Today in question time we saw scores of farmers from my electorate of Mallee—around 60 of them—in the chamber, and I congratulate them for downing tools, turning off the tractors and trying to put a stop to the nonsense that is electricity transmission lines without social licence. This is the latest in a series of grassroots protest actions about transmission lines through farms and local environments. The farmers do not have a problem with transmission lines if they are done right, but AEMO and state and federal Labor governments have failed to establish social licence for the project through my electorate called the VNI West interconnector. The first protest was in St Arnaud featuring tractors and trucks, and now farmers have made the 1,500-kilometre round trip to be heard and seen here in Canberra today, because the Albanese government is not listening to them.
Prime Minister Albanese needs to understand that regional Australia is not a dumping ground for bad policy. Minister Bowen pays lip service to securing social licence from local communities. Labor’s Rewiring the Nation becomes bad policy when it railroads local and regional communities. From Donald to Boort, Charlton to Kerang, and in St Arnaud in my electorate the acronyms VNI West and AEMO, the Australian Energy Market Operator, have become dirty words. Expert independent energy professors Mountain and Bartlett call this project ‘a monumental mistake’. Labor needs to hit pause on this project and look at it from the big picture to the farmers and communities affected by its bloody minded policy, which is detached from reality.
The Albanese Labor government isn’t paving their paradise. They are putting up a parking lot of ugly transmission towers and wires. Labor does not have the social licence from these farmers or their communities to stuff up their pristine land, their prime agricultural land, remnant vegetation and, I might add for the backers of the Voice to parliament amongst those opposite, culturally significant areas that hold evidence of the local Indigenous people’s historic use of the land. But, no, Labor says, ‘Let’s ignore their voices, to heck with getting social licence from them or any of the above, let’s pave over all of that because Rewiring the Nation comes first.’ These farmers with us today and out in the electorate of Mallee have no objection to renewable energy or addressing climate change in a measured, sensible way that is supported by local communities. But so far this is a major fail.