Australia’s first offshore wind farm bill was a long time coming, but here are 4 reasons it’s not up to scratch yet


Madeline Taylor, Macquarie University and Tina Soliman Hunter, Macquarie UniversityAfter years of waiting, the federal government finally introduced Australia’s first offshore electricity legislation in parliament yesterday. The bill will establish a regulatory framework for the offshore wind industry, paving the way for more than ten proposed projects.

Australia’s wind resources are among the world’s best, comparable to the North Sea between Britain and Europe where offshore energy is an established industry. In fact, research from July found if all the proposed offshore wind farms were built, their combined energy capacity would be greater than all of Australia’s coal-fired power plants.

But Australia’s lack of legal framework has meant we’re yet to commission our first offshore wind farm.

The new legislation took years of stakeholder anticipation leading to public consultation in 2020, but upon first reading one is left a little wanting. We find four reasons the bill isn’t up to scratch yet, from its inadequate safety provisions to vague wording around Native Title rights and interests.

A huge opportunity

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) identifies offshore wind as key in the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, calling for the world’s offshore wind capacity to increase ten-fold, to 45 gigawatts per year by 2050.

In line with IRENA’s position, many of Australia’s trading partners have ambitious targets for offshore wind, including the UK, US, European Union, Korea and Japan. For example, the UK’s target is to reach a total of 40 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030.

This new bill is Australia’s attempt to join its partners. It will give offshore electricity projects the framework for construction, operation, maintenance, and more.

One project, for example, is the Star of the South, which plans to build an offshore wind farm off the coast of Gippsland in Victoria. This project has the potential to supply 20% of the state’s energy needs. Like Australia’s other 12 proposed offshore wind projects, it has been waiting on an appropriate regulatory framework to go ahead.

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Offshore wind is essential to help Australia cut its greenhouse gas emissions and create a sustainable and affordable electricity market. Indeed, the explanatory memorandum that accompanies the bill notes that if passed, the legislation will establish certainty that investors crave, potentially leading to billions of dollars worth of investment.

Wind energy infrastructure projects will also create thousands of jobs. Recent estimates suggest the offshore wind industry could create as much as 8,000 jobs each year from 2030. The Star of the South alone expects to create 2,000 direct jobs in Victoria over its lifetime, including 200 ongoing local jobs.

But the bill doesn’t go far enough

This bill represents a first attempt to establish a world-class regulatory regime. But does it?

Well, first of all it didn’t get off to a good start. In 2020, the government committed to having the legislation settings and framework in place by mid 2021. This target was not delivered.

And upon closer examination of the bill, we find critical omissions compared to best practice in North Sea jurisdictions.

A ship outside turbines at sunset
Offshore wind is essential to help Australia cut its greenhouse gas emissions.

1. Weak protections for the environment

To protect the environment, projects need to create a management plan that complies with requirements under the federal environment law. But this won’t ensure marine life is unharmed by enormous, noisy turbines.

According to a major, independent review earlier this year, Australia’s environment law is outdated and flawed.

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It only addresses select environmental issues. The law is far too broad to deal with the unique requirements of offshore wind turbines, which Australian waters have never experienced before.

For example, under the bill’s broad management plan requirements, many environmental issues such as underwater noise and impacts on fish spawning would likely not be addressed.

Compare this to jurisdictions in the North Sea. In the UK, offshore wind projects require a thorough strategic environmental assessment, detailing all possible environmental impacts.

2. Native Title holders lose out

Offshore energy project developers are prohibited from interfering with Native Title rights and interests. But the bill allows interference if it’s “necessary” for the for the “reasonable exercise” of project rights and obligations.

This raises a critical question — what is considered “necessary” and “reasonable”?

This vague wording could see projects go ahead when it conflicts with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and their Native Title rights.

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3. Inadequate safety provisions

Offshore wind energy development holds inherent risks, such as transporting and constructing wind turbine components in hazardous environments, which are often subject to extreme weather. Without a solid safety framework, construction may lead to injuries or deaths, similar to those that have occurred in the North Sea.

Under the new legislation, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) would be appointed as the offshore wind regulator. NOPSEMA would oversee safety using the generic Work, Health and Safety Act 2011.

But the bill says parts of the Work, Health and Safety Act will need to be modified so they’re “fit for purpose”. It would require extra provisions, exclusions and workarounds, making the assurance of structures difficult.

Compare this to offshore petroleum operations, which get a bespoke safety framework , one NOPSEMA is already familiar with. Why isn’t one put in place for offshore wind farms?

Construction of an offshore turbine
Offshore wind construction workers may have to deal with extreme weather, putting them at risk.

4. It may leave the community behind

In Denmark, offshore wind turbines are located less than 16 kilometres from the coastline. They’re obliged to offer at least 20% of ownership shares to local citizens.

But under Australia’s proposed bill, there are no explicit community benefit schemes. This is an important omission, because creating laws to increase community participation and engagement could reduce any risk of “not in my backyard” (Nimbyism) attitudes. It would also ensure hosting communities are actively involved early and frequently throughout the lifecycle of offshore wind projects.

In crafting best practice regulation coupled with community benefit schemes, the opportunities are limitless. A first step could be to create further public submission opportunities for communities to comment on the bill.

Offshore wind is our golden ticket to a reliable, affordable, and clean energy future. Investing in the offshore wind industry is a no-brainer for Australia, but it needs to be done right.

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The Conversation

Madeline Taylor, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie University and Tina Soliman Hunter, Professor of Energy and Natural Resources Law, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


This shy little wallaby has a white moustache and shares its name with a pub meal. Yet it’s been overlooked for decades


Elliott Dooley, University of Newcastle and Matt Hayward, University of NewcastleAm I not pretty enough? This article is part of The Conversation’s new series introducing you to Australia’s unloved animals that need our help.

