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FOR – Bills — Net Zero Economy Authority Bill 2024; Consideration in Detail

Allegra Spender

I move the amendment circulated in my name:

(1) Page 79 (after line 7), after clause 80, insert:

80A Review of the operation of this Act

(1) Every 4 years, the Minister must cause an independent review to be conducted of the operation of this Act.

(2) Without limiting subsection (1), the review must:

(a) examine the effectiveness of the Authority in performing its functions, including against the object of this Act in section 3; and

(b) having regard to the object of this Act, examine the appropriateness of the following definitions in section 5:

(i) closing employer;

(ii) dependent employer;

(iii) receiving employer; and

(c) make provision for public consultation.

(3) The first review must commence as soon as practicable after the end of the period of 4 years after the day this Act commences.

(4) The persons who conduct the review must give the Minister a written report of the review as soon as practicable and, in any event, not later than 9 months after commencement of the review.

(5) The Minister must cause a copy of the report to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after the report is given to the Minister.

All the indicators are flashing red when it comes to the climate crisis. The year 2023 was the hottest year on record, and this record already looks like being broken in 2024. Climate scientists are telling us we're going to blast past 2.5 degrees, and the Great Barrier Reef is experiencing yet another mass bleaching event. To avert the worst impacts of global heating, we need to rapidly accelerate the transition. We need to get off fossil fuels, build the green industries of the future and help workers and communities through the process.

The clean energy transition will be a big challenge for the Australian economy. We'll need to shift people and resources out of coal and gas, massively ramp up renewable energy and develop the workforce to power the industries of the future. It's a transition that won't happen overnight, won't always be easy to manage and won't succeed without proper coordination, and that's what this bill is all about.

The aim of the Net Zero Economy Authority is to help facilitate investment, coordinate policy and help workers and communities through the transition from fossil fuels to the industries of the future. It's vital we get this right. If we don't, regional communities will be left behind, support for the transition will be fatally undermined and we'll miss out on a huge economic opportunity. The new authority has big responsibilities: keeping communities together, ensuring the benefits of the transition are shared, and listening to and learning from communities when we don't get things right. This is what the authority and this legislation must deliver.

This is a good bill and it has broad support from the climate movement, business groups and unions. That's a great place to start. But there is no doubt this bill could be improved, and my amendment seeks to do this. In particular, I'm concerned the authority's scope is too narrow, focusing exclusively on coal-fired power station workers and the mines that supply them. With 90 per cent of coal going offline in the next decade, it's right that these workers are the first priority for support. But for the authority to have enduring impact it will need to work across a broader range of industries over time and adapt its activities as our economy transitions. For example, we know that, as the world economy decarbonises, demand for our fossil fuel exports will reduce; yet, as currently drafted, this legislation precludes the authority from supporting people working in coal and gas mining for exports. A worker in the Hunter Valley at a coalmine associated with a power station would be eligible for support, but a worker in the same region at an exporting coalmine would not. That's despite those two people doing the same job, facing the challenges if their mines close, and perhaps even living next door to each other. The government should have drafted legislation that was broader in the scope of industries the authority could support and mandated an annual plan to ensure focus of the authority's activities from year to year.

If this can't be done right now, the government should at least be open to revisiting the scope of the authority's activities in future. My amendment helps to achieve this by inserting a review clause into the legislation. The review would require periodic assessment of whether the scope of industries supported is appropriate and whether the broader objectives set out in the legislation are being achieved. The first review would take place after four years, enabling the authority to support several coal closures before looking at how things could be done better.

I understand that the government won't be supporting this amendment, but the reasons for this are unclear. I know the bill requires the CEO to conduct a narrowly focused internal review of the Energy Industry Jobs Plan within 12 months, but this is not the kind of substantive, independent review that also looks at the scope of activities and whether the authority is delivering results, so I encourage the government to think again and support this commonsense amendment.

Kylea Tink

I rise in support of the amendment moved by the member for Wentworth because I think it is infinitely reasonable. If there's one thing we know, it's that the people of Australia are looking to this government and this parliament to move faster when it comes to climate action. The introduction of the Net Zero Economy Authority is something that many see as a really positive step. But it is bamboozling for many to try to get their heads around why you would limit the potential of this authority to guide us through this transition period. We all know that to hit net zero by 2050 we're going to have to tackle every single part of our economy. If this is to be the organisation that sets due north for our society, our economy, our communities—really importantly, our regional communities, who are looking to their future—why would we not make the scope of this authority broader?

