staff, who have all put a lot of time and effort into this bill over, I suggest, around two years now, or maybe a little bit longer, in terms of the various versions that we have been working through. Everybody has put a lot of time and effort into this to try to improve this bill. It did need a lot of improvement, certainly from my perspective, and I thank all those who people who have contributed towards that effort.
It is very difficult to balance everybody’s interests when you are looking at trying to create a bill that is reasonably specific today, here and now, that balances interests which are all very long term. I have to say, there is more that I would have liked to have changed on behalf of my constituents, but I guess in all these discussions and these negotiations you come to a point where you have to weigh up the positives and the negatives.
There are significant positives in this bill, and we have also come a long way on behalf of my constituents, who are largely the prescribed interested parties represented in this bill. Certainly, the member for Giles has many constituents who are also prescribed interested parties under this bill. I would have liked to go further, but I have made a decision, at least in my involvement, that it would not have been right to push any further because it is quite likely that some of the positives of the bill would not have come forward. It is a great positive to be trying to give as many opportunities as possible within reason, cost constraints, etc., to develop renewable energy within our state; that is a very positive goal.
The opposition supports this bill. I will have significant questions to ask in committee of the minister managing the bill on behalf of the government. I am not looking for problems, but I am going to be looking for some fairly significant clarifications. The reason I say that is that every single party affected by this bill, whether they be a solar or wind farm developer, a pastoralist, a person, a family, or a corporation which a holds native title interest, or whether they be a company that holds a resources tenement—one category of prescribed interested party is somebody who may hold a native title interest in the land—all these people and organisations have exceptionally long-term interest in the land. There is nobody there who will not be around for probably decades to come, at least, so that is why this is a very important issue.
One of the important intents of the bill is to create opportunities for renewable energy production in the more remote parts of our state. We are all aware of the difficulties that there have been, particularly with regard to wind farms and the development of wind farms in close country parts of South Australia. There are many people who want them, and many people who do not want them. There are many people who say that their homes, their livelihood, their sleeping patterns and the health of their families have all been negatively affected, and it is very hard for any of us to come to firm conclusions about what is happening to a person’s home, a person’s body or a person’s sleep pattern, etc.
It does make good sense to try to get them further away, to where there are fewer people affected and fewer communities involved. I support the government in trying to do that, but of course people living, working, and pursuing cultural interests in pastoral areas also have rights. One person living in pastoral South Australia is just as important as one person in close country or one person living in the city, so it is very important to consider the views of those people.
The government has gone through a fairly extensive consultation process with as many of those people as possible, as have I. This bill, as well as having very important personal interest for me as the member for Stuart, does affect my roles as both shadow minister for mineral resources and also for energy. It is probably easily forgotten, as we tend to be focusing our discussions on pastoralists and native title holders, but the holders of resources tenements are very important players in this as well.
I have to say that at one stage through my negotiations, after seeing the consultation opportunities that had gone out primarily to pastoralists, I was disappointed (and I do not know exactly where this went wrong) that when I asked the minister’s office whether Aboriginal communities, Aboriginal people, holders of native title or people who may hold native title had been consulted with I was told no. I believe that has been rectified, but I think it is really important that all the people involved in this bill—families, corporations and organisations—deserve equal representation. Certainly, pastoralists are very important, but every Aboriginal group that is a prescribed interested party deserves full representation, as well as the mining companies and resource tenement holders.
Very briefly, what this bill does is allow opportunities for solar and wind development. In the case of solar development, it proposes an excision from the leasehold; a section of land would be taken out of the pastoral lease so that a solar farm could be developed. In the case of a wind farm, a licence to operate that wind farm would be potentially offered to a wind farm developer. There would be a period of initial access for companies that wanted to pursue these sorts of things and, if they were successful, following that there would be a licence offered to undertake these developments.
Money would be paid, by way of compensation to prescribed parties, which would go into a fund, and it would be paid for the initial up-front access as well as for the licence opportunity, if you like, which would go on for 25 or 50 or more years. That money would go into a fund and be negotiated by the government on behalf of the prescribed interested parties. The government would keep 5 per cent of that money—a brokerage fee, if you like, or an ongoing administration fee or whatever purpose the government chooses—and 95 per cent would go to the prescribed interested parties. If down the track there were disagreements, the ERD Court is the place where those disagreements would be dealt with. I will not go into all the details, but I think that is a pretty fair summary of how things are proposed to work under this bill.
