Independents support Minister for Energy and Renewables referral to Privileges and Conduct Committee

The Minister for Health, Minister for Energy and Renewables, and Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Hon. Guy Barnett, MP, has been referred to the Privileges and Conduct Committee. This follows the Minister missing the deadline for outlining to the House before 6.00pm on the August 16, 2023, the latest cost estimate for Marinus Link, the North-West Transmission Development, and the Battery of the Nation.

Independent Members for Bass and Lyons, respectively Lara Alexander, MP, and John Tucker, MP said though the Minister provided a 16-pages ministerial statement on September 5, 2023, and a letter to all members of Parliament on the September 6, 2023, they were not satisfied that the reasons given by the Minister for Energy and Renewables for not providing the information as sought by the House, on August 16, 2023, were solid enough for him to fail to comply with the order.

Mr Tucker said he is dismayed that the Rockliff minority government is still not on the same page as the rest of the Parliament; stating that transparency is transparency, not some level of opaque communication left to MPs to interpret as best they can.

Mrs Alexander added that today’s decision to send Minister Barnett was taken following extensive enquires with the Minister and senior officials over a period of months regarding the costings for Marinus Link and associated projects. These enquires emanated from several MPs across the opposition and cross benches.

“The culmination of parliamentary time, discussions with the Premier, Minister Barnett, and others within the department, was a lacklustre Ministerial statement to Parliament that had to be explained in a subsequent letter. This government must learn that they are in minority. It is not business as usual; the will of the Parliament will be enforced and that means full disclosure, full transparency, and full accountability. The sooner the Premier and his Ministers understand this, the sooner we will reach a point when Parliament works as intended,” Mrs Alexander said.

“Referring Minister Barnett to the Privileges and Conduct Committee is not about the person and it is not about having no-confidence in the government. It is about clearly setting out that the House has expectations from Ministers, regardless of the colour or make up of the Government. This accountability is expected now and into the future on all legislation it expects to bring to Parliament.

“Major projects, such as Macquarie Point Stadium, Marinus Link, Battery of the Nation, and the North-West Transmission Line will cost the state billions of dollars and the Rockliff minority government seems to think they can get away with pushing them through Parliament, while ignoring the concerns of citizens and MPs,” Mrs Alexander added.

Mr Tucker said that the big power developments, Marinus Link, Battery of the Nation, and the North-West Transmission Line, which are designed to support the transition of the grid away from coal fire power expose Tasmanians to enormous financial risks and the Government is not being honest in what it is telling Tasmanians.

“To start with, it is not the responsibility for Tasmania’s taxpayers and energy consumers to underwrite the polluting coal and gas fired power stations on the mainland. Our clean, green hydro and wind power generation should be benefiting Tasmanians and being used as an incentive to attract business and investment to the state. As it stands now, the benefits from these developments, if there are any, will flow almost exclusively to New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia,” Mr Tucker said.

“TasNetworks itself has said that just 6% of the benefits will come to Tasmania. On that basis the Government signed us up to a deal on Marinus Link alone, which was going to cost five and a half billion dollars and, on the Government’s own admission, would have broken the budget.

“Minister Barnett has as much admitted that the economics of these three projects will cost billions with little or no return to Tasmania or energy users across the state.

“In a letter MPs received yesterday Minister Barnett said “for ease of reference, I can confirm the latest cost estimates I have are as follows:

  1. Marinus Link – following an international procurement process, costs were estimated at $5.5 billion. The single cable scope, which includes cable and converter components, is now estimated through the tender processes at $3.0 to $3.3 billion. Of which the Tasmanian Government will contribute $106 to $117 million.
  2. North West Transmission Development – the cost estimate in 2022 was $832 million; given the rescoping, my latest advice is that this is expected to be lower. Under the agreement deeply concessional financing will be available for this project.
  3. Battery of the Nation projects – as I tabled on 61 August, the current estimate of the capital cost of Tarraleah in the Preliminary Business Case ranges from $851 million for a refurbishment of the existing scheme to $1,050 million for the redevelopment. Under the agreement, deeply concessional financing will be available for this project.” [Letter ends]

“Without blow-outs in costs – which we cannot count out – the Minister and the Rockliff Government are committing Tasmanians to $2bn worth of subsidies to mainland energy consumers – plus on-going maintenance costs. In a cost-of-living crisis – one where energy prices have already increased by close to 23% over two years, when will this government’s avarice to bleed every Tasmanian dry to fund programmes to benefit mainland energy consumers end? The premiers of Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia must be laughing all the way to the bank knowing that Tasmanians are keeping energy prices low for their citizens,” Mr Tucker said.

“The Minister was quick to throw us a bone of close to 2,000 jobs associated with these projects along with an unspecified amount of inward investment. This type of distraction commentary, no doubt designed to give the media a headline, hides the fact Tasmania will be taking on generational debt along with interest payments at “deeply concessional financing arrangements but the Commonwealth Government.” Even at 1% interest rate, this could be as much as $565million, or $22.59million per year for 25 years.

“The claim that this will lead to cheaper power prices than in a world with Marinus Link is simply not believable. When you spend billions of dollars someone must pay. We also know, in the case of Bass Link, it has been a commercial disaster and is currently being propped up by payments which eventually land with Tasmanian energy consumer. In effect, Tasmanians are already paying for one mitigated government disaster and the Minister for Energy and Renewables is set to repeat the mistakes of past administrations.

“Marinus is much bigger, the risks are far higher, and the costs will be far steeper. As demonstrated, the Rockliff Government’s record to date on big issues is disastrous. They signed Tasmania up to a new GST deal, which treasury estimated would cost us $755 million dollars over ten years and we would be losing a hundred million dollars a year by the 2030s.

“Their first attempt at a Marinus deal was a shocker on their own admission and they have given themselves an out on the latest proposal with a provision to hand the whole thing over to the Australian Government. This is the thin end of the wedge. This is where we start to lose control of our energy infrastructure and supply, which Tasmania has developed responsibly over the last 100 years.

“What happens next? Does the commonwealth also take over the lake Cethana pumped hydro scheme. Where does it end? Is this where this Government considers selling Hydro Tasmania to the highest mainland or overseas bidder?

“In support of the argument that the Rockliff Government is out of its depth and in chaos over the supply and management of Tasmania’s energy – and that Tasmanians are in the gun to pick up the pieces of their costly failures, Professor Mountain from the Victorian Energy Policy Centre said, “the claims that Marinus will reduce prices in Tasmania and Victoria are rubbish.”

“He predicts Marinus will increase transmission charges for fifty years to three times the current level of transmission charges in Tasmania. He summed up Marinus Link in these words: “In life it is sometimes said that nothing breeds success like success. In the NEM is seems nothing breeds failure like failure.”

“This is why the Parliament needs to act. The Rockliff Government must be held accountable and, regrettably, it is Minister Barnett who will face the full force of the Parliament when Mrs Alexander and I support the call for a full joint House Parliamentary inquiry,” Mr Tucker said.

Thursday 7th, 2023

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