Natural Gas Resources

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — I strongly support the motion outlined by the Minister for Resources that condemns the Prime Minister. This is primarily, as the minister said, about protecting an important industry for Victoria; 190 000 jobs, as the minister said, are in our food and fibre sector, and it generates around $12 billion worth of exports. This is about being sensible. Although I have some affection for the member for Prahran, the more I hear the Greens and the Liberal Party members talk in this chamber the more I realise that really this party, the Labor Party, is the only sensible party fit to govern in the state of Victoria. You have got one side, which as the member for Malvern said — and I rarely agree with the member for Malvern — does not worry about the lights being kept on at all, and you have got the other side, the Liberal Party, which does not want to invest in clean energy, almost to the point of ideological opposition. We are the sensible party; we are doing both. We are doing both proudly, and we are doing both in a way that sustains, as the member for Essendon said, baseload capacity for a growing city and a state, for emergency services, for quality of life for Victorians, while also investing in a future that is clean-energy focused.

This issue has a long history, but at the beginning of my contribution I want to just quickly focus on the Prime Minister. He has made a mess of this national debate. In fact, it has run away from him. Good Labor premiers around Australia have run rings around the Prime Minister in what is effectively a national energy market. He should be the head spokesperson for what is effectively a national energy market, but the South Australian Premier beat him to it. This government has beat him to a whole range of initiatives in energy over the last two years. If you listen to this Prime Minister, you would believe that Victoria has enormous reserves of untapped gas that are just waiting to be explored and we are somehow reprehensible for blocking the exploration of those huge reserves.

Then you have got the Deputy Prime Minister, as others have said, who sort of says, in a nod to his National Party heritage, ‘Maybe we can protect prime agricultural land. We can exempt that, but we can get on with mining other areas’. If you listen to both him and Malcolm Turnbull, you would think Gippsland and the Otways are not considered prime agricultural land.

We should not listen to the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister because they have failed in this national conversation; they have failed in their leadership in this area. We listen to the facts, and the facts, as they have been spelt out by the minister and others, are that even during the previous government’s term, the parliamentary committee charged with investigating these matters found that you could not — I cannot remember the exact wording, but it was something to this effect — confirm whether there were huge gas reserves in Victoria. That question remains unanswered, yet that is the basis upon which this government has been accused by the federal government and the opposition for being somehow irresponsible for locking up huge gas reserves.

The facts are these: there are no proven or probable onshore gas resources in Victoria. We need to complete, as the minister said, a series of in-depth geoscientific studies on the risk-benefit impacts of onshore conventional gas exploration. Obviously we have banned fracking, much to the relief of a whole community in regional Victoria and those in metropolitan Melbourne. Even in my community people have been against fracking for good reason. That is completely gone, and I am thankful it is.

With conventional gas we know we will need to do a lot more work during the time of the moratorium. This will be overseen, as the minister said, by a lead scientist, as well as an expert panel of industry, farmers, local government and communities. The reality is the offshore gas resources in Gippsland and the Otways currently meet Victoria’s gas demand, and they are bringing new gas into our market today. But the real problem is what the minister and others have outlined, that Victoria, while being a net producer of energy for Victorian needs, because of the national market, exports effectively too much.

There are a couple of things I want to say about the national debate and the Greens role in it, because I think they deserve a particular mention in that. I just quickly want to retrace our history in relation to this. The former governments, under Ted Baillieu and Denis Napthine, established the Gas Market Taskforce, headed by Peter Reith, which delivered a report known as the Reith report. In response to that, the Labor opposition at that time promised to establish a parliamentary inquiry into onshore unconventional gas. On 29 September in 2015 the Leader of the Opposition announced the policy of a moratorium on both conventional and unconventional gas — fracking. Following our inquiry the government announced on 30 August 2016 that there would be a permanent ban on conventional gas, much to the relief of people, as I said.

On 7 March this year the coalition put forward an amendment to the bill in the upper house that removed the moratorium on conventional gas, established a gas reservation for Victoria and gave farmers veto rights over mining companies entering their properties. They made a complete and utter mess of what was sensible policy, informed by a parliamentary committee, informed by a statewide conversation. It made an absolute mess.

Effectively what you have got on their side now is — in fact probably going back to the Reith report, which really had no support — a throwing away of the last four years of good faith and conversations with farmers and regional and metro communities in Victoria. That is on that side. I think some of them are genuinely embarrassed about that turnaround, that about face, because they have probably had no control over it. There are some that did, in the leadership group, but that is embarrassing. So you have got that on one side.

Then what you have got on the Greens side is a total abdication of any sense of reason and responsibility in what is required to run a state. You are required to run essential services. You just cannot do what the member for Prahran is asking us to do, which is just to forget coal — literally; those were his words, ‘forget coal’. Absolutely there is a transition to a new energy future. You cannot just jump to it without any planning and without any investment by government.

I am extremely proud that we have done more as a party and as a government to support environmental causes than the Greens political party has ever done. I cannot say they have not argued for various things, but they have not delivered anywhere near what the Australian Labor Party has for the green future of our community and our nation. We have delivered far, far more, even just in the last two years in this term of government.

I have got a few highlights, but there are far more. We have established a $200 million Future Industries Fund, including support for emerging industries which include new energy technologies. Now there are six; one of the six is new energy technologies. So we are actually investing in new energy technologies, together with emerging companies and sectors. We have created a target of 25 per cent of our energy to come from renewable sources by 2020 and 40 per cent by 2025. They are really bold statements and targets, and I think when the minister announced those targets she and the Premier said they were bold, but that is what you should be in government — you should be bold. We have put in place green bonds to finance clean energy and environmental projects. Again, I remember that when the Treasurer announced green bonds they were quite world leading.

We have provided real change to encourage and support wind farms and put to bed that ridiculous rule that the previous government had about a 2-kilometre zone, which effectively banned wind farms. We have banned fracking, as I said. We have announced new solar farms which will power the entire Melbourne tram network. Today I see that we have announced funding to promote organic waste not going to landfill. This government has done more for environmental causes than any other political party. So I put what the member for Prahran said in the context of a high school debating conversation rather than of real government. This is what real government looks like, including the ban on fracking. I strongly support the motion in the house.