There are of course a lot of questions and a lot of concerns about the money because the money is what is meant to offset the compensation. The total quantum of that money that might be negotiated by the government on behalf of the prescribed interested parties, and also how 95 per cent of that total quantum of money would be shared between the prescribed interested parties, is very much up in the air.
I have to say that I understand that it is not possible for the government to try to explicitly define all the ways that the total quantum might be determined or how the sharing out of it might be determined. I really do understand that, but it is equally important that this house understands what an awkward a position that leaves the prescribed interested parties—to have the government negotiating on your behalf, instead of you negotiating on your behalf; to have the total amount of money that might go into the fund being really unknown; and also to have how that fund would be divided up unknown.
Many of the prescribed interested parties get on exceptionally well, and in the bill the holders of resources tenements would not get access to a share of the 95 per cent. The pastoral lessees would get it, and also the holders of native title would get access to the money that is paid up-front, if you like, to have access to the land to essentially do their exploratory investigations, and that might be 2½ and I think up to five years in total. Once a licence is conferred upon a renewable energy developer, as well as the pastoral lessees and the native title holders anybody who may hold native title is also potentially able to access a share of the fund. Deputy Speaker, you will understand how that makes people really wonder where they are going. Keep in mind the long-term view: that we are putting something in place at the moment that maybe in a year or two, or maybe in 20 or 30 years, a wind or solar farm developer might come along and want to take the opportunity to develop a wind or solar farm.
Having said that, I just have to accept, and my constituents have to accept, and the member for Giles’ constituents have to accept (the member for Flinders has constituents in this category, and I believe that the member for Chaffey does as well), that we have done the best we can to leave the grey area as small as possible. Certainly, we did manage to put into the bill that the minister of the day must negotiate on behalf of the interested parties, after consulting with them, and with their views and opinions in mind. I guess that is probably about as good as we can get at this stage. The minister of the day may be Liberal or may be Labor, and may understand energy and outback issues better or worse. We just have to accept that that is how it is going to go, and that is at the heart of the most difficult part of that bill.
I draw your attention, Deputy Speaker, to negotiations that have gone on for in excess of 10 years with regard to the Cultana training range in the member for Giles’ electorate. Those negotiations, of course, were with the federal government—Liberal and Labor—where they were trying to negotiate with native title holders and other people who had cultural interests in the land as well as the pastoral leaseholders. That negotiation did not go well, and it stretched out over a very long time. I am not pointing the finger at anyone here, because over 10 years there were successive governments, but I can tell you that the people—not the governments, but the people—in the local area were very dissatisfied with that process.
You can imagine leaseholders who were quite comfortable, and there were certainly some of them who thought, ‘Look, this is okay. I am happy. I will sell you my pastoral lease, as simple as that. Maybe we’ll have to haggle over the numbers just a little bit, but broadly speaking I am happy. Let’s get on with it.’ Other pastoral leaseholders would say, ‘I don’t want to go. This has been part of my family’s history for a hundred-odd years. I do not want to go. I am completely opposed to this and I refuse to go.’ Well, the reality is that 10 years later none of them are really satisfied with the process they went through. Those who wanted to go had to wait 10 years to go; their whole lives were on hold for 10 years. Those who did not want to go, after 10 years they still had to go or they had to divide up their property. So, really, no-one is comfortable with that. I mention that as an example of how difficult it can be for governments and for the real people involved when you have to enter into these sorts of things, where the government is essentially negotiating on what is taxpayer-owned, publicly-owned, leased land that might be put towards another purpose.
I also want to touch on, in my mind, another grey area. There is an assumption that this bill will apply only to parcels of land on pastoral leases that are near transmission lines, near the mains grid. There are four mains lines, essentially, two of which I know that the member for Giles would be very aware of: one that heads from Port Augusta up to Woomera and onto the Woomera rocket range, and includes Roxby Downs as well, and one that heads up into the Flinders Ranges up to Leigh Creek. There are also two others: one that runs just at the end of the southern edge of the pastoral zone in the Riverland area, and another one that just scrapes through the member for Giles’ area in what, I suppose, would be the south-east corner of his area and the north-east corner of the member for Flinders’ area. There are also mains grids there.
That looks pretty simple because then you could say that you really could not develop a wind or solar farm too far away from those mains grid lines because there are constraints with regard to: you produce your solar or wind power here, you have to run it through a transformer, you have to put it through other lines to get into the mains grid and then you are on board in terms of being able to sell your electricity to customers. I am sure that will be, in the main, where people are looking at developing wind and solar, but they are not the only ones. We will have some questions in committee to try to clarify this.
