Mr PERRETT (Gympie—LNP) (12.22 pm): I rise to speak on the Forest Wind Farm Development Bill 2020. The committee report states that this bill has two distinct and unrelated policy objectives. That alone should raise concerns about the haphazard and chaotic way this government conducts business.
The bill’s primary objective is to ‘provide tenure within the Toolara, Tuan and Neerdie state forests to enable a proposed major renewable energy project for Queensland to occur’. The explanatory notes advise the development cannot occur without this special purpose legislation. The Forestry Act 1959 prohibits the development of inconsistent and incompatible uses, including the grant of tenure for projects of this kind. That is because the project will be developed in an area with a current plantation licence—a plantation licence that was sold by the Bligh Labor government to HQPlantations in 2010 for $603 million.
Forest Wind Holdings has submitted a proposal under the investment facilitation process for exclusive transactions, the former market-led proposals framework. It proposes to establish a $2 billion large-scale wind farm with 226 wind farm turbines generating up to 1,200 megawatts of energy. The wind farm directly impacts my electorate and the Maryborough electorate. This proposal will have a significant and lasting impact on residents, businesses and visitors to the Gympie region. It is reasonable to expect that a project of this scale and impact should be undertaken with the support of the local community. It needs genuine support from the local community, not lip-service consultation.
The explanatory notes state—
Consultation with relevant State Government agencies has occurred and there is broad support for the Bill.
Unfortunately, during the committee’s consideration of this bill community concerns were revealed about tokenistic consultation. It was also revealed that the government has been secretly working on this project for three years. The government said nothing until a press statement six days before Christmas last year. Nothing was said to the community that will be impacted. It was ignored.
The first in-person meetings with locals were held at the start of this year. The prospect of high-voltage lines cutting across family properties is disrespectful to local residents.
Despite years of secret talks, the government has still failed to announce details of where the transmission line corridor will be and what properties will be affected. The route, which will cross the Bruce Highway, must connect with the Woolooga substation by a route which is still not known to the public. Landowners cannot get any confirmation of where the lines will run. The public is unaware. I have received numerous representations from Gympie and Maryborough constituents who are concerned that their voices have not been heard. I look forward to the contribution from the member for Maryborough, given his constituents come to me.
A departmental spokesman told local media that since the project’s announcement it had ‘widely consulted with the community, timber industry, environmental groups, regional councils, local businesses and traditional owners’. Forest Wind said it ‘has undertaken a wide range of community and wider stakeholder engagement activities’, including sending letters and brochures to residents and property owners within five kilometres of the project’s location, holding community and online information sessions and direct communication through an inquiry line.
Residents feel they are being treated as mugs. They were told nothing until mid-December under the cloak of Christmas, when the development application was lodged. Notice and consultation was conducted during the summer holidays or under COVID-19 restrictions. Not until mid-January were letters left at homes within a five-kilometre radius of the project. They were addressed to the householder, so many people threw them out as junk mail. There was short notice for community meetings held in early February. Residents said the meetings were ‘totally inadequate and people came away with more questions than they had answers’. The process has left a sour taste in the mouths of residents, who said, ‘The community appears to have been left in the dark until the last minute … so we didn’t have time to object.’
The Gympie Regional Council is concerned about the lack of consultation and the representation of its views. The mayor advised the committee—
I have received representations that GRC staff made to the committee regarding the Forest Wind Farm Project. I wish to inform the committee that the detail and expressed views are of the staff member and are not endorsed by council. It is concerning to council that there appears to have been a lack of adequate consultation with the community on the aspects of this project. As Mayor I cannot endorse the views expressed by the staff member as council has not formed a view on this project due to the lack of complete, detailed information and particularly community consultation.
The Gympie community deserves better than lip-service consultation. The project’s proponent says there is still a process to go in their consultation program before construction starts. The government’s three years of secret discussions on this proposal contrasts with what it did with other similar projects. The Coopers Gap Wind Farm was well known to the public five years before a development application was even lodged. The reality is that this bill has been introduced with what appears to be a predetermined approval outcome.
A submission from a Maryborough resident described this process as ‘an obscene haste to get planning consent and this legislation passed’. The submission asked, ‘Does “cutting through the red tape” … mean ignoring the democratic process?’ The submission noted the timing of the minister’s introductory speech, which said it ‘marked the successful completion of the detailed assessment stage of the Forest Wind project’. The minister’s claims were made when there were still four days left to comment on the developer’s EPBC Act submissions. Gympie residents know about the EPBC Act; that is why the Traveston Dam failed. They are naturally sceptical of someone from government coming in, undertaking no genuine consultation, riding roughshod over them, and telling them what is good for them. The Beattie Labor government did just that. It is in Labor’s DNA.
The fiasco of the Traveston Dam cost Queensland taxpayers half a billion dollars. It was wasted because a Labor government did not consult. It was an appalling mishandling of taxpayers’ money. The Labor government tried to destroy the social, economic and environmental fabric of our community. No wonder people are sceptical. They legitimately ask whether the proposal has always been a foregone conclusion with no intention to listen to or address community concerns. This is another egregious example of a Brisbane-centric government riding roughshod over the Gympie community.
The Clean Energy Council advises that—
Community engagement is essential throughout all phases of a wind farm. Communities begin to form perceptions and attitudes toward projects long before construction begins. Being proactive in community engagement can reduce uncertainty for communities and mitigate risks for developers. Unsuccessful experiences in project development can be the result of inadequate engagement with communities in the earliest project stages.
It is incumbent on the government to ensure landholder rights are heard and appropriate community consultation is undertaken.
The explanatory notes omitted to say why we need this bill to permit the wind farm to coexist with a plantation licence. That is because HQPlantations has a 99-year plantation licence over state forests.
A former Labor government sold our forestry plantations. Former Labor premier Anna Bligh sold Forestry Plantations Queensland for $603 million in 2010. Our current Premier was complicit and sat at the same cabinet table when the Bligh Labor government sold off Queensland state owned forests.
Timber Queensland supports this legislation on the proviso there is no net loss in forestry production.
Unfortunately, during the committee’s consideration of the bill, it revealed that any commitment to ‘no net loss’ of forestry production is just in principle. Wide Bay’s timber industry does not need this uncertainty. The industry is already fighting for certainty before the regional forestry agreement ends and logging of Crown native forests will cease by 2026.
Each year Queensland’s forest and timber industry generates more than $3.8 billion in value and supports 25,000 direct and indirect jobs. Hardwood sawmilling in the south-east supports 2,000 direct and indirect jobs and has a mill door value of more than $200 million per annum. Labor is deliberately dragging its feet in signing up to the South East Queensland Regional Forest Agreement because it wants to drive operators out of the industry. The industry needs certainty on their investment and future business prospects. Instead of providing stopgap two-year extensions, the LNP will deliver Queensland’s timber industry job-creating certainty by updating the 30-year industry plan.