I commend the member's amendment and seek the same clarification she seeks from the minister: why not step into this in a bold way, rather than a contained way that's like a whimper?

Patrick Gorman

I welcome the comments from the member for Wentworth, who emphasised the importance of listening and learning as we go through this global transition and the unique way that Australia will experience it. I also want to thank the member for North Sydney, who rightly pointed out that many see this bill as a really positive step.

I want to address where the government has already committed to reviews of the work of the authority. They include a statutory review of the Energy Industry Jobs Plan framework, which will be completed within 12 months of the establishment of the authority. We've said very clearly that we hope the authority will be established by 1 July. That would see that work being done by the middle of next year. That would allow us to assess the plan. It would allow early engagement with regional employers to see how that piece of the legislation is working and allow us to talk to communities and unions. Further, I think it's important for the House to be aware that there will also be a review of the authority conducted in accordance with the Commonwealth Governance Structures Policy. That requires that there be a review at least every 10 years—and I note that it can be done more regularly—to ensure flexibility of the functions that are set out in the bill and that there is opportunity for further engagement.

Of course, it is always up to the parliament—this House and the Senate—to engage on legislation that's passed at any point in time. In terms of the authority's engagement with the parliament, each year a corporate plan will be tabled, setting out objectives, priorities and the intended work plan, in accordance with the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act. We would expect there to be thorough examination of the work of the authority by senators, and indeed that questions, either in question time or on notice, would be asked.

Finally, I want to note that the powers that are in this bill, outside of the energy industry jobs plan, are very broad. The bill gives power to a new authority that can coordinate across government to lower emissions and to support the net zero transition. It can facilitate public and private investment in transformational net zero initiatives not just in the regions but anywhere in Australia where it is in our national interest to do so. It ensures that communities will better understand and be able to participate in this economic transformation, and, again, the authority has the powers to do that. There's specific mention in the objects of the bill to ensure Indigenous Australians participate in and benefit from this transition to net zero, and this amendment seeks, as indeed does the government, a real focus on ensuring workers in emissions-intensive industries can access new skills and new employment opportunities that come with net zero. In saying that, the government doesn't support this amendment, as we believe that both the powers in the bill as it stands and the existing review mechanisms are adequate.

Helen Haines

I have a question for the minister with regard to a 10-year review period. This is a wide-ranging Net Zero Economy Authority undertaking expertise and transformation across a range of technologies, as you say, and those technologies change rapidly. Ten years seems like an extraordinary length of time before the authority has a solid look at itself. If we're talking about communities participating or giving feedback or if we're talking about what works and what doesn't, it seems extraordinary to me that the review period, as the minister just described, would be after 10 years. Could I ask the minister to expand on that and give me and, I'm sure, other people some assurance that there would be periods before 10 years when the authority actually makes changes, iterations or adjustments?

Patrick Gorman

I welcome the opportunity to outline that, in the first 365 days of the operation of the authority, there will be the review of one large component of the authority's work. That's a review of the energy industry jobs plan framework. With regard to my reference to the Commonwealth's governance structures policy, which requires a review every 10 years, that's 'at least' every 10 years; it can be done earlier and, indeed, it could be done much earlier, but I'm not in a position to say when that would be. Obviously, it requires the parliament to legislate for the authority to be enacted in the first place.

We do recognise that it is both a long-term transition and also something with some very-fast-moving changes in technology and something where some communities can experience what the change means to local communities, local employment and local economies very quickly. We do believe that this gets the balance right in addition to all those standard parliamentary accountability mechanisms, including the annual tabling of the corporate plan.

Allegra Spender

Thank you, Minister, for your comments. You refer to the energy industry jobs plan review, which would be undertaken within the first year. However, my understanding is that it does not go to scope and so, therefore, is not relevant to the question that I raised in my speech, which was basically that a significant group of workers would not be included as part of that internal review and, therefore, that review doesn't go to the core question that I'm raising in my amendment.

Milton Dick

The question before the House is that the amendment moved by the honourable member for Wentworth be agreed to.


Date and time: 5:02 PM on 2024-06-04
Allegra Spender's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 12
Total number of "no" votes: 43
Total number of abstentions: 96
Related bill: Net Zero Economy Authority Bill 2024

Adapted from information made available by

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