It is not inconceivable that a company might want to develop a mine and they might say, ‘Well, to run this mine we are going to need truckloads of diesel, truckloads and truckloads of diesel, to supply us with the electricity that we need, or we could use less diesel and we could supplement that with wind and solar.’ So, we would have, potentially, a standalone minerals development; it could be minerals, it could be oil or gas, whatever, and a really smart, capable, good developer could say, ‘I can contribute renewables to this.’ They might need to put a solar farm or a wind farm on a pastoral lease in proximity to their new mine and that might be a very smart and good thing to do and this bill would cover that, which is positive, but it has not been part of the mainstream conversation—it could actually be anywhere.
One thing I will be asking in committee is in regard to the potential scale of wind and solar developments. It is quite easy to imagine the larger end where a developer wants to put their electricity into the mains grid and, essentially, they are hoping to make money by generating electricity and selling it into the main publicly accessible grid, but there may also be others with much smaller developments who might just want to use it for themselves, for their own independent industrial or commercial interests.
It might also be that someone wants to do a development for wind and solar that would fit into this bill very neatly to connect into one of the RAES towns (the remote area electricity scheme towns), of which there are 13 across our state. They are all supplied with electricity by standalones for that town; diesel and gas generation linked into one grid that supplies that town only. Again, the member for Giles has approximately half of those, I have approximately half, and I think the member for Flinders has one at Nundroo.
Somebody might come along and say, ‘I’d like to put a wind or solar electricity development on a pastoral lease in proximity to one of these 13 towns and supply power into the town.’ Now, you will not be able to do that on non-windy days and you will not be able to do that when the sun is not shining, but it could be an outstanding supplement to the current diesel and gas power generation that goes on. So, there is another potential example of where this bill might apply nowhere near the mains electricity grids whatsoever. I would ask people to consider that possibility.
I think the potential scale of the development and how those things could dovetail into electricity needs would be very important. As I mentioned, there are 13 towns on the remote area electricity scheme across outback South Australia, but there are approximately 30 towns in total across outback South Australia and most of them are very small, maybe this bill could support some of them as well, and that would be really good. Those towns are currently not getting any electricity, so there is no expectation that this would necessarily provide them with 24-hour electricity but it might supplement what individual people are currently doing. In those cases, if they are not near the mains and they are not a RAES town, typically, people, families, businesses are supplying their own electricity.
This might be a way of contributing to those towns, and that will be at the very small end. It will not be what we are familiar with with wind farms and what we see when we drive through many of the country electorates—big wind farms that have anywhere from 10 to 100 turbines. That is a very genuine opportunity, but I will be looking for some clarification during the committee to see what is and what is not possible. I think it is very important that is on the record, so that in five, 10, 15, 20 years down the track people are aware of it.
Another positive aspect of this bill is that I hope it will contribute to avoiding the great unforeseen difficulties we have had with regard to an overlap between the Mining Act and the planning act when it comes to wind farm developments. I bring to your attention, Deputy Speaker, the proposal by Investec for a wind farm at Hornsdale, which was given approval, not to develop but to thoroughly investigate and proceed, if you like; it was not the final signoff. However, there was a significant problem.
There were already exploration and mining tenements in that area that were held by a relatively small mining company and/or, in different combinations, a local family who had already started mining phosphate on their property near Tarcowie. The Tarcowie Phosphate company, as far as mining companies go—I know the family would not mind me saying this—was miniscule; however, to that family it was everything. To that family it was an exceptionally important adjunct to their agricultural business. They had already started mining phosphate, they had already started selling phosphate, and they already had plans to develop that operation further.
If you can imagine the beautiful rolling hills of the Tarcowie area, many of them have rocky outcrops or rocky ridges running along them, primarily rounded top, rolling-type hills but with rocky outcrops here and there. That is where they wanted to mine, that is where they had permission to mine, and that is where Investec wanted to put their turbines, because it was at the top of the hill where the greatest wind resource is. That is an issue I have been trying to work through with the government and the family for a long time.
I have to say that the government, through the Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy, and particularly Mr Paul Heithersay, have been trying very hard to get through this issue. For now at least it seems to be okay (resolved would be the wrong word). However, that issue arose because nobody had ever thought about the fact that somebody gave mining permission and somebody else gave wind farm permission. Here at least, on land that is held by pastoral leases, we have a way to work through this, and I think the government has done well to try to develop that.
