Maiden Speech

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It is difficult to put into words the enormous pride I feel standing here in the chamber of the House of Representatives as part of the 47th Parliament of Australia to deliver my maiden speech. It is a political milestone for me, as I have now represented my communities at all three levels of government: local, state and federal.

There is much to say and there are many to thank, and, as my fellow parliamentarians will know, the stony road to parliament is not a journey that one makes alone. Rather, it is an effort of many: family, friends, volunteers, donors, political party people, complete strangers and, of course, the voting public. All have made a contribution to make my campaign a success. I would sincerely like to thank everyone who has helped me to achieve this position as the federal member for Flynn. It is truly an honour to be elected by the people of Flynn and to join the ranks of the parliamentarians who have come before me. I do not take this lightly, and I pledge my loyalty to the people of Flynn and earnestly thank them for putting their trust in me. I will be their champion, and I will most ardently defend their future and their prosperity.

There has been one universal constant throughout my political career so far, and that is my wife of 35 years, Terri. Terri has been a monumental rock of unwavering support and certainly my biggest supporter and, at the same time, an unrelenting critic. There’s been an old, longstanding adage that behind every good man is an incredible woman, and there in the gallery is living proof of that. I would like to thank my children—Sarah, Tom and Scott—and their families for their assistance in supporting me during the campaigning and for maintaining our rural properties while we were travelling the electorate of Flynn. I would also like to acknowledge my mother, Inge Lise, who is unwell in hospital and, I know, will be watching today.

My first memory is of sitting on my father’s lap beside a wood stove. It was early in the morning and it was cold. On the table before us was a radio in a brown leather case, and the man who was reading the news said, ‘The President of the United States of America, John F Kennedy, is dead.’ So profound was the voice of the newsreader that I remember it to this day. That was my first experience of an event that changed the world. In my life I have seen many events that have changed the world, how we do things and how opinions change. I have seen many droughts, floods and fires. I have learned that Australia is a land of extremes, yet I am yet to see the record floods that happened in Queensland in the 1890s, two generations ago, and that bring meaning to Dorothea Mackellar’s words:

An opal-hearted country,

A wilful, lavish land –

All you who have not loved her,

You will not understand –

I grew up in the bush in central western Queensland. I remember candles, kerosene lanterns, kerosene fridges, 32-volt lighting plants, party-line telephones, mosquito nets and flypaper. There were the wood stove and the wood heap; the axe and the chopping block; the chook pen where the eggs came from; and the garden where the vegetables grew. Trips to town were rare events, and with the exception of the mailman, who came weekly, we would see no-one other than our immediate family for weeks. Times have changed. No longer is this lifestyle normal in rural Australia; rather, it is the exception. This is because of the advance of technology, the availability of energy and the options and opportunities that this has provided.

One of the biggest issues the world faces is food security, and our ability to provide enough food will be one of our greatest challenges as we move to the future. History has shown us that there is nothing like hunger to drive political change and turmoil. Both the French and Russian revolutions were driven by the fact that the people were starving. We are seeing a situation unfolding right now in Eastern Europe, which traditionally produces one-quarter of the world’s wheat crop. This production is likely to be severely limited given the war in Ukraine. This will ultimately affect Australia, as a world shortage of wheat will increase the commodity value. Bread will more than likely become more expensive as a result. If you live in sub-Saharan Africa or any other Third World country, the prospect of famine is ever more real.

Closer to home, look at what is happening in Sri Lanka, where a small nation that produces a surplus of food now cannot feed itself, all because of a seriously bad political decision to ban agricultural chemicals and fertilizers and become totally organic. This has resulted in riots and political turmoil. The advent of lumpy skin disease and foot and mouth disease in Indonesia, and particularly Bali, and varroa mites in our beehives in New South Wales, has highlighted the fact that biosecurity needs to be taken seriously by all of us to ensure Australia’s ability to produce food. We need to be ever-vigilant and more proactive, educating people how vulnerable our industry is, rather than reactive after the fact should exotic diseases come to Australia. These diseases and pests could severely limit our ability to produce food.