For many people, the term “wallaby” may describe a single species, or rather just a small kangaroo. So you may be surprised to learn there are actually more than 50 known species of wallaby in Australia.

The parma wallaby (Macropus parma) is one of Australia’s smallest. It’s no larger than a house cat, with a body length up to 55 centimetres and a tail about the same length again. It has thick, brownish-grey fur, and a defining white moustache.

But this is about as much as can be said for its appearance, as even its moustache is common to many other wallaby species, such as the yellow-footed rock-wallaby.

Here, we aim to defend the voiceless. The parma wallaby’s failure to charm with either its looks or charisma has condemned it to obscurity by the general public and wildlife researchers alike, potentially dooming it to extinction.

The parma’s resurrection

So overlooked is the parma wallaby that for more than 30 years, it was presumed extinct until 1966, when a feral population was discovered on Kawau Island, New Zealand.

The species was introduced there a century earlier by former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Sir George Grey, who’s zoological interests led to Kawau becoming home to a menagerie of exotic animals.

A parma wallaby with a joey
Parma wallaby was presumed extinct for 30 years.
Benjamint444/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

This sudden rediscovery resurrected the parma from the pages of natural history books, prompting a reintroduction program to re-establish the Kawau Island population in Australia. This occurred on two occasions, once on Pulbah Island in Lake Macquarie, and near Robertson, NSW. But both attempts were considered abject failures, with all reintroduced, marked individuals found dead, mostly due to predation by dogs and foxes.

Despite this unsuccessful program, the sudden spotlight on the species led to its rediscovery on the mainland in 1972 near Gosford, NSW. Soon after, a state-wide parma survey was conducted.

An elusive species

But since then, its ecology has largely gone unstudied and, once again, the parma has faded to obscurity.

The IUCN Red List — the pre-eminent assessment of the conservation status of the world’s biodiversity — has relied on a guestimate of population size, placing it at under 10,000 individuals.

Despite little monitoring the species is still considered only “near threatened” on the Red List, but events like the Black Summer bushfires may have significantly reduced its population.

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As a result of its cryptic nature and very recent rediscovery in the wild, there is scarce known about the ecology of the parma wallaby. We don’t even know the exact origins of its name.

We do know its preferred habitat is moist eucalyptus forest with thick, shrubby understory. It shelters there during the day, often with nearby grassy areas as, at night, they typically feed on grass and herbs. They’re also found in rainforest margins and drier eucalypt forest, but to a lesser extent.

Parma wallabies weigh just 5kg, making them vulnerable to dogs, foxes and cats.
Lachlan McRae, Author provided

The parma wallaby is under threat

We also know the parma wallaby’s range is in decline and has been since European colonisation.

The species once occurred from southern Queensland to the Bega area in the southeast of NSW. Now, its range is confined to the coast and ranges of central and northern NSW. It’s patchily distributed throughout cool, high-altitude forests along the Great Dividing Range.

It weighs around 5 kilograms, placing it in the critical weight range category. This means it’s vulnerable to feral predators, such as dogs, cats and foxes.

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Another major threat facing parma wallabies is habitat destruction from catastrophic bushfires.

The 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires killed, injured or displaced an estimated three billion animals. Over half (55%) of the parma’s key habitat was severely burned. Coupled with the loss of those that would have perished in the flames, the species is now considered vulnerable in NSW.

Over half of the Parma wallaby’s habitat was burned in the Black Summer bushfires.
Elliott Dooley, Author provided

Saving the parma

The recent bushfire Royal Commission raised the issue that Australia doesn’t have a comprehensive, central source of information about its native flora and fauna. This is especially urgent, given seemingly “drab” species like the parma wallaby that have gone unnoticed for too long.

All species rely on interactions with a plethora of other species to survive in a complex system from which humans are not exempt. But with so little known about these interconnected relationships, we don’t know what the broader impacts to the ecosystem would be if one species disappeared.

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Imagine a Jenga tower where each species is a wooden block. You can never really be certain which block you remove will cause the tower to collapse. Australia has an appalling extinction record, and we can’t afford to be playing Jenga with our biodiversity — whether it’s a boring bird, an ugly fish or just another wallaby.

Our ongoing research aims to help fill this conservation gap. We focus on a range of conservation actions the parma wallaby needs immediately.

These include carrying out field surveys to gauge the extent of their survival, and identifying the places that need refuge vegetation recovery. Refuge patches of bushland are important because they provide parma wallabies escape routes and places to hide, helping protect them from predation.

Parma wallaby sitting on a rock
If you want to help save parmas, keep your cat inside.
Lachlan McRae, Author provided

But you can help, too

Given the breadth of catastrophic fires is expected to increase under climate change, we can all help threatened species like the parma wallaby bounce back.

Come bushfire season, you can reduce the fire risk around your home by clearing anything that could fuel a fire — long grass, weeds and leaves on the ground and in guttering.

The parma wallaby, like many other little mammals, is vulnerable to introduced predators, especially cats. By keeping your cat indoors, you could be sparing the lives of 186 animals per year.

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

You can urge your politicians to value Australia’s unique and precious biodiversity. They are the ones who will ultimately determine whether our threatened species survive or go extinct.

Finally, you can volunteer. There are many volunteer-based conservation projects all over Australia, run by government agencies, charities, and universities.

With the ongoing pandemic travel restrictions, there’s no better time to experience the rich biodiversity this country has to offer, and discover less celebrated, but still fascinating, species like the parma wallaby.The Conversation

Elliott Dooley, PhD Candidate, University of Newcastle and Matt Hayward, Professor of Conservation Science, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.