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We’re going to lose 70% of our farm land to wind farms

Watch as Labor minister Murray Watt twists himself in knots as he can’t admit renewables are bad for the environment.

Just because you subsidise something doesn’t justify it. Subsidies are paid for by your taxes and higher energy prices.

Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
13/02/2024
Estimates
AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Senator RENNICK: I wanted to follow up on the Victorian government report over the weekend and the fact that up to 70 per cent of agricultural land would have to be used for wind farms or solar farms in order to get to net zero. How on earth could you possibly say that renewables are good for the environment when 70 per cent of agricultural land would have to be used for these concrete—

Senator Watt: For starters, I thought Senator Canavan said it was in the order of 50-odd per cent?

Senator CANAVAN: It’s 55 per cent, depending on if they get offshore.

Senator RENNICK: Yes, how much of it is onshore and offshore.

Senator CANAVAN: The offshore proposals have been rejected by your government.

Senator Watt: I did notice those comments from Mr Littleproud saying that, rather than have renewables on farms, we should have them offshore. I’m not quite sure what the National Party’s position is on offshore renewables. Again, it might be better if we answer those questions in outcome 1 when we have more of the officials involved. But I absolutely agree that in rolling out more renewables we need to consider the interests of landholders much better than is currently protected under law. That’s why we commissioned the review by Andrew Dyer and why Minister Bowen commissioned that review. That’s why Minister Bowen said he would implement those recommendations—

Senator RENNICK: But Mr Dyer himself is from the renewable industry?

Senator Watt: I actually don’t know about that. What I know about Mr Dyer is that he was initially appointed by the former coalition government to the role of I think it was windfarm commissioner. His role has transformed or broadened to be the Energy Infrastructure Commissioner. I actually don’t know what his background is.

Senator RENNICK: It just concerns me, because that particular inquiry didn’t really have people from the private sector or the agricultural sector to provide some balance.

Senator Watt: He consulted extremely widely. The offer was certainly made to at least two coalition senators to meet with Mr Dyer so they could understand the work that he was doing and have their say.

Senator CANAVAN: Yes, we met with him.

Senator RENNICK: Is he based in Canberra?

Senator Watt: Mr Dyer?

Senator RENNICK: Yes.

Senator Watt: I don’t know where he’s based, but he certainly is in Canberra a lot. Senator Canavan has acknowledged that some of those coalition senators did meet with Mr Dyer at my request. I acknowledge that there are farmers who don’t want renewables on their land and feel that proponents of renewable energy have too much say, and that’s why we’ve done the review. What I haven’t heard anyone from the coalition acknowledge is that there are farmers who support having renewables on their land and support the new income streams.

Senator RENNICK: That’s not the question I asked. That’s right; they are getting income streams. That’s not the question I asked. Is it good for the environment? I’m well aware of what’s going on in South West Queensland with the mulga and locking up all of the mulga. These farms are being locked up. You’re destroying the groundcover, which also absorbs a lot of carbon. You’re going to bring in wild pests.

Senator Watt: I’m doing this? You’re saying ‘you’re locking up this land’? Are you saying I’m doing this?

Senator RENNICK: Part of the net zero strategy is somehow you’re going to do carbon capture by letting trees grow, which are already growing out there anyway. We’re basically paying farmers to do something that’s happening as it is. But that’s going to have a long-term detrimental impact.

Senator Watt: So, giving them income streams?

Senator RENNICK: No, it’s going to have a long-term detrimental impact on the shires because farmers are leaving the shires. The paddocks are going to get locked up, and so there’s a risk of fire. There’s a risk of pests—dingoes, goats, wild cats and wild pigs in particular as well—that are going to take over those blocks because they’re not being managed. That’s not good for the environment. Or you can take Moonie, where they’re proposing to put in up to potentially 700 cubic metres of liquid CO2 into the Great Artesian Basin. Again, why are we doing this? It seems to me that the regions are basically wearing all of the impact, and the environment itself, on the altar of renewables and net zero?

Senator Watt: I guess it depends how you look at it. You say the regions are wearing the pain or whatever words you used were. I would argue that regions stand to gain more than anywhere else from the renewable rollout because of the jobs that will be created as a result of renewables, and because of the new income streams that farmers and others will gain. I think that’s pretty good.

Senator RENNICK: No, that’s a one-off, that job creation.

Senator Watt: No, they’re not one-off.

Senator RENNICK: It’s only a handful of farmers. There will be winners and losers. If you have a farm next to the windfarm, you lose. You pick up the noise.

Senator Watt: There are many farmers who, under various different state regimes, also receive an income payment because they neighbour land that has renewable infrastructure on them.

Senator RENNICK: That’s right. All of that extra cost will be transferred into higher energy prices. That will basically ruin any chance we have of restoring manufacturing after the Button plan of ’85 that destroyed manufacturing in this country. If we want to get back on our feet as a country, we need cheaper energy. Farmers need to be focused on primary production, not on artificial forms of energy that are only surviving due to heavy subsidies.

Senator Watt: You might want to tell farmers that they shouldn’t generate income streams from renewables. That’s not my position.

Senator RENNICK: That’s up to them.

Senator Watt: Yes, it is. That’s exactly right.

Senator RENNICK: The point is that’s not good for the environment if we’re going to have 70 per cent of agricultural land, as this report over the weekend has said, basically covered in windfarms or solar farms. That’s not good for the environment. I thought the whole point of net zero was to save the environment, and yet it looks like we’re going to trash it in order to save it. I’ll leave that as a comment.

Senator Watt: I think your career in the Senate has demonstrated very clearly—

Senator RENNICK: Don’t start making personal reflections.

Senator Watt: I think your career in the Senate has demonstrated that you don’t accept the science of climate change and don’t support renewables. I know other senators, like Senator Canavan, share those views. You are always going to oppose these measures. We obviously disagree on that.

Senator RENNICK: I support the environment and protecting the environment and protecting jobs. Some 70 per cent of agricultural land being covered in windfarms and solar panels is not good for the environment.

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