Mankind is changing and adapting, as it always has, ever since we evolved from the creatures of the Rift Valley. Climate is changing, as it always has, for billions of years since the dawn of time. We have geological and archaeological evidence from the past that shows us that there have been many changes in the earth’s history, from ice ages to the era of the dinosaur, to the evolution of modern man. We must use our technology and look at the past to understand our history and learn from it so we can better understand our path to the future.

Flynn is a large electorate in Central Queensland, approximately twice as big as Tasmania, covering some 132,000 square kilometres. It has three coal-fired power stations—Stanwell, Callide and Gladstone—providing generation capacity of 4,635 megawatts of baseload power. There are 15 large coalmines, projected to produce 90 million tonnes of coking and thermal coal this financial year. There is the CSG gas industry, producing approximately 25 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas, which is exported to the world through the port of Gladstone.

Gladstone is home to Rio Tinto, Boyne Island alumina smelter, the Yarwun alumina refinery and the QAL refinery, which is one of the world’s largest refineries, with a capacity to produce 3.9 million tonnes of alumina. Gladstone is Queensland’s largest multicommodity shipping port and the world’s fourth largest coal-exporting terminal. We support a huge agricultural sector, producing everything in terms of food and fibre for Australia and the world. The heavy engineering sector and the transport sector of road, rail and shipping all combine to make the Flynn electorate an economic powerhouse that generates the wealth for Australia, for the Australian economy.

The industries of Flynn are heavy carbon emitters and therefore most vulnerable to the economic effects of any emissions target proposals, and it is these arguments that pose the biggest threat to our jobs, our livelihoods and our future prosperity, both as a region and as a nation. There has not yet been a definitive explanation to what effect zero net carbon legislation, renewable energy targets and environmental constraints will have on people’s jobs, particularly in Central Queensland, where everyone is connected to the agriculture, mining, resource, heavy industry, power generation and transport sectors in one way, shape or form. This is a question that needs to be answered.

The Central Highlands Regional Council, based in Emerald, derives approximately half of its rate revenue from the coal and resource sector. If we as a nation are to oversee the demise of the coal and gas industries, where is this revenue going to come from? This is a question that needs to be answered.

The argument that global warming has been caused by human emissions and there is a need for drastic action is based entirely on computer modelling. Climate, atmospheric and ocean temperature models over the last few decades have all been checked with actual measurements, and all of the predictions have been wrong. There have been the most outrageous claims made in recent decades about pending climate catastrophe that simply have not happened, ‘The icecaps will melt. There will be catastrophic sea level rises. The polar bears will die. There will be tens of millions of climate refugees. We’ve got 90 days to save the planet,’ and so on. It is preposterous to suggest that computer models can predict the climate future when input data and parameters are manipulated, flawed and wrong—rubbish in, rubbish out. If there is one universal truth, it is this: if the theory does not agree with practice, the theory is wrong every time, no exceptions.

Last year some 25,000 world leaders and bureaucrats converged on Glasgow for the climate conference. Many nations of the world, including Australia, agreed to the proposal to reach zero net carbon emissions by 2050. Since then, Russia has invaded the Ukraine and eastern Europe is at war. This event has exposed energy policy and national security in many EU countries as desperately lacking. Germany is arguably one of the world’s most technologically advanced industrial nations on earth. They find themselves in a position where their renewable energy and emissions policy has exposed their national security. Russia now has the ability to bring Germany to its economic knees simply by turning the gas off. As a result, the German government has overturned its decision to phase out coal-fired power stations and nuclear power plants. France is considering more nuclear power, as is Italy. The UK has realised it cannot meet its carbon emissions commitments.

The world is demanding more coal, gas, petroleum and nuclear. Nobody is asking for more wind turbines or solar panels. The reason for that is simple: for the foreseeable future, the world is reliant on fossil fuels and nuclear for its energy. The renewables sector simply cannot supply frequent baseload power. Recent media reports say that Europe is abandoning net zero. It’s quite clear that carbon emissions commitments made at Glasgow are now viewed by many to be nothing more than aspirational virtue signalling agreements that are unrealistic and unachievable in the real, practical world given the geopolitical events of recent times.

Here in Australia we seem to ignore the lessons being learnt in Europe. We are preparing to legislate carbon emissions targets and make them law. We as a nation are proposing to phase out the coal-fired power generation sector while the rest of the world are building and demanding more. World carbon emissions continue to rise, and we as Australians seem quite prepared to adopt energy policy and environmental policy that will lead to economic ruin and achieve and prove nothing in relation to the rest of the world. This has been clearly stated by Australia’s former Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel. What Australia is trying to achieve amounts to virtually nothing.