There are also, of course, as I touched on briefly before, many issues across country South Australia with regard to the development of wind farms. I do not imagine there is a country member of parliament in this place who has not been asked by constituent, ‘Why not put a wind farm across Mount Lofty and see if they like it?’ That is a very fair way to think if you live in a country area, whether it is your land or you just live near the land, and you are going to get a wind farm and you do not like it.
This does address in a very positive way the problem of trying to place wind farms in more sparsely populated areas of the state. I say again: the people who live in the more sparsely populated areas of our state deserve exactly—exactly—as much consideration when it comes to their opinions as anybody who lives in the country, or anybody who might live in Adelaide and does not want to look up at Mount Lofty to see it covered by wind farms.
One thing that this bill will not help my constituents or the constituents of Giles, Flinders or Chaffey who live in pastoral areas with is their extraordinarily strong and understandable frustration that mains electricity grids run through their cattle station or sheep station and they cannot access the electricity. You can sit there in a town or a homestead and you can see the mains grid right there, and I have to pay, the pastoralist has to pay, $20,000, $30,000, $50,000 and sometimes $100,000 a year for diesel for electricity, and they are not allowed to access that electricity. Every member here would understand how very frustrating that would be.
It is now going to be the case that, if a solar or wind farm were to be developed under the auspices of this bill—and if that were done with fruitful and satisfactory negotiations, I would think that was an outstanding outcome, a really positive outcome, and I am fully behind the good results that can come from this bill—not only would that pastoralist be looking at the mains electricity grid that goes close, they can see it right there, but also they will be looking at a wind farm, potentially, and they may still not be able to get the electricity to their homestead or to their small town, their shearing shed or to whatever development they have on their property! I really feel for those people with that issue.
It does affect outback businesses in pastoral areas, which have to generate their own electricity and to pay a fortune to do so. I put on the record that, while this bill contributes positively to the development of renewables in a more sparsely populated part of our state, as a state and as a government and as contributors to developing the state, we have to do more to get electricity into the pastoral areas of our state, electricity that those people can use.
If you head out to the eastern end of my electorate of Stuart, you will come to the New South Wales border, and you can see their electricity, which comes all the way from Sydney to our border—just like if you go to Queensland, you can see the bitumen road that comes all the way from Brisbane to our border, but that is a different story. It is incredibly frustrating for our pastoralists to know that their neighbours just over the border can access mains electricity to their homestead or to their hotel if it happens to be a business in town. Our people, more often than not, cannot do that.
In their further deliberations, I urge the government to consider not only how we can develop renewable energy in outback parts of our state but also how people who live in outback parts of our state can directly access the electricity that is being harnessed in their backyard. It is a very important issue.
The key issue that remains unknown is how the total quantum of money will be developed when the minister negotiates it on behalf of other people and how that will be derived. This is a really important issue, and an important component of this issue which I think most people have not really thought through is that every single one of the parties affected by this has a very long-term interest.
If you are going to develop a solar farm or a wind farm under this bill, you will be entitled to a 25 plus 25-year licence. If you happen to be a pastoral family, company or enterprise, who may have been there for 100 years or who may have just arrived (you would like to be there for 100 years, you would like to have your family there for 100 years) or you are the holder of a resources tenement, whether you are just exploring or whether you are producing, the shortest development licence from exploration through to closing your production is 10 to 20 years. From the first time somebody says, ‘I think there’s gold in them there hills,’ through to finishing their goldmine is 10 to 20 years; most are much longer.
Of course, in this vein, the people with the absolutely longest connection to the land are the Aboriginal people, those people who hold native title and whose families have been there for tens of thousands of years, who, of course, understandably and rightly, have a mindset to say, ‘We would like our families to have a connection to this land for thousands of years to come.’ It is very natural and very appropriate and I support them in wanting to have that connection.
There is nobody involved in this issue who does not have a very long-term view. We are trying to set up something that, even if a developer banged on the government’s door tomorrow morning, everybody involved would be tied up with this issue for decades and decades. That is why I believe it is important to go through it in some detail at the committee stage in an effort to try to get some clarification for all the people involved and to try to get at least a bit of clarity about how some of the unforseen circumstances might eventuate, circumstances that none of us—the minister, the minister’s staff, departmental staff, my constituents and I—can see There are things that we can predict but there are certainly others that we know will arise in 10, 20, 30, 50 years that we cannot predict. So it is important to try to get a little bit of clarity about how those things will be dealt with.
Further Information to come.