There’s a proposal to build an industrial scale green hydrogen industry at Gladstone that will repower business and industry of the world. It will eventually replace coal and gas industries and be a world-leading alternative energy source. This green hydrogen will be produced by water electrolysis, using electrolysers powered by renewable energy from wind farms and solar farms. The production of industrial-scale hydrogen has huge issues and problems that have not been addressed or discussed publicly. Hydrogen is promoted as a saviour, the silver bullet for future energy needs. It will power everything from the backyard barbecue to an industrial blast furnace.

Hydrogen is extremely dangerous. It is extremely flammable and has specific qualities that make industrial quantities of hydrogen very difficult to produce, store, transport and use. In 1937 the zeppelin exploded. In 1986 the space shuttle Challenger exploded. In 2011 in Fukushima, Japan a nuclear reactor plant exploded. More recently and close to home, the Callide C4 coal-fired generator exploded. These are all catastrophic hydrogen explosions.

You can’t mine hydrogen; you have to make it. Through water electrolysis we can destroy the water molecule and produce hydrogen and oxygen. This is the basis of the proposal at Gladstone. The amount of renewable energy required to power the electrolysers to produce industrial quantities of green hydrogen is enormous. I will attempt to outline a ballpark scenario with back-of-the-envelope figures that will give an idea of the gargantuan scale of trying to produce industrial quantities of hydrogen similar to the CSG gas industry at Gladstone.

Coopers Gap Wind Farm in Jandowae in Queensland is Australia’s biggest wind farm. It has a generation capacity of 430 megawatts. If you multiply that over a year, Australia’s biggest wind farm has enough power to make approximately 30,000 tonnes of hydrogen. This is very little in terms of industrial quantities. If you multiply that by a factor of a hundred, you get three million tonnes of hydrogen, which is getting into the realms of industrial quantities. So you have to multiply Coopers Gap by a factor of a hundred. Coopers Gap has 123 turbines, so you would need 12,300 wind turbines, or the equivalent, to power a three-million-tonne-per-annum hydrogen industry. Coopers Gap cost $850 million to build. So, by my estimates, there would have to be in excess of a $100 billion investment if we want to go with the wind farm scenario to generate power to make hydrogen—just at Gladstone.

What really troubles me is the amount of land that would be required. The footprint of a large wind turbine is approximately 25 hectares. In rough round figures, 3,000 square kilometres of land would be required for the wind farm scenario. To put that into perspective, there’d be a wind turbine every few hundred metres all the way from Gladstone to Biloela in a corridor 30 kilometres wide. I shall require more staff in my office to deal with the complaints.

The ability to produce enough freshwater is another big issue that remains unresolved. You need 10 litres of water to create a kilo of hydrogen. Industrial quantities of hydrogen require industrial quantities of freshwater. There are no plans to build any large water storages to supply a proposed industrial-scale hydrogen industry. There are proposals to build desalination plants and use seawater, but this requires more energy and creates the problem of dealing with the brine that is created. Pumping brine into the ocean would be devastating for the Great Barrier Reef. Desalination plants have notoriously been inefficient and expensive, and I look forward to the ABC investigative journalism team reporting on this. Ordinary hardworking people in Gladstone and in Australia deserve to hear the truth.

I support the development of new technology, including hydrogen; however, I would question the huge amounts of government subsidies that have been allocated to such proposals, particularly when there are many issues that have not been satisfactorily addressed—aged care, child care, health care, the cost of living, social housing, housing affordability and so on. I have no doubt that a hydrogen industry will be developed in Gladstone. However, the practical and economic realities of doing this on a huge, industrial scale have not been investigated or understood. It should be the market that provides the bulk of the investment to such proposals, not the government.

To my fellow Australians, I say this: caveat emptor. Ordinary Australian people require and deserve the basics of life—food security, water security, energy security and national security. I have made a mound, and I stand upon it. I will be on good terms with all persons as far as possible without surrender, and I will leave the House with one final thought: de omnibus dubitandum—question everything. I commend my speech to